Bioacoustics in the Cairngorms

9 July 2024

The sounds of birdsong and running water are not only comforting. Bioacoustics may also play a crucial role in ecosystem recovery. 

Zulu Ecosystems is working closely with the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) to gather bioacoustics data on a key restoration site in the Cairngorms.  

This will inform the development of the Cairngorms Nature Index (CNI) – an initiative launched by the CNPA in 2020 to assess the state of nature in the park and take an ecosystem-based approach for the first time in the UK. 


The history of bioacoustics 

Ecologists and conservation researchers have long used sound to study wildlife. From identifying birdsong by ear in the field to surveying bats with handheld detectors and using remote sound records, sound has always been a crucial tool for monitoring animal populations and behaviours.  

In recent years, the technology for passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) has rapidly advanced. By using ultrasonic sounds to monitor bats and other hard-to-detect species, sensors can be deployed in the field for extensive periods with minimal disruption to provide insights into species distribution, physiological states, and more.  


The Cairngorms Nature Index: a first for the UK 

The Cairngorms National Park is home to a quarter of the UK’s rarest and most endangered species. Its wild and treasured landscapes provide refuge for some of the country’s most iconic wildlife, including the golden eagle, osprey, Scottish wildcat, and pine marten.  

The CNI’s aim is to establish a baseline and framework for monitoring the health of the park’s habitats, species, and ecosystems, using an ecosystem-based approach building on successful methods deployed in Norway. 


Understanding upland moorlands through sound 

One of the primary goals of the initiative is to determine key indices for upland moorlands, a landscape characterised by low-growing shrubs, grasses and bog-mosses, often on damper peaty soils. These include wet habitats such as blanket bogs and fens. By analysing the bioacoustic data collected during the spring and summer months, our researchers can monitor the diversity and abundance of bird and bat species. 

The data that underpins these assessments will inform how nature is responding to key influencing factors, such as land use change and the climate emergency. It will also contribute to the British Trust for Ornithology’s efforts to improve acoustic recognition tools.

Bioacoustics in action. Photo credits: Zulu Ecosystems


By providing concrete metrics to monitor and report on the outcomes of restoration programs, our aim is to bridge the gap between science and practical conservation efforts.  

The data collected from the project will feed directly into the Cairngorms Nature Index, enhancing our collective ability to track the health of various habitats within the park and bring us closer to understanding the impact of land management on biodiversity species. 


A collaborative effort 

Special thanks go to Adam Fraser, the Monitoring Ecologist at CNPA, Dr. Isla Graham, the Raptor Conservation Officer at CNPA, and the CNPA’s Nature Networks Manager David Hetherington for their expertise and collaboration.


Contact us 

For more information on how you can get involved in land restoration efforts, contact Zulu Ecosystems at  

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