Introduction to the guidance manual
6. Common standards for monitoring protected sites
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 defines one of JNCC's special functions as to 'establish common standards throughout Great Britain for the monitoring of nature conservation ...'. In the context of protected sites, the development of common standards for monitoring provides two major benefits:
  • It provides country agency staff with a reliable method with which to assess the conservation status of key interest features on their sites. This enables assessments made by different people at different times to be compared with some confidence and enables staff to identify changes taking place on their sites.
  • Assessments from different sites can be aggregated to produce summary reports at a range of geographical scales. This can identify priorities for action at the local and national level. Such aggregation is essential if the UK is to report on the condition of designated sites across the UK, for example to meet the reporting requirements of EU Directives.
The establishment of common standards does not mean that monitoring has to be undertaken using prescriptive and rigidly-applied procedures. The approach needs to be sufficiently flexible to take into account natural geographical variation across the UK and to accommodate the varying requirements and operational practices of the country agencies. However, standards need to be sufficient to ensure that consistent judgements would be made by different staff.
A full copy of A statement on common standards for monitoring designated sites (JNCC 1998) can be found on this website. The common standards cover:
  • Features to be monitored
  • Conservation objectives
  • Judging the condition of site features
  • Recording threats and management measures
  • Monitoring cycle
  • Reporting arrangements

6.1 Features to be monitored
The features to be monitored are known as the interest features for which the site has been notified or designated. They include individual habitat types, species and Earth science features, and also complex features such as habitat mosaics and species assemblages. Each interest feature must be identified, monitored, assessed and reported on separately.
For international sites (SPA, candidate SAC, Ramsar), the notified (interest) features are those which have been submitted to the European Commission or Ramsar Bureau respectively on official data forms. A master list is held by JNCC within the International Designations Database.
For national sites, the interest feature is the feature which has been notified by the country agency in accordance with the SSSI/ASSSI selection guidelines (for biological features), or which is the interest feature specified in the Geological Conservation Review/Earth Science Conservation Review (for earth science features). Features which have not been notified are not reported on under the common standards.
6.2 Conservation objectives
Conservation objectives will be prepared for each interest feature on each site. These objectives contain targets or target ranges which should be met if the feature is to be judged to be in favourable condition. Each interest feature will have one or more measurable characteristics or attributes that together can be used to define favourable condition (see section 9). These attributes will either describe an aspect of the interest feature directly or be good indicators of its condition. The choice of target range in relation to favourable condition is critical. It is important to relate these to the feature under consideration, and to recognise which fluctuations in a population are normal and are not a cause for concern.
* Note that SNH refers to these as 'condition objectives'

6.3 Judging the condition of features
The following categories will be used to describe the condition of interest features:
  • Favourable - maintained.
An interest feature should be recorded as maintained when its conservation objectives were being met at the previous assessment, and are still being met.
  • Favourable - recovered.
An interest feature can be recorded as having recovered if it has regained favourable condition, having been recorded as unfavourable on the previous assessment.
  • Unfavourable - recovering.
An interest feature can be recorded as recovering after damage if it has begun to show, or is continuing to show, a trend towards favourable condition.
  • Unfavourable - no change.
An interest feature may be retained in a more-or-less steady state by repeated or continuing damage; it is unfavourable but neither declining or recovering. In rare cases, an interest feature might not be able to regain its original condition following a damaging activity, but a new stable state might be achieved.
  • Unfavourable - declining.
Decline is another possible consequence of a damaging activity. In this case, recovery is possible and may occur either spontaneously or if suitable management input is made.
  • Partially destroyed.
It is possible to destroy sections or areas of certain features or to destroy parts of sites with no hope of reinstatement because part of the feature itself, or the habitat or processes essential to support it, has been removed or irretrievably altered.
  • Destroyed.
The recording of a feature as destroyed will indicate 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.
6.4 Recording threats and management measures
An important part of monitoring is the potential for relating observed changes in the condition of the interest features to the reasons for such changes. As part of the monitoring process, the following should be recorded:
  • threats occurring on, or near, the site which may be driving features into unfavourable condition or preventing them from achieving favourable condition; and
  • management measures which may result in improvements to the condition of features or maintain features in favourable condition.


This information will be employed in the consideration of the causes of observed changes in feature condition and in guiding management action. However, it may not be possible to attribute cause and effect from the information gained during monitoring, in which case further investigation may be required.
6.5 Monitoring cycle
All interest features on all statutory sites will be assessed at least once within a six-year period. This corresponds to the six-year reporting cycle used for the EC Habitats Directive.
Each individual interest feature should be monitored ideally within the same year, and certainly within a three-year period. For a large site (e.g. in the uplands), it may not be possible to assess the whole of some features within one year, but the expectation is that the assessment must be completed within three years – this is to reduce the potential for the state of the feature to have changed between the start and end of the assessment.
The above remarks do not preclude more frequent monitoring if the ecological needs of the feature justify it and the common standards allow for such flexibility (for example, some of the species feature monitoring set out in the guidance is more frequent). For some species features, the guidance may recommend that an assessment be made on the basis of records collated over the six year monitoring cycle; where this is the case the assessment should be made at the end of the monitoring cycle.
6.6 Reporting arrangements
Information obtained from common standards monitoring will be used to prepare reports for a variety of purposes. For example, it should satisfy the requirement to report on the status of international site networks under the Habitats and Birds Directives and the Ramsar Convention. For the SSSI and ASSI series, information will be presented, at the UK level, using Biodiversity Action Plan broad habitat types, an agreed set of species categories, and categories appropriate to the Geological Conservation Review. A report of the results of Common Standards Monitoring (CSM) will be pulled together at least every six years. Once the first cycle has been completed, it is likely that annual reports will be produced, based on a rolling six year cycle.