CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 30



The increasing importance of monitoring wildlife responses to habitat management
Box 1 WildSurveys: an online system for recording wildlife responses to conservation
interventions within Wildlife Trust Living Landscape schemes and reserves
This new internet-based monitoring concept has been
developed by the British Trust for Ornithology and The
Wildlife Trusts as a means of tracking responses of
selected wildlife taxa to habitat creation and restoration
within Living Landscape schemes and Wildlife Trust
reserves. It provides a flexible data-capture system that
can be adapted to many different habitat contexts,
types of intervention and species groups. The system
is being trialled within The Wildlife Trusts. The
development of suites of related case studies, focusing
on similar habitat interventions, will be encouraged in
order to maximise the gain in knowledge about wildlife
responses. In the long term, it has the potential to
provide a framework for addressing specific questions
about management interventions and habitat creation
at landscape scales if sufficient case studies can be
maintained for selected species groups.
WildSurveys strongly encourages the use of structured
designs with controls wherever possible and relevant.
The emphasis is on monitoring changes in numbers
of individuals over time at carefully selected locations,
using simple field protocols specific to the target taxa.
characteristic of those environments (Dolman et
al. 2011, 2012). Hence, we use the term ‘habitat
quality’ in the context of the resources on which
species depend, rather than in the sense of some
broad notion of vegetation condition.
In an ideal world, all conservation interventions would be underpinned by a comprehensive
management plan. This would incorporate not just
the definition of objectives and the management
actions intended to achieve those objectives, but
also appropriate monitoring to determine whether
satisfactory outcomes had been achieved (Ausden
2007). This would allow adaptive management
whereby the plan is subject to review and then, if
necessary, modified on the basis of clear evidence
derived from the monitoring. In reality, the vast
majority of conservation interventions are not
systematically monitored. This often comes down
to cost – understandably, resources are usually
prioritised for purchase and management. In
addition, apparently well-established techniques
are frequently believed to deliver strong benefits
for wildlife and it is thought that testing such
assumptions is unnecessary. This is a worrying
situation for several reasons. First, not all widely
applied interventions have, in fact, been thoroughly
assessed in terms of what they actually deliver, as
Although any species groups could be monitored
through WildSurveys, several priority species
groups of invertebrates and vertebrates have been
identified; it is hoped that higher plants would be
recorded at all selected locations. Recommended field
methodology is based so far as possible on established
practice in order to allow integration with national
recording schemes.
The system allows the definition of exact studysite boundaries and the selection of sample locations
within these. Data can be gathered and recorded
in several different ways, so that the scale of datarecording is appropriate for the species group, the
habitat type and the question being addressed about
the intervention. Counts can be made at sample points,
along sample transects or for whole plots as appropriate
for the species group and location. The nature of
the intervention, broad habitat types and vegetation
structure are all recorded within the system. Vegetation
structure is recorded at the sampling locations by
means of a novel and rapid approach in which observed
structure is visually matched to diagrammatic structures.
pointed out by Denton (2013) in the case of grazing
on heathland. Second, many interventions are aimed
at one or a few species and the rest of the fauna
and flora may be unknown. Third, funders and the
public increasingly need assurance that conservation
techniques really are successful. It is equally important to know when things work and when they do
not, or when they have beneficial but completely
unforeseen outcomes. Fourth, the environment is
changing in many ways and it cannot be assumed
that the established conservation techniques will be
successful in the future. For example, many insects
are thermally constrained in their choice of habitat,
and climate warming may cause them to adopt new
microhabitats (Davies et al. 2006). Future conservation management will need to consider how best to
provide the optimum microclimates for these species
(Suggitt et al. 2014).
If effective ecological networks are to be created,
there is a need to improve understanding of how
wildlife responds to the creation and restoration
of all types of ‘conservation habitat’. Robust
monitoring can greatly help conservation decisionmaking by identifying which types of conservation
intervention are likely to produce the best future
outcomes for wildlife and over what timescale
they are likely to materialise. This information
176 British Wildlife February 2016
BWM27_3 07 monitoring-v2.indd 176
29/01/2016 13:48

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