Conservation practice, backed with strong data and recommendations, is high on the EU agenda. One of the most important ways to identify changes in the environment and in natural populations is to focus on biodiversity and environmental monitoring. The data generated from monitoring helps decision makers and researchers design and assess biodiversity policies, conservation management, land use decisions and environmental protection. The SCALES ('Securing the conservation of biodiversity across administrative levels and spatial, temporal, and ecological scales') project has performed an evaluation that focused on providing scientific and policy research required to guide scale-dependent management actions. SCALES has received almost EUR 7 million under the Environment Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The SCALE project partners said birds are key indicators of biodiversity because of their distribution and popularity on a global scale. Data indicate that there are more than 600 all monitoring programmes in Europe. Presented in the journal Nature Conservation, the evaluation shows that almost 28 000 people have participated in the 144 monitoring programmes that cover birds, spending nearly 80 000 person days each year.
'Although popular among conservationists, bird-monitoring practices have never been characterised quantitatively,' said lead author Dr Dirk Schmeller of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), one of the project partners, at the recent SCALES symposium in Glasgow, United Kingdom. 'We undertook a focused questionnaire-based survey to objectively explore the strengths and weaknesses of the massive bird-monitoring effort in Europe. The results indicate a high potential for further improvements to bird monitoring in sampling design, data analysis and involvement of volunteers from the public.'
For his part, SCALES coordinator Dr Klaus Henle of Helmholtz-Zentrum fuer Umweltforschung GmbH (UFZ) said: 'Variation in space and time can cause a significant deviation in the monitoring results, which may lead to incorrect conservation policy decisions. Therefore increasing awareness of the spatial or temporal scale at which monitoring has been performed can be of crucial importance!'
The consortium observed that a way to optimise monitoring practices is to collect quantitative data, including the number of individuals. It should be noted that improving monitoring priorities and integration of different monitoring activities could strengthen resource allocation between independent monitoring sites.
The SCALES partners discovered that repetitive sampling of the same sites within 12 months is a must. They also suggest that if manpower is limited, more monitoring samples should be taken. The team recommends that monitoring coordinators should make special efforts to draw in volunteers, and should consider the following: 1) the specific characters of the local community; 2) having a recruitment strategy for volunteers interested in monitoring; 3) maintaining good communication with the volunteers; 4) having low hierarchies and treating volunteers with respect; and 5) making links to other voluntary organisations to add value to the work.
'There is no one clear recipe to recruit and keep volunteers, but what is important is to keep in mind that the volunteers sacrifice their spare time for monitoring activities, which are of interest to all society,' Dr Schmeller concluded.