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Setting Indicators of Success for Species - rich grassland - BD5101

Description
Background
The signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity by the UK Government at the Rio summit in 1992 led to the publication of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 1995. The objective of the UK BAP is to halt habitat loss and species decline. In the BAP, targets are outlined for the restoration and creation of a range of Priority Habitats, including several types of lowland grassland. Species-rich lowland grasslands are the product of farming and are dependent especially on low input agricultural practices. Agri-environment schemes (AES), including Environmental Stewardship in England and similar schemes in Wales, are key mechanisms for promoting the maintenance, restoration and creation of new areas of habitat.
Monitoring successful restoration and creation is a crucial part of the AES and methods used in the early years were expensive, time consuming and required surveyors with a high level of expertise in plant identification. More recently, rapid and more cost-effective methods have been developed for monitoring the condition of SSSIs as well as habitat restoration projects. With these methods, the condition of sites for particular species is inferred from an assessment of the quality and quantity of particular habitat attributes or the presence of indicator species. These rapid assessment methodologies are also needed to assess when restoration or habitat creation sites have developed sufficiently to be given priority grassland habitat status. These methods must be scientifically sound, robust enough to be used by surveyors with a range of expertise and they must be affordable. Field testing and validation of the results is essential.

Objectives
1 To review the published literature and existing datasets to:
1a Review and evaluate existing rapid monitoring methodologies for BAP priority grasslands;
1b Evaluate the effectiveness and relevance of current BAP priority grassland definitions;
1c Critically review evidence of timescales for restoration/creation of priority grasslands;
1d Review the value of methods for defining what the minimum requirements are for a restored/re-created grassland site to be considered a BAP priority grassland.
2 To develop a rapid methodology to assess the progress and timescales that restored or recreated swards take to develop into BAP priority grasslands using floristic, structural and possibly soil-based attributes.
3 To field test the methodology on a sample of sites undergoing restoration or re-creation covering five lowland grassland priority habitats.
4 To develop a decision framework for setting indicators of success for agri-environment scheme options.

Approaches
This project starts with a review of published research and the opinions of people who use the results (‘stakeholders’) to evaluate both the existing rapid assessment methodologies and the current definition of grassland types. From this review, a provisional rapid assessment methodology will be proposed. Subsequent literature review and analysis of existing ecological datasets will identify the timescales for the development of particular attributes used in the provisional assessment methodology. Together with this, opinion will be sought from stakeholders about the key attributes and the thresholds that define whether a particular site achieves priority grassland status.
The provisional assessment methodology will be tested in the field using a selection of sites currently undergoing management for habitat restoration/creation in summer 2010 and 2011. The robustness of the method will be assessed through repeat survey of a subset of sites by different surveyors and at different times of the year. Following evaluation of the field testing and consultation with Defra/NE, a decision framework for identifying appropriate indicators of success will be proposed.

Anticipated Results
The project will develop a decision framework that can be used by field surveyors with a range of expertise to identify appropriate indicators for measuring the success of management, in particular allowing the monitoring of progress within timescales appropriate to the length of agri-environment scheme agreements. The framework will enhance the existing approaches to target setting and take account of a range of grassland types and starting conditions. The primary users will be staff of Natural England, however, a greater understanding of desired grassland attributes and the timescales for their development will enhance the engagement of landowners with the objectives of agri-environment scheme. The project outcomes will also contribute to the BAP reporting process by providing clear criteria for defining habitat status for restoration sites and ‘wildlife value’ for grassland creation sites within agri-environment schemes.
Objective
1 To review the published literature and existing datasets to:
1a Review and evaluate existing rapid monitoring methodologies for BAP priority grasslands;
1b Evaluate the effectiveness and relevance of current BAP priority grassland definitions;
1c Critically review evidence of timescales for restoration/creation of priority grasslands;
1d Review the value of methods for defining what the minimum requirements are for a restored/re-created grassland site to be considered a BAP priority grassland.
2 To develop a rapid methodology to assess the progress and timescales that restored or recreated swards take to develop into BAP priority grasslands using floristic, structural and possibly soil-based attributes.
3 To field test the methodology on a sample of sites undergoing restoration or re-creation covering five lowland grassland priority habitats.
4 To develop a decision framework for setting indicators of success for agri-environment scheme options.
Project Documents
• EVID4 - Final project report : evid4 BD5101 FINAL   (1442k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 1 Reliability of botanical survey data   (1156k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 2 Review of existing methodologies   (6093k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 3 Questionnaire and AAB field meeting exercises   (1837k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 4 Plant timescales review Final   (876k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 5 Insect timescales review Final   (955k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 6 Field recording sheet 2010 Lowland Meadow   (411k)
• ANX - Annex : BD5101 Annex 7 Tables of positive indicator species   (365k)
• TPS - Two Page Summary : BD5101 2pg sum   (601k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2012

Cost: £239,755
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University - Reading, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Keywords
Biodiversity              
Environmental Protection              
Nature conservation              
Wildlife conservation