Key aspects of Common Standards Monitoring (CSM)
Features are the species, habitats and geological 'things' which are reasons why sites are protected. For example, they might be:
- seals, butterflies, breeding birds
- woodlands, lagoons, heathlands
- fossils, landforms
Common Standards Monitoring (CSM) is not intended to be all the monitoring that takes place on protected sites, but is intended to provide an early warning system whether all is well or not. If a decision is taken that a feature is in unfavourable condition, further investigation should be made to ascertain the reasons why and corrective action taken. This may involve issues on sites or off site but which impact on it.
The monitoring process
The monitoring process assigns a feature to one of a small number of standard conditions – these are the state of the feature at a particular point in time:
- Favourable condition – the objectives for that feature are being met, it is in the state that we want.
- Unfavourable condition – the state of the feature is currently unsatisfactory.
- Destroyed (partially or completely) – the feature is no longer present and there is no prospect of being able to restore it.
Where the feature is Unfavourable a further assessment is made as to whether the state of the feature is:
- Recovering, i.e moving towards the desired state.
- Declining, i.e moving away from the desired state.
- No-change, i.e. neither improving nor declining.
Where the feature is favourable a decision is made to determine if it is:
- Maintained, i.e. it has remained favourable since the previous assessment.
- Recovered, i.e. it has changed from unfavourable since the last assessment.
How do we decide if a feature is in favourable or unfavourable state?
For each feature a small number of characteristics (attributes) have been chosen that describe its condition, and targets are set for each attribute. Together these should give us a reasonably robust idea of whether the feature is as we wish.
- Attributes must be quantifiable and measurable.
- Habitat attributes may include extent, floristic composition, vegetation structure, and physical characteristics.
- Species attributes may include population size, species distribution, and habitat factors.
- It is desirable for the same suite of attributes to be used for each interest feature across the UK.
- Assessment of condition is against pre-set targets for the feature(s) on that site.
- Favourable condition is defined by setting broad targets for each attribute of the interest feature.
- Targets should describe the desired state of an interest feature.
- Targets should reflect geographical variation and local distinctiveness - they will often be influenced by site-specific factors.
- Ecosystem dynamics must be taken into account, e.g. successional changes on sand dunes.
How is CSM carried out?
- In general, condition assessments should be capable of being undertaken by operational staff within the agencies.
- For some interest features, it may be necessary to have specialist input or to use data held by other organisations.
- Condition assessments will often be based on a structured walk across the site, but may utilise other information (e.g. aerial photographs).
- Field testing is essential to ensure that results are robust and repeatable.
How are the results used?
- The assessment is intended to help guide management of the site.
- If the condition of the feature is Favourable, or Unfavourable, recovering then no change in management may be needed.
- If the feature is Unfavourable no-change, or Unfavourable declining then changes to bring the site into at least Unfavourable, recovering condition should be sought.