English SSSIs

The government aims for the proportion of SSSIs that are in favourable condition to be over 50% by 2020.

Year ending March 2011 – 36.7% in favourable condition

Year ending March 2012 – 37.4% in favourable condition

Year ending March 2013 – 37.5% in favourable condition

That doesn’t look like a trajectory that is going to get to over 50% in another 7 years to me. We’ll see…

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16 Replies to “English SSSIs”

  1. 125 years til all are in Favourable Condition!

    That is something to look forward to then.......

  2. Careful Mark - an uncritical repetition of flawed data (perhaps a blog about favourable condition assessment on SSSIs might be a good idea) serves no good purpose.

    And what is the proportion of non-SSSI priority habitat in favourable or recovering condition? And I don't mean the proportion in HLS, which is the untested proxy Defra use when measuring progress towards Outcome 1A.

  3. Perhaps it was a bit cryptic. Condition of SSSIs is measured according to a set of rules called common standards monitoring. Based on this ruleset, NE devised favourable condition assessment - each SSSI has a favourable condition table, with a list of attributes with limits set for each attribute. NE staff (and others) then measure each attribute which may be quantitative, semi-quantitative or qualitative. The list is tedious but not exhaustive, and it is selective. There are many flaws with this approach - some things are simply not taken into account eg visitor impacts. Others are overly prescriptive eg presence of bare ground (if more than 5% then unfavourable).

    One could argue - ok FCA is not perfect but at least it exists, which is true: for the 40% of total priority habitat that lies outside SSSIs, there is no standard monitoring protocol. Instead NE use a proxy: if an area of priority habitat lies within an HLS agreement, it is deemed to be in target condition (equivalent to "favourable or recovering", for SSSIs), regardless of what condition the priority habitat is in. Various people have asked NE to calibrate this proxy measurement to see if it really is appropriate, but to my knowledge they have yet to do so.

    Sorry - I've paraphrased a lot into a couple of paragraphs - I will write a blog about it!

    1. Miles - I see. Yes, I appreciate all that. And I,too , may blog about that aspect.

      But given that I would have thought that those issues lead to sites being 'false positives' (ie being deemed to be in Favourable condition when they aren't) more often than 'false negatives' (ie being deemed to be in Unfavourable condition when actually they aren't) AND given that this is a government agency producing the figures, which may, reasonably enough) want to indicate that progress is being made THEN even taken at face value the 'progress' is glacially slow.

  4. Thanks Mark - I don't think you can assume the false positives outweigh the false negatives no. Yes I do agree even on that basis progress is very slow.

    The non-SSSI priority habitat is a much higher priority though. And the sites supporting priority species outside the SSSI series.

  5. Against all the odds, Labour left over 90% of SSSIs in favourable or unfavourable-recovering condition. The big question at the time was could we convert those recovering sites to favourable condition ? What has happened since, under the 'greenest government ever, with its single-minded focus on cutting and cutting alone, and its contempt for its expert advisers so brilliantly exposed by Eric Pickles.

    Conservation doesn't help itself: it largely failed to celebrate the success of the SSSI programme and - as the debate about condition assessment illustrates perfectly - largely failed to recognise the political value of a single, simple headline figure; the sort of figure politicians and the media can latch onto and debate.

  6. As already commented on NE/government are the ones who decide what recovery is. An independent assessment would be better but probably not workable? If targets are not met, move the goalposts? Another example of this government failing our environment. Perhaps it would be better for the wildlife on a reserve if priority was given to the habitat and the species which depend on it rather than meeting "targets?" For example, any scrub clearance probably meets a target but priority should be given to scrub clearance that is necessary to save wildlife that are struggling to cope with encroaching scrub?

    1. Then there is the issue of 'judge and jury' in terms of assessment & yes I know the argument about standardised criteria etc. They have to hit targets, so who wouldn't be tempted to manouvre?

      I'm aware of one Natura 2000 site, uplifted from unfavourable to unfavourable recovering simply because a Water Level Management Plan was signed off for it. Nothing tangible delivered, but upgraded because it's on paper!

  7. Given the flaws mentioned by Miles - is it justifiable to present these annual totals with an accuracy of one thousandth of the whole? What, indeedy, is the accuracy of the whole?

    1. Filbert - I doubt it. I was just being generous. If you look at the reports you will notice that I removed the fourth digit from the last year's figure (otherwise) it would be even more fantastically accurate.

  8. Common standards monitoring protocols are driven by cost as well as "science"...the standards change with every cycle so its very difficult to track actual changes to habitat. Invariably with every monitoring cycle, the monitoring standards are revised downwards.
    Inside the organisations...staff tend not to place too much weight on the results...they have been given a target to tick, so they must have a tick box approach to help them hit the target.
    I totally agree that the compartmentalisation of features within a site can lead to management practices being put in place that can harm the site as a whole.

  9. Writing as somebody who doesn't get out much* and derives some perverse pleasure from conservation site favourability statistics**

    It's worth noting that:
    "The conservation status of 30 per cent of the habitats was declining in 2007. In 2013, 24 per cent were declining." Well, that sounds like a step foward doesn't it?

    "The conservation status of 49 per cent of habitats was improving in 2007. In 2013, 33 per cent were improving." Oh dear, three steps back!!

    "In 2007, six per cent of habitats listed on Annex I of the Habitats Directive occurring in England were in favourable conservation status, declining to three per cent in 2013."

    Yes that's right. Not only were such a pitiful percentage of habitats considered to be in good conservation status in 2007, despite all the assorted positive efforts for biodiversity, all those miles of amphibian fencing, all those proliferating ecological consultants, all that cacophony of voices for nature and all those conservation blogs - we managed to cut the percentage of habitats in good status by 50%. Hands up everyone who thinks that UK conservation effort, however worthy, is succeeding.

    Now % of habitat types is a somewhat silly statistic, but if you look at the overall figure for the extent of priority habitats in 'favourable' condition within SSSIs in England only 30% of the area makes that grade (despite all the above effort).

    For some priority habitat types, the great bulk lie outside SSSIs. National reporting is then limited to HLS 'monitoring' and the 4 in 5 (and declining) local authorities who do no more than report on the percentage of local wildlife sites in 'positive management'.

    Some might think this is an adequate way to guide conservation effort at local-national level, yet it doesn't seem to be helping to targetting resources effectively or meet the prescriptions of the excellent Lawton Report. Will the required 'step change' ever appear over the horizon? Might the conservation bodies and governments (at all levels) recognise the need to work in partnership? Will Wildlife & Countryside Link every have more than a 'virtual' biodiversity group again? Or will we need to resort to a Nature Check Check to wail about the NGOs effectiveness of wailing about the government? Who can say.

    I wonder how much per head is spent on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service resilience in the UK countries (by govts, local authorities & NGOs) compared to elsewhere in Europe. I'm sure somebody knows.

    * Sadly true
    ** Quite the opposite

  10. You could also bear in mind that 'favourable condition' may take much longer to achieve on one site compared with another. For instance, a lowland grassland SSSI which has been damaged in the recent past by neglect or overly-heavy management might return to 'favourable' within a few years of TLC. How long might it take a woodland which has been been tracked through by off-road vehicles for the past few decades? How long might it take degraded blanket-bog or sub-montane heath to reach favourable status when it's been burned and overgrazed to within an inch of its existence?

  11. Perhaps it would be better for wildlife and habitats if those responsible for conservation got on with it instead of of producing another paper mountain.


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