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
Site assessment is intended to help guide the management of the site. The monitoring process assigns a feature to one of a small number of standard conditions (Common Standards) – these are the state of the feature at a particular point in time:
- Favourable condition – the condition 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 due to its condition objective not being met.
- Partially Destroyed – it is possible to destroy sections or areas of certain features or to destroy parts of protected areas with no hope of reinstatement because part of the feature itself, or the habitat or processes essential to support it have been removed or irretrievably altered. In such instances it is usual for a condition assessment to be carried out on the remaining, intact feature.
- Completely destroyed - indicates 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.
Further trend qualifiers are outlined in the Statement and their use by the Country Nature Conservation Bodies is optional.
How do we decide if a feature is in favourable or unfavourable state?
For each feature a number of characteristics (attributes) have been chosen that describe its condition, and targets are set for each attribute (see the Guideline chapters). Together these give us a reasonably robust idea of whether the feature is as we wish.
- Attributes must be quantifiable and measurable.
- Habitat attributes include extent, floristic composition, vegetation structure, and physical characteristics.
- Species attributes 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, for example 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 use other information (e.g. aerial photographs, satellite imagery, eDNA).