Information and Advsiory Note Number 74, July 1997
1.1 Under the Environmental Protection Act, 1990, the country agencies and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) are required to establish common standards throughout Great Britain for the monitoring of nature conservation’, thus enabling us to report consistently to Government. This Note traces the development of a framework addressing one aspect of this requirement: monitoring and reporting on the condition of features of interest on SSSIs, Natura 2000 and Ramsar sites.
2.1 In 1992 JNCC commissioned work on the development of a framework for monitoring and reporting on biological and earth science features within the SSSI series1. A summary was provided to the Joint Committee in 1994.
2.2 The report noted that NCC had made several previous attempts to establish schemes for monitoring the condition of the SSSI series. These had included site integrity monitoring, site quality monitoring, monitoring of ‘key components’ and loss and damage recording. Of these, the latter represented the only standard approach to monitoring on SSSIs still in existence.
2.3 The loss and damage scheme provided a means of recording, categorising and reporting on cases of damage detected on SSSIs. The scheme ran for 10 years, and although it constituted the main source of SSSI data in annual reports it had several shortcomings.
Chief among these was its failure to take account of long-term damage (e.g. through overgrazing) or of positive changes on sites. It also failed to focus on features for which the site had been notified, and was applied in an essentially ad hoc manner.
2.4 In their place was proposed an approach which would record the condition of each interest feature, and of changes in condition, positive or otherwise.
2.5 The 1993 report prompted a considerable body of work by the country agencies, which have since tested and implemented its recommendations, including monitoring within the Natura 2000 series. This work has been coordinated by the UK Monitoring Network which, from the outset, has been concerned to ensure that the monitoring framework maintains a clear focus on meeting minimum monitoring requirements, while retaining sufficient flexibility to take account of different practices operating within the country agencies.
2.6 Each agency's interpretation of the JNCC framework was the subject of field trials, followed by an independent review in 19952. In April 1996 the SNH approach was endorsed by the Management Team3. Guidance was made available on the corporate computer network ‘S’ drive4 and implementation was coordinated by members of Regional Advisory Services.
2.7 In June 1997 the JNCC approved a paper which defines the minimum set of common standards required for monitoring the condition of features of interest on SSSIs, ASSIs, Natura 2000 and Ramsar sites5 consistently. It was agreed that the country agencies would implement the JNCC framework by 1 April 1998, and would trial the scheme for three years.
3.1 Hellawell6 defined monitoring as:
surveillance undertaken to ensure that formulated standards are being maintained …
‘Surveillance’, in turn, is defined as:
a continued programme of surveys systematically undertaken to provide a series of observations in time.
3.2 The term ‘monitoring’ therefore requires that a standard is defined, against which the condition of a habitat or species will be assessed. Within the JNCC monitoring framework this standard will in most cases comprise a range of states through which the feature may be expected fluctuate over time, and within which its condition is considered favourable. Limits would normally be defined, providing a clear boundary between what constitutes ‘favourable’ and ‘unfavourable’ condition (Figure 1).
3.3 Under the JNCC framework the procedure for monitoring is as follows.
These stages are described below.
4.1 An interest feature, whether terrestrial or marine, may be a habitat, a geomorphological feature, a geological exposure, a single species or a species assemblage. In each case the feature must be classified in accordance with the criteria under which the site was selected.
4.2 As a minimum, the country agencies will monitor and report on all ‘legal features’. These are features of interest which qualify under the selection guidelines and for which the site was notified. In the case of Natura 2000 and Ramsar sites this equates to features for which the site has been or will be designated.
4.3 Two other categories of feature may be monitored at the agencies' discretion. These are:
Any remaining features (e.g. of local interest) may also be monitored, although notified interests must take precedence given limitations on time and funding.
5.1 Conservation objectives are statements which identify key attributes of a given feature and define a range of states within which each attribute may be described as ‘favourable’. Attributes may include habitat area, population size, age distribution, level of regeneration, species diversity, sward height, moisture levels and other properties. In most cases, for each attribute limits must be set, clearly identifying the boundaries beyond which the feature's condition will be considered ‘unfavourable’.
5.2 In some cases relatively little may be known about the interest feature, making it difficult to define favourable condition. In such circumstances the feature's current condition will be considered favourable (unless the contrary is clearly the case), and changes from that state will be judged favourable or unfavourable depending on the nature of the change and its cause.
