“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) MCIEEM on 28/06/2019

Monitoring is usually undertaken as part of a project, however all too often it is not designed to provide information relevant to the questions being asked. If we can’t measure the impact that we are having on biodiversity, then how can we make informed decisions on how to improve it? Even if that project is a rewilding one, therefore open ended, it is still important to know what is happening to biodiversity as a result of our actions (or inaction). This blog provides some key points based on our experience on how to monitor your project effectively, and communicate the results better.

Design

Developing a monitoring plan at the early stages of a project is really important – what are you trying to achieve and what questions are you trying to answer. This will inform your monitoring survey design, budgets, analysis, and will inform what it is you want to measure. Are you looking at changes in environmental conditions (lichens, bryophytes, fungi) or is there a specific group that you want to measure in response to change (for example, song birds during a pine marten reintroduction).  Standardisation of sampling is also a vital part of any monitoring strategy.

Technology

Automation and technology is finally starting to catch up within our industry, and increasingly these relatively inexpensive tools can assist in providing high accuracy data. For example, bioacoustics recorders can be used to monitor bird song, bats, invertebrates, and even fish! UAV drones and LiDAR can be used to monitor changes in habitat extent, structure, composition, and can even be used to collect species information. Environmental DNA (eDNA) and DNA barcoding are also emerging as techniques to monitor a variety of indicator species. Technology can also be utilised to encourage citizen science and volunteer groups, whilst not compromising the accuracy of the results.

 

Communication

Our Biodiversity Quality Calculator has also been developed to provide useful information to assist with decisions. This does not rely on subjective information or species richness alone, but aims to provide information on trends across a range of indices. Useful indices includes biomass, species turnover, species rarity, and population evenness. Biodiversity is complex, and as such it cannot be measured by single indices. By providing a range of indices, trends can be found and assessed within the data set. Some management practices, for example, have been found to increase species rarity but decrease overall biomass – this information can be used to inform future management strategies based on what the project is trying to achieve overall.

The calculator has been used for a range of clients, from species reintroduction projects (beavers, pine martens, water buffalos), to land management decisions, natural grazing regimes, and habitat restoration projects. The aim is to provide more comprehensive, but easy to understand, outputs to assist with informing future projects as well as future strategies.

 

It is important to ensure that we are measuring and monitoring the right things – and to review this before monitoring works commence. This can provide good information to inform future restoration or management strategies, to improve biodiversity. In addition, communication and feedback within the industry is vital to encourage and improve the way that we restoring nature in the UK. With the use of technology advances in the UK, we have access to more accurate data at a lower cost. But, with data becoming more available, we need to find ways to analyse it to provide meaningful results that can inform future schemes.

If you would like to discuss biodiversity monitoring strategies and the Biodiversity Quality Calculator further, please contact Sara King, Ecosulis Biodiversity Assessment Specialist (sara.king@ecosulis.co.uk)