Wildlife world-first: launch of Alderney PetrelCam

Wednesday 1st August 2012

Storm Petrel cpt Liz MorganStorm Petrel cpt Liz Morgan

Wildlife-lovers can access live footage of the beautiful European Storm Petrel through an all new day and night Petrel webcam, believed to be a world-first.

The project - a collaborative venture by the Alderney Wildlife Trust, ITV Channel Television and Sure Cable and Wireless - uses the latest broadband technology coupled with radio frequency (RF) transmission.

PetrelCam will help give a unique insight into the lives of Storm Petrels

The site offers live feeds covering the Channel Islands’ largest colony of the ever photogenic Puffin and adds live night and day time coverage of the nesting sites of the delicate little Storm Petrel.  These attractive birds spend their days either out fishing at sea or sitting on their nests and can almost never be seen on land.  Believed to be a world first, PetrelCam allows viewers to see activity from the main wall nesting site. This is a unique experience as visits to the island during the Puffin breeding season are restricted to only researchers and the Burhou Warden.

Within the Channel Islands, Storm Petrels are only known to breed on Burhou, nesting in the stone walls and in natural rock crevices.  Petrels used to be very common but their population numbers crashed in the mid to late 20th Century.  They are mysterious birds and very little is known about them, including the current numbers on Burhou.  Storm Petrels spend their days at sea and can only be seen on land at night, so PetrelCam will help give a unique insight into their lives.  The secretive world of the Storm Petrel and their tiptoeing dance on the top of the sea makes them an intriguing bird.

Puffins are unmistakable with their black and white bodies and bright, colourful bills. There have been Puffins recorded on Burhou since the early 20th century and they were once very common.  However, there was a sharp decline in their numbers in the 1950s and 1960s: food availability and oil spills are thought to be behind the decline.  Since making Burhou a bird sanctuary Puffins numbers have started to recover and today it is the largest colony in the Channel Islands with around 160 pairs.

Since the camera was first turned on several very unusual sightings have taken place, including a night time raid visit by a Storm Petrel to a Puffin burrow.  It would seem likely this is actually a shared burrow with both birds using different sections of the site, the first time this has been recorded on Burhou.  To keep up-to-date with the very latest of what’s going on you can join befriend the site at http://www.facebook.com/PuffinCamPetrelCam.

Dick Smith, Sure’s Alderney-based technician, said:
“Sure is again delighted to be a supporter of Puffincam. Our unlimited pro broadband service enables the Alderney Wildlife Trust to provide live streaming images of these fascinating birds. We look forward to a summer of Puffin & PetrelCam action and wish Alderney Wildlife Trust the success it deserves.”

Karen Rankine, Managing Director of Channel Television, added:
"We are delighted to be supporting the important work of the Alderney Wildlife Trust as part of Channel Television's 50th anniversary year.  We hope it will gain invaluable information about the bird colonies on Burhou and we are very excited to be a part of showcasing the conservation of such valuable local wildlife."

In addition to the live feeds, high quality videos will be added to the website on a regular basis by Alderney Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers.  This will give those using the website a ‘highlights’ section
(http://microsites2.segfl.org.uk/view_project.php?id=120#Home) where the very best of the previous few days’ footage can be selected.

Setting up the webcam
Setting up the website has been both a technical and logistical challenge with the cameras sited in the heart of the Bailiwick of Guernsey’s first Internationally Important Wetland (or Ramsar) Site on the isolated island of Burhou (http://www.visitalderney.com/attractions/ramsar/).

The combined technical efforts of Sure Cable and Wireless’s Alderney based technician, Dick Smith, ITV Channel Television’s Paul Marshall and AWT volunteer and technician Sacha Vincent were essential to bridge the 4km gap between the cameras and the receiving station setup on Alderney.

This station is located inside the garage of AWT and Ramsar Site Volunteer Lynn Hare-Riley who has been serving numerous rounds of tea to the team working night and day.

Once this footage is ready for uploading it is streamed to the South East Grid for Learning (SEGfL) which supports web-based learning for over 3,000 schools and more than 1m pupils, including students from the Channel Islands.  This site can be accessed by any number of the public via www.alderneywildlife.org and is tied into SEGFL’s educational programme.

The challenges of merging RF and Broadband technologies were faced by all sponsors, with Sure Cable and Wireless enabling video streaming from the island.

Ramsar Background
In 2005 Alderney’s West Coast and Burhou islands were designated as a wetland of international importance site (Ramsar site). The Ramsar site covers 1600 hectares of land and sea, almost twice the land area of mainland Alderney.  The shallow waters and islets in the strongly tidal, high-energy system of the northern Channel Islands includes diverse and inter-related ecosystems and supports large numbers of important seabirds.  The site is managed by AWT on behalf of the States of Alderney.  AWT undertakes marine and terrestrial surveys to establish an ecological baseline, extensive bird monitoring and an educational programme.

Who’s Involved
The ‘Alderney Wildlife Trust’ is the Channel Islands’ only Wildlife Trust.  Entirely self funding and with over 600 members, it was founded in 2002 in response to the absence of any other body, either governmental or charitable, with a specific responsibility to care for Alderney’s natural environment.  Alderney Wildlife Trust Trust was responsible for the designation of the island’s Ramsar site and has managed this on behalf of the States of Alderney since 2005.  It relies almost entirely on volunteers for this work with several thousand hours of voluntary effort being donated each year towards the care and maintenance of Burhou and the rest of the Ramsar site.

‘ITV Channel Television’ is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.  As part of the anniversary celebrations the station became involved with the Alderney PetrelCam project, seeking to use its own technical resource and broadcast experience to support the Alderney Wildlife Trust in its conservation work and enable valuable data and images to be shared with other conservationists and students both nationally and internationally.

‘Sure’ became involved in the project in 2011.  It was a natural venture for the telecommunications company as the technology to transmit the data for the original PuffinCam was based on mobile communications and run via a SIM card through the Sure network.  With the development of the radio frequency camera feeds, for the new PuffinCam & PetrelCam, Sure’s’ Unlimited Pro package’ has enabled the video to be streamed live back to the website.  Sure’s aim in sponsoring this work is to enable future research and the engagement of people in the natural world.  The organisation hopes that by using the same technology in the future more of our natural spectacles will be viewed and enjoyed by the community gaining better understanding and appreciation of our beautiful islands and the diverse wildlife they support.

The ‘States of Alderney’ (SoA) have supported the creation and running of this project since its original inception in 2008.  The SoA sought to have Burhou and the surrounding reefs, islets and waters designated as an Internationally Important Wetland (Ramsar) site in 2005 and since then have developed one of the most detailed and progressive Ramsar Site Management Plans to be operated within the Channel Islands.  The work which is undertaken on their behalf by the AWT ranges from practical conservation, such as control of invasive weeds, to detailed ornithological and marine surveys, and includes educational work such as PuffinCam, the production of literature and the running of activities and events.

The role of ‘SEGfL’ is varied but with a main aim to connect every school in the region, including those in the Channel Islands, to broadband services which are both fit for purpose and sustainable: broadband services that can facilitate digital communications in all areas of the curriculum and every aspect of school life.  To this end the PuffinCam site is used as an active part of the school curriculum with the live and recorded footage available to all participating schools, and anyone else interested in having a look, to help better understand Britain’s brilliantly diverse natural environment.  Specific scheduled live blogs run by local wildlife experts will be available over the course of the next few months for schools from
as far afield as Canada - and perhaps even Jersey.

Tagged with: Species