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Developing an evidence-based method to assess the impact of local development on moorland fringe bird populations

Harrison, Christopher James (2017) Developing an evidence-based method to assess the impact of local development on moorland fringe bird populations. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The local unitary authorities of Calderdale, Kirklees and Bradford in West Yorkshire have joint jurisdiction over the South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area (SPMSPA). This is an upland protected area in the North of England. The SPMSPA provides feeding and breeding habitat for an assemblage of bird species of international conservation concern. Knowledge of the habitat associations of these species within the fringe of the SPA is lacking. Thirteen species form the bird assemblage that has been identified in collaboration with the project partners as in most need of ecological evidence within the moorland fringe landscape. Within this PhD, the ecology of these species was investigated in the context of the immediate 1 km fringe outside of the SPMSPA. The habitat composition of this fringe was found to be a heterogenous mosaic, predominantly characterised by smaller fields dominated by species-poor agricultural habitats. Curlew Numenius arquata, Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Wheatear Oeanthe oeanthe and Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria were found to be associated with fields comprising tussocks, wet flush and evidence of intensive grazing. Species richness was found to be greatest in habitats not typical of moorland or farmland. Bird diversity and species richness were lowest within 100 m of Small Wind Turbines (SWTs), with Magpie Pica pica and Starling Sturnus vulgaris negatively associated with proximity to SWTs. Landsat 8 imagery were found to be a good predictor of the distribution of habitat suitability for five moorland fringe bird species, especially when used to supplement empirical data. Building density was an important predictor for the majority of these species. The lack of unimproved grassland and particularly high land cover of improved and semi-improved agricultural land indicate that the SPMSPA fringe landscape is suboptimal for the conservation of moorland fringe bird diversity. The results of this research can be used as ecological evidence to assist future planning decisions and the conservation of habitats within the SPA fringe for birds of conservation concern.

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