Conservation efforts take flight with analytics

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds uses SAS® to help safeguard wildlife

Commercial fishing lines accidentally snagging albatrosses. Pesticides sprayed near skylark nests. Warming ocean temperatures killing off the food that gannets and kittiwakes depend on. The United Kingdom’s largest nature conservation charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), is using analytics to better understand the data it collects in an effort to test and develop conservation solutions that protect endangered birds. This information is also critical when advocating for environmental policies in the UK and abroad.

Conservation informed by evidence is always more likely to succeed than that based on guesswork or anecdote. SAS enables us to produce the firm scientific evidence needed to confidently implement our initiatives.

Will Peach
Head of Research Delivery

“Conservation informed by evidence is always more likely to succeed than that based on guesswork or anecdote,” says Will Peach, Head of Research Delivery for RSPB. “SAS enables us to produce the firm scientific evidence needed to confidently implement our initiatives.” The society’s scientific approach is a success: Governments and companies seek its research and advice when planning new infrastructure and energy projects like highways, wind farms and airport runways.

The society’s research underpins the understanding around how intensive farming, climate change and over-fishing in the oceans affects bird habitats and food supplies. Its research on the albatross population discovered that large-scale commercial longline fishing kills tens of thousands of albatrosses each year. Out of the world's 22 albatross species, 17 have been identified as threatened. In the UK, once common species like house sparrows and starlings have suffered large population declines in both rural and urban areas.

RSPB researchers conduct diagnostic studies using tagging and other types of methods that produce enormous amounts of data. They also test different conservation interventions to determine which techniques are most effective for different species. Replicated field experiments are also combined with simulation studies.

“We need to make sense of a variety of large and complex data sets,” Peach says. “For example, tracking the movements of kittiwakes and gannets as they forage at sea produces millions of data points.”

The organization chose SAS more than a decade ago. The research has led conservationists to:

  • Understand the impact of farm lands and pesticides on nesting and reproduction among skylarks and yellowhammers. Changes in cropping impact skylark nesting, while pesticide use affects yellowhammers’ breeding success.
  • Study albatross foraging habits and use the information to develop fast-sinking fishing hooks, which reduce albatross deaths from long-line fishing.
  • Gather data from tags worn by birds and merge that with external data sets on sea-surface temperatures and the location of fishing grounds to understand the impact of global warming on foraging areas.

“Scientific research is extremely fast-moving,” Peach says. “SAS will undoubtedly continue to be integral in our pursuit of evidence-based conservation actions needed to help save our birds and wildlife.”

rspb logo and tagline

Challenge

RSPB wanted to better understand the data it collects to develop conservation solutions that protect endangered birds.

Solution

SAS® Analytics, including
SAS® Visual Data Discovery

Benefits

Land managers, governments and businesses consult with the society before building infrastructure and energy projects that could harm endangered birds. The society also uses the data to manage its 200 nature reserves.

The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.

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