The Joint Nature Conservation Committee was brought into being by the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  Amongst its functions is a requirement to develop common standards throughout Great Britain for the monitoring of nature conservation and for the analysis of the resulting information.  Developing common standards for monitoring designated nature conservation sites was a major task, but standards were piloted during 1998 and became operational in Great Britain from April 1999.  By agreement with the Environment and Heritage Service, they were also adopted for use in Northern Ireland.  The agreed common standards include the production of a report every six years.
This report fulfills that requirement.  However, the value of common standards monitoring goes far beyond fulfilling a reporting requirement.  Primarily, it is directed at informing site management by defining the state of the site that is required and identifying the need for any further conservation management action.  JNCC and the country conservation agencies have learnt a lot by doing this work over the past six years, and still have more to do.  Nevertheless, this is the first time it has been possible to draw together data on the condition of the features on sites.  57% of the total number of features in the United Kingdom designated for their nature conservation value have been reported on.  While this falls short of the 100% intended, it nonetheless represents the most comprehensive assessment of the United Kingdom's designated features ever undertaken, and one of the most comprehensive assessments by any country in the European Union.  This is therefore a landmark publication for UK nature conservation. 
56% of features reported were assessed as being in one or other of the 'favourable' condition categories; 43% in one or other of the 'unfavourable' condition categories; with the remaining 1% assessed as being either partially or wholly destroyed.  Within these figures, there is considerable variation, particularly for species and habitats.  Of the 43% unfavourable features, 16% are in the unfavourable-recovering category, and 11% in the unfavourable-declining category.  Thus, 72% of features reported on are either in a favourable condition, or are recovering towards favourable condition.  This is probably better news than we could have anticipated when the programme of work was commenced.  More remains to be done to improve the condition of features reported as being in unfavourable condition, and the findings of this report will help to direct conservation effort where it is most needed.  Assessments do, of course, also need to be completed for all features.
This report is the result of a lot of work, by many people, over a considerable period of time.  It would be invidious to single out individuals, but the breadth of involvement of staff in the country nature conservation agencies and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, at all levels, should be noted.  Without input from all of them, it would not have been possible to draw these results together; I thank them all for their efforts. 
Adrian Darby
Chairman, Joint Nature Conservation Committee