Introduction to the guidance manual
18. Undertaking the monitoring - field methodology





18.1 Personnel
The number of sites and interest features covered by the common standards monitoring programme is very substantial. To be operationally practical, the monitoring must utilise rapid and simple assessment techniques wherever possible. The CSM approach is not intended to yield results to which a 95% confidence interval can be assigned, but is intended to 'facilitate quick and simple judgements' (JNCC 1998).
Another important principle is that 'the bulk of the monitoring effort is likely to be undertaken by local conservation officers in the course of their day to day duties' (JNCC 1998) who will not usually have specialist knowledge of plant and animal identification, monitoring techniques, etc, although necessary training will be provided. Evaluation of the condition of certain interest features may require the use of specialist techniques (e.g. assessment of water quality for freshwater features) or experts in particular taxonomic groups (e.g. many lower plants and invertebrates). In such cases, the monitoring may need to be contracted out, or may utilise information supplied by other organisations. However, it is expected that the final judgement about the condition of the feature will be made by country agency staff.
18.2 Structured walks
For many of the guidance sections, the basic method for undertaking the assessment is to undertake a structured walk around the site. This is more than a random shuffle through the habitats present, but rather should be planned to look at the major variations present in habitat structure. In addition, at a number of stops (defined in individual guidance sections) it is expected that notes will be made on the attributes being assessed. This is not to imply that the targets for each attribute must all be met at all of the stops, but rather to ensure that the assessment made is based upon the whole of the feature rather than initial and final impressions.
18.3 Sampling large features/sites
For large sites, which it is not possible to visit in their entirety within a single fieldwork session, more planning will be required. It is possible that only a sample of the site can be visited. If this is the case, advice from agency monitoring specialists should be sought at the planning stage. The sample visited should be sufficiently large that a fair assessment of the feature(s) present can be made. In effect the question to ask is 'do we have confidence that the assessment made is a fair reflection of the state of the whole of the feature on the site?' It is likely that for very large or multi-feature sites multiple visits will be needed. In this case, care must be taken to ensure that the final judgement of the condition of each feature takes account of all the information gathered. It may be helpful to remember that if it is not possible to assess the whole of a feature within a single field season (the preferred scenario), a feature must be completely assessed within three years (except where presence/absence over the whole six year cycle is an attribute for species – see section 6.5).
18.4 Timing/frequency of monitoring
For assessments to be ecologically meaningful, they must be undertaken at the right time of year. This may mean that multiple site visits are required to assess different features on the same site. The individual guidance sections include information on when field data should be collected. It is also important to recognise that relevant information can also be collected as part of other visits to sites – for example as part of a regular liaison visit a number of plant species might be noted as present. This information could be very helpful when undertaking the assessment for the feature in question, especially if it is a uncommon species which is difficult to locate on a year-on year basis.
When collecting data it is important to note the dates of field visit(s), (as opposed to the of making an assessment or of entry of information onto a corporate computer system) as these will be useful in quality assurance of the assessment.