A Statement on Common Standards Monitoring

 

4. The common standards

4.1 The basic framework of common standards for monitoring covers:
  • Features to be monitored
  • Conservation objectives
  • Judging the condition of site features
  • Recording activities and management measures
  • Monitoring cycle
  • Reporting arrangements

 

4.2 Features to be monitored

The features to be monitored are known as the interest feature(s) for which the site has been notified or, in the case of Natura 2000 and Ramsar sites, the features for which the site is designated.
 
In monitoring, the special interest of the site may not always be dealt with as a single entity since many sites have a complex mix of species, habitats or earth science features which provide the justification for the designation of the site. However, the individual interest features can be identified, monitored and reported separately. These interest features are described in the notification documents and are the reasons why the site was designated. In the case of SPAs and Ramsar sites the interest features which justify the designation are recorded in the site documentation. Until SACs are formally designated the interest features are those for which the site has been selected.
 
4.3 Conservation Objectives
Conservation objectives will be prepared for interest features on all sites. These objectives will define what constitutes favourable condition of each feature by describing broad targets which should be met if the feature is to be judged favourable.
 
Each interest feature of a site will have one or more attributes that can be used to help define favourable condition. For species these may include population size, structure, habitat requirements and distribution. Attributes of habitats may include area covered, key species, composition and structure and supporting processes. Attributes for earth science features include the Geological Conservation Review selection criteria and accessibility for education and research purposes.
 
Broad targets will be identified for those attributes that most economically define favourable condition of the interest feature. Because all features are subject to some degree of change the targets may express how much change we would accept while still considering the feature to be in a favourable condition. If a feature changes to the extent that it falls outside the thresholds expressed then this acts as a trigger for remedial action or further investigation.
 
In some cases relatively little may be known about the interest feature so it may be difficult to define favourable condition. In such circumstances we will consider using the current condition as our definition of favourable condition, in the absence of any evidence that the current condition was unfavourable.
 
4.4 Judging the Condition of Sites
The condition of site features will be assessed against the following categories:
  • Favourable - maintained. An interest feature should be recorded as maintained when its conservation objectives were being met at the previous assessment, and are still being met.
  • Favourable - recovered. An interest feature can be recorded as having recovered if it has regained favourable condition, having been recorded as unfavourable on the previous assessment.
  • Unfavourable - recovering. An interest feature can be recorded as recovering after damage if it has begun to show, or is continuing to show, a trend towards favourable condition.
  • Unfavourable - no change. An interest feature may be retained in a more-or-less steady state by repeated or continuing damage; it is unfavourable but neither declining or recovering. In rare cases, an interest feature might not be able to regain its original condition following a damaging activity, but a new stable state might be achieved.
  • Unfavourable - declining. Decline is another possible consequence of a damaging activity. In this case, recovery is possible and may occur either spontaneously or if suitable management input is made.
  • Partially destroyed. It is possible to destroy sections or areas of certain features or to destroy parts of sites with no hope of reinstatement because part of the feature itself, or the habitat or processes essential to support it, has been removed or irretrievably altered.
  • Destroyed. The recording of a feature as destroyed will indicate the entire interest feature has been affected to such an extent that there is no hope of recovery, perhaps because its supporting habitat or processes have been removed or irretrievably altered.

 

These categories will be used to assess and report on the condition of features of interest and will replace the old loss and damage categories previously used.
 
Judgements on the overall condition of a feature will be influenced by a variety of factors and in some cases a feature may be assessed as being in favourable condition when only some of the targets set for it have been met.
 
4.5 Recording Activities and Management Measures
Activities on, or near, the site and practical management measures affecting the condition of interest features will be included in the monitoring process. This information will be reported using a set of agreed categories.
 
An important part of monitoring is the potential of relating observed changes in the condition of the interest features to the reasons for such changes. Activities being carried out on, or near, the site may be causing the feature to decline in condition, or may be constraining desired improvements. Conversely, management measures may result in improvements to the condition of features and the identification of such measures will demonstrate their value and influence future management actions. The result of such compliance monitoring will help inform views on whether existing legal, administrative, practical management and incentive measures are proving effective. Data from other sources may also provide contextual information and help inform our views on the success or otherwise of measures.
 
4.6 Monitoring Cycle
The overall cycle will ensure that the interest features for all statutory sites will be monitored at least once within six years. However, for any particular site all the interest features should be monitored within a three year period.
 
There is a need to monitor statutory sites and their interest features within an agreed cycle. This cycle needs to take account of the scale of monitoring required, the likely rate of change and the national and international reporting needs. As key reports on European Directives and international agreements and Conventions operate on a six year cycle this has been chosen as the overall cycle for monitoring in the UK. Within the overall monitoring cycle, it will be useful to form a view of the overall condition of the features within a proportion of the statutory sites on a more frequent basis. Each interest feature within a site should therefore be monitored, preferably within the same year, but certainly within a three year period. This will enable an interim UK wide report on a proportion of the statutory site network to be produced every three years.
 
4.7 Reporting Arrangements
Information on the SSSI and ASSI series will be presented, at the UK level, on the basis of the biodiversity broad habitat types originally described in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (1994) and on categories appropriate to the Geological Conservation Review. Reporting on species is for an agreed set of species categories. A full report will be produced once every six years with an interim report produced between full reports. The monitoring framework will generate information on the condition of features across the statutory site network as a whole, or on the status of features within individual sites, and will be used to fulfil reporting requirements under European Directives and International Conventions.
 
Reports on the condition of features are required for a variety of purposes and on a variety of scales. The common standard is to allow the separate country accounts to be compared and aggregated to produce a UK account on the overall condition of features and the activities and practical management measures affecting them. The standard must also enable more specific accounts to be produced on the important habitats and species covered by the Biodiversity Action Plan, the Annex 1 habitats and Annex II species listed in the Habitats Directive, Annex I birds in the Birds Directive and species and habitats covered by the Ramsar Convention. It may also be necessary to aggregate information on features to produce site based reports. Individual country agencies may report in more detail than these categories and may wish to report on a more frequent basis.