A Holistic Approach to Wildlife Risk Assessments

A Holistic Approach to Wildlife Risk Assessments

Wildlife Hazard Management (WHM) at Copenhagen Airport is moving away from conducting generic step-by-step Wildlife Risk Assessments (WRA) based on “One size fits all”.  The approach is becoming more holistic following the notion that conducting WRA’s are like assembling a puzzle where data is the pieces and every picture is unique; therefore, the more different types of data we include in the WRA, the more cohesive and clear the picture becomes.

One of the cornerstones in our WHM is the Wildlife Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM), developed by John Allan (‘A Heuristic Risk Assessment Technique for Birdstrike Management at Airports’, 2006). It allows you to assess a bird species risk to flight safety based on the Frequency and Severity of a birdstrike. The RAM functions as the starting point, or the first puzzle piece, creating an overview of potential wildlife hazards in need of comprehensive WRA’s.

The next puzzle piece is data collected by Bird Controllers. At many airports Bird Controller data includes presence (number) and behaviour of the bird species observed at the airport, thereby offering knowledge on the potential risk posed by each species. Moreover, it may guide you towards the root cause of the risk, that is “what is causing the behaviour?”. Root causes may be identified by comparing observational data with general knowledge on the biology of the specific bird species.

Bird Controller data may also reveal if a certain species is passing over the airport, e.g. daily or seasonally, without actually using the airport directly. If that is the case, data collected in the surroundings of the airport is needed to enable identification of the root cause. A good place to start is mapping all bird attractive areas in the surroundings of the airport, for example wetlands, nature reserves, farmlands, open dumping sites and so forth, and subsequently collect data on presence and behaviour of the species. If data reveals that the species at hand are present at a certain nature reserve, data on movement patterns can further elucidate if individuals or flocks are performing a movement pattern, e.g. daily foraging trips from the nature reserves to another site in the surroundings, making it a risk to flight safety. 3D avian radar offers comprehensive data collection on movement patterns.

The last type of data I will touch upon is Stakeholder Narratives. This type of “soft data” can be very useful to include in a WRA. Local communities surrounding the airport float with people who can tell a story regarding local wildlife and their habitats. Farmers, hunters and forest rangers all have their angle on the local wildlife and how it has evolved the previous decades. It is crucial to have in mind the premise of the knowledge you gain from Stakeholder Narratives, e.g. the potential of hidden agendas colliding with flight safety. That being said Stakeholder Narratives can contribute with some important aspects. First of all, it can elucidate the complexity of doing WHM outside the airport fence. So many local stakeholders are in play all with different perceptions of the issue at hand. Understanding this complexity is essential when WRA’s are to be converted into concrete management initiatives. Furthermore, showing an interest in the local community, and letting them know that the airport is interested in their story, might just create some good-will for later on when an initiative that might affect them is to be implemented. Secondly, those in charge of granting money for different projects at the airport are most likely not wildlife specialists. So, to be able to move on with your wildlife project, you need to be able to tell a story that first of all is evidence-based, and secondly, can catch their attention. The Stakeholder Narratives can be the spice that makes the story come alive and makes it stand out. That should never be underestimated.

To sum up, WRA’s should be holistic because that is how you ensure that all angles and all potential risks have been taken into account. To do so you need to include a wide range of data, from the newest technology to going out and having a chat with the local farmer. WRA’s need to be evidence-based, otherwise we risk wasting resources managing something that wasn’t in need of any managing, worst case we may create a wildlife hazard that was not there, to begin with. However, it is important to remember that evidence or data comes in many shapes and forms, each having both strengths and weaknesses. If you include many different types of data you increase the chance of covering all the aforementioned weaknesses, hence ending up with a strong WRA.

Written by: Camilla Rosenquist, Wildlife Manager at Copenhagen Airport (Denmark).

You can contact Camilla Rosenquist on Linkedin.