Coleg y Cymoedd, has collaborated with a Welsh manufacturer and a number of international organisations to investigate how human activity is affecting wildlife across the world.
The global acoustic monitoring project to study wildlife using sounds from nature has seen Coleg y Cymoedd team up with semi-conductor manufacturer, Newport Wafer Fab, and Welsh TV and film professional, William Todd-Jones, alongside a network of creative and environmental partners; Wild Connect, Natural Resources Wales, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
The project will assess and compare levels of biodiversity – in this case the variety of wildlife – in both Wales and Africa, by monitoring the sounds of animals and ecosystems in the regions using specialist remote sound recorders called ‘Biophones’.
Environmental consultancy, Wild Connect, saw a need to develop a robust audio monitoring device – a Biophone – that both professional and amateur conservationists could use to record and analyse sounds from nature. The result is a device that is valuable to science in the area of eco-acoustics and a tool that can help re-engage the public with the natural world.
Within the wild, animals use sounds for a number of reasons, from communication and navigation to hunting and territorial defence. Analysing these sounds can provide ecologists and conservationists with rich data about the environment and animal populations, helping them understand where certain species live, how many there are and what they are doing. This can help to reveal behavioural and population changes as well highlight the impact of human activity on local wildlife.
As part of the project, staff and learners across Coleg y Cymoedd’s Engineering and Creative departments joined forces with Wild Connect, Newport Wafer Fab, CSA Catapult, and GX-Group to create 35 Biophones.
The devices will be placed around Wales and Namibia over the next year, allowing the monitoring and analysation of pan-Wales data, together with wildlife agencies gathering the data from the Namibian deployment.
The pilot study will put the device through its paces in extreme conditions – those being Wales, with its wet and cold landscape and Namibia with its scorching dry deserts.
The relationship with Namibia came as a result of project partner and environmentalist William Todd-Jones’ longstanding involvement with wildlife charities in Africa.
Both sets of recordings will be analysed to provide regional environmental insights and evidence of ecosystem diversity between the two areas. The findings will help reveal how the contrasting climates, human population levels, and degrees of development in Wales and Namibia affect the surrounding natural world in the two regions.
Alistair Aston, Creative Industries Coordinator at Coleg y Cymoedd and Project Lead, said: “The ‘Biophone project offers our creative and engineering learners a great opportunity to be directly involved in a project designed to make a difference. It is also a fantastic display of how art and science can be used together to tackle key issues affecting our planet.
“We are really looking forward to obtaining the recordings from Wales and Namibia which will help us to discover truly amazing things about our wildlife and how we can play our part in shaping the future of our planet.”
Iestyn Llŷr, senior embedded software engineer at CSA Catapult added: “This is a great example of Welsh companies working together to explore how a conceptual idea can be commercially developed. CSA Catapult aims to bridge the gap between research and industry within the compound semiconductor world, as well as inspiring the next generation of engineers through our Skills Academy and STEM programme. This project showcases the innovative ideas of aspiring engineers and how they are solving issues that will impact us all.”
Natural Resources Wales has provided expert advice and helped roll out the initial pilot testing for the Biophones at sites in Wales ahead of their arrival in Namibia.
Holly Butterworth, Specialist Advisor for Futures and Innovation at Natural Resources Wales said: “We are really pleased to support the Biophones study. We’ve worked with the team to provide test sites and connected them with field experts to explore potential applications for the device, particularly around biodiversity.
“It’s exciting to see the developments and it is wonderful to be part of a project that brings together so many experts and young people to achieve innovative technologies that will work to tackle the climate and nature emergencies”.
Established by the College, Wild Connect and Newport Wafer Fab to gather data on the impact of climate change and increasing urbanisation on wildlife and animal populations across the world, it is hoped that the findings from the project will help inform and shape key environmental policies in both countries.
Following the completion of the project’s first phase in 2022, learners will be able to gain a hands-on learning experience using prototypes of the Biophones to record and analyse sounds themselves. This will help deliver on the project’s aim to promote participation from the general public with science and art under the wider STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) initiative by the college and project partners.
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Heol y Coleg
Rhondda Cynon Taff