Monitoring for Conservation

In Focus, May 2003

"Monitoring is one of those things that means all things to all people - you ask 10 conservationists what monitoring means and they will all come up with something different," says Leon Bennun of BirdLife International.

Counting waterbirds at Kenya's Rift Valley lakes sparked Bennun's interest in biodiversity monitoring more than a decade ago. Formerly Head of Ornithology at the National Museums of Kenya, Bennun now coordinates global science and policy work for the BirdLife International secretariat. He has been particularly involved in designing a cost-effective framework for monitoring Important Bird Areas, which is under trial in Africa and Europe.

But what is monitoring really and why do it at all?

Conservation organizations monitor biodiversity to do a better job. Monitoring helps assess progress and enable detection and action on threats, says Bennun, who gave a presentation on monitoring at Conservation International's 2003 Annual Meeting earlier this month in Washington DC.

Monitoring also need not be complicated. "It's very easy to get bogged down in the detail, but the key is to keep it simple," Bennun says.

Bennun's Tips for Essential Stages of Monitoring

(Watch out for conceptual problems - is the monitoring approach designed for what it is supposed to do?)

(Watch out for logistical problems both at this point and in implementation - does it fit the resources and capacity available long-term?)

Keep it simple:

(Watch out for "political" problems - Will the results be acted on appropriately?)

"Monitoring is for the long haul," Bennun says. "Simple, reliable data collection is key. But even this will be challenging on a large scale, so working collaboratively is very important."