CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 39

The increasing importance of monitoring wildlife responses to habitat management
In situations of new habitat creation, there may
be value in rapidly shifting the emphasis from
control to benchmark. In the early stages of habitat
creation, one may wish to know how quickly the
wildlife in the new habitat is diverging from the
starting habitat and which species are benefiting. Very soon, however, the interest may switch
to knowing whether the plants and animals are
converging on a desired target state. At this point,
the monitoring of the starting habitat may cease
and effort be redirected on to benchmark habitat.
In situations where habitat creation is given the
freedom to develop in an open-ended way without
any target end point, monitoring of the new habitat
without reference to a benchmark would be entirely
reasonable. In such cases, it would be interesting
to assess how the wildlife compared with that of
managed or long-established core habitat at a
similar successional stage, although this may be
best undertaken as a one-off exercise rather than as
part of an ongoing monitoring programme.
In general, benchmark habitat may be more
useful than controls in monitoring wildlife
responses to habitat creation if the starting point is
almost devoid of wildlife, such as arable farmland.
When monitoring habitat restoration and management, however, it is often best to choose controls
rather than benchmarks. Scientifically, the use of
clearly defined controls is best practice because
it can produce the most convincing evidence
of the effects of an intervention. In the absence
of controls, one cannot be sure that changes
in wildlife are attributable to the treatment or
intervention rather than to some other factor, e.g.
changing climate, predator pressure or pollution.
In the worst case, monitoring without controls may
lead to false conclusions being drawn regarding
the effects of conservation interventions. Benchmark habitat may itself be subject to substantial
conservation intervention, resulting in ‘shifting
goalposts’. Furthermore, valid control habitat
(poor quality, unmanaged, etc.) is generally easier
to find than valid benchmark habitat. There are, in
any case, other ways of establishing benchmarks
or references than through the monitoring of
core habitat. For example, target species may be
identified that are known to be present in nearby
core habitat and that have the necessary dispersal
ability to colonise. The use of atlas data and other
biological records can be helpful in setting targets
against which outcomes can be measured. The
fundamental message is that serious attention
should always be given to the rigorous sampling
of controls wherever possible.
Final thoughts
The exchange of information to improve the
effectiveness of conservation will be increasingly
important in the future. Evidence-based conservation is not a new concept; it has been strongly
advocated for years (Sutherland et al. 2004). A
growing repository of information is available
at This website
offers ‘…a free authoritative information resource
designed to support decisions about how to
maintain and restore global biodiversity.’ Evidence
is periodically summarised from the established
scientific literature on what conservation actions
work (e.g. Sutherland et al. 2015), and new
original observations are published in its online
journal Conservation Evidence. Findings from
the types of monitoring studies advocated in this
article would make valuable contributions to the
growing body of evidence – there are many gaps
in knowledge, and the environment is constantly
changing. In developing the concepts behind
WildSurveys, we discovered that some practitioners
seem to be unaware of the Conservation Evidence
resource, suggesting that communication between
conservation practitioners and ecologists could
improve further. While much monitoring activity
is happening on conservation land throughout
Britain, very little of this is coordinated, or in any
sense strategic, so that lessons are rarely extended
beyond the site in question. Moreover, some of
this monitoring is not designed in ways that can
generate robust evidence. Establishing several series
of case studies focusing on similar habitat interventions would be a huge step forward.
There are no ‘off the shelf’ monitoring solutions,
because the real world is complex, irregular and
messy. The development of habitat-creation initiatives and habitat networks is an ongoing process
which creates challenges for monitoring in that
opportunities may gradually develop and change
over time. It is hoped that the thoughts presented
here may help in decisions on how best to tailor
monitoring to local needs, while recognising that
there is much to be gained from adopting common
February 2016 British Wildlife 185
BWM27_3 07 monitoring-v2.indd 185
29/01/2016 13:49


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