Introduction to the guidance manual
16. Judging condition: making the assessment
Once the monitoring evidence has been collected, a judgement about the condition of the interest feature must be made. This judgement should be reached by reviewing all relevant evidence critically.
An interest feature is expected to meet all high priority ('mandatory') attributes for it to be considered to be in favourable condition. Rarely, exceptions might be made to this rule: this must always be documented. A special situation might arise over the next few years as Common Standards Monitoring is 'bedded down'; that an interest feature may appear to have 'failed' because the original selection of attributes and targets was wrong. If this is the case, the targets must be adjusted before a decision is made on the assessment of the feature. Agency quality assurance processes should ensure that the guidance is followed, and exceptions documented.
It might be felt by staff that the failure is due to a short-term management problem which has already been addressed. Even if this is the case, if the feature fails the target values set it must be assessed as unfavourable to ensure that corrective action is followed through. Remember that an assessment is the state of the feature at a particular point in time.
Alternatively, the monitoring results may provide a misleading picture of the condition of the feature, perhaps because monitoring was focused on an unrepresentative part of the site or was undertaken at the wrong time of year. This should be noted for future action, and it may be that a local decision is taken to repeat the monitoring, but if the target values for the attributes are not met, applying the precautionary approach, the feature must be considered unfavourable. Any case such as this should be flagged for quality assurance.
Even if a feature is judged to be in favourable condition, there may be concerns that it is declining in quality or that the management is in some way inappropriate. This is an indication that the target or limits set were wrong and should be flagged for quality assurance. It may also trigger more detailed/frequent monitoring, or scientific investigation.
An important point to remember is that condition assessment is not a completely scientific exercise. In the end it relies on making judgements based on the best available evidence. The reasoning leading up to the final decision should be carefully recorded as part of an audit trail (see also setting targets in section 11 and changes from guidance to take account of local circumstances in section 15).
Where information is aggregated together from different parts of a large site, a clear explanation should be placed on file of the process used. This will help with future assessments (by when the member of staff involved may have moved on or left the organisation), and also clarifies any questions which may be asked during quality control or quality assurance processes.