BESPOKE MONITORING DESIGN
Post-development monitoring is a condition of Protected Species Licensing. However, published monitoring methods typically advocate surveillance focused upon the animal species, which has little power to inform site management. In addition, the surveillance is generally performed at too high intensity for too short a period to offer any meaningful information, and is disproportionately expensive. As a result, despite significant amounts of money changing hands between quarry developers and ecological consultants, it is often unknown whether the methods used by the latter, do in fact offer any assurance that a population of a legally protected species will be retained at favourable status; which is a condition of the licence.
Furthermore, historic surveillance schemes have done little to enlighten conservation action, and after over a decade of moving species and creating habitat, we still don’t really know whether much of what we do is effective. It is all too easy to concentrate on the target faunal species within post-development EPS monitoring, at the expense of its habitat. In fact, as the target species can and will only persist within a site if the habitat is suitable, it is far more important to assign greater weight and attention to the successful provision and maintenance of habitat, with fewer visits made annually but over a longer overall duration.
In order to ensure that our clients had sufficient information upon which to base post-development EPSL management actions, which would (within reasonable limits) give them the highest probability that the scheme would be a success, AEcol devised a monitoring framework that can be applied across all species. The framework starts by setting out the mechanism that conditions the monitoring and thereby defines the scheme objective.
The next step is the identification of the baseline conditions (i.e. where we are now), and what the objective comprises in material terms (i.e. where do we want to be). Quantitative and qualitative standards are then set, and thereafter any result that demonstrates a fall below these standards will trigger remedial action. In order to measure the site conditions, simple methods for assessing the quantitative and qualitative standards are applied.
Quantitative assessment measures might include:
Phase 1 habitat mapping (which will tell you which habitats are present, and how much in surface area) and/or
counts of compensatory species refuges.
Qualitative assessment measures might include:
Fixed-point photography (which can be compared year-on-year to show the condition of the habitat)
Application of the great crested newt Habitat Suitability Index
A measure of vegetation height for invertebrates and reptiles (used to inform grazing)
Measures of arboreal connectivity between plantation trees and shrubs and counts of fruiting trees and shrubs to assess whether compensatory habitat is sufficiently developed to support dormice and
Assessment of the heights, aspect and occupants of bat-boxes (yes we have bats, but are they the right species?).
The framework provides an irrefutable evidence-base for the trigger of management actions, and allows a degree of prediction as to whether the scheme will be a success from an early stage, allowing the management team to think ahead and anticipate problems before there is an irreversible decline. As a result, the framework provides direct management control to those monitoring, and instils a sense of confidence that management actions are definitely required; there is no subjectivity. Furthermore, the results of the monitoring feedback into the EPS development licence process, enabling us to show what works and what doesn’t, to the benefit of our clients and the species displaced by developments.
Thus far AEcol have applied the framework to monitoring schemes involving individual plant species, UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitats, Roman snails (yes, really), great crested newts, reptiles, dormice and bats with demonstrable successes that have translated into PR triumphs for our quarry clients.