5.3 In the same way, conservation objectives must be set for all features for which Natura 2000 and Ramsar sites have been designated. In order to ensure that the monitoring framework will contribute effectively towards reporting on the Natura series, attributes must be identified which are consistent with the main elements of ‘favourable conservation status’ (FCS) under the Habitats Directive. Although Annex I & II features are expected to achieve favourable conservation status throughout their range in the EU it ought to be possible to translate elements of FCS into measurable attributes at the site level, as illustrated in Table 1.
5.4 Prior to setting conservation objectives staff should clearly identify what it is we need to know about a feature, and why. They should also bear in mind that even simple, pragmatic objectives may, in aggregate, generate significant resource demands.
6.1 For each conservation objective appropriate monitoring prescriptions will be identified, and approximate costs and time requirements scheduled within the ensuing planning horizon.
6.2 Each feature will be assessed using appropriate survey methods and in sufficient detail to be able to confirm whether or not the feature's condition lies within the limits set.
6.3 Each assessment will be recorded on a condition monitoring form and, when it comes into use, entered into a database system. Any change from favourable to unfavourable condition will be treated as a damage case, and recorded on a standard damage record form, as will damaging incidents.
6.4 Area Managers will be required to confirm the outcome of each condition assessment and each damage case before these may be used in national reports.
7.1 In addition to providing a standard against which the feature's condition may be assessed, conservation objectives will also provide:
7.2 An evaluation will be made of whether management activities are likely to safeguard each feature, and whether they are considered appropriate in terms of type of activity, intensity and timing.
8.1 The monitoring framework will produce results capable of being aggregated to provide an overview of the effectiveness of the SSSI series throughout Great Britain. Habitats and species for which SSSIs have been designated will be grouped into standard categories, and within each category results will be expressed in terms of the number of features whose current condition is considered:
A measure of the feature's area or abundance may also be presented, setting the results in context.
8.2 The agencies have agreed to report on all notified interest on SSSIs within a six year cycle, in keeping with the requirement to report under the Habitats Directive. An interim report will be produced three years into each cycle.
9.1 The process of identifying features of interest and developing conservation objectives ties-in with the production of Site Management Statements. Both activities require an understanding of the importance of each site, and of our long-term aims for safeguarding the features on it. They also require that a programme of work is developed for each site, in which appropriate documentation and site visits are scheduled over the next five years. This programme has now been incorporated into the Operational Planning round.
9.2 Site condition monitoring is also expected to provide necessary feedback into site management planning, enabling management statements to be developed and refined.
9.3 SNH's approach to condition monitoring has been developed by the SSSI Monitoring Group. Responsibility to lead on the development of this and an information system for processing monitoring data now rests with Environmental Audit Branch, Chief Scientist's Unit.
9.4 The task of monitoring the condition of SSSIs and Natura 2000 sites will fall largely to Area Officers, with assistance from external contractors where specialist skills are required, and for surveying of extensive areas. Where appropriate, data will also be obtained from surveys organised by NGOs and other Government agencies.
9.5 Further support will be provided through a contract let by JNCC to identify generic attributes and change limits which may be translated into specific objectives on each site. In the first instance guidelines will be provided for 50 Natura 2000 habitats and species, due for completion in 1997. The final report from this contract is likely to provide the basis for development of a UK-wide standard for setting site-based conservation objectives.
1 Rowell, TA. 1993. Common Standards for Monitoring SSSIs. JNCC. Executive Summary 9 pp; Volume 1 49 pp.; Volume II 22 pp.
2 Horton, P.J. & Humphries, R.N. 1995. Common Standards Monitoring of SSSIs in Practice. Humphries Rowell Ass. 31 pp.
3 Mackey, E. 1996. SSSI Condition Monitoring. Management Team paper. 49 pp.
4 SSSI Monitoring Group. 1995. SSSI Condition Monitoring guidance. I Site Appraisal. 19 pp. II Site Monitoring. 13 pp.
5 JNCC 1997. A statement on common standards for monitoring designated sites. Paper to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, JNCC 97 N9. 6 pp.
6 Hellawell J.B. 1978. Biological surveillance of rivers. A biological monitoring handbook. Water Research Centre, Medmenham & Stevenage.