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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
- To assess how we and the world are doing
- Detect and act on threats
(Watch out for conceptual problems - is the monitoring approach designed for what it is supposed to do?)
Define indicators for key things to monitor
- Pressure - what are the threats?
- State - what impact is this having?
- Response - what is being done about it?
- Keep the indicators meaningful, feasible and scaleable
(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:
- Develop straightforward indicators
- Use robust and inexpensive methods
- Build on existing efforts
- Build on existing institutions
- Link and harmonise effort
- Use volunteers
- Use local communities
- Invest in co-ordination and capacity development
- Trickle resources (avoid deluge and drought)
- Balance investment in monitoring versus action
- Tailored to audiences
- Adjusted to different scales
- Link clearly to intervention mechanisms
- Ensure buy-in by governments and management authorities
- Refine approaches, keep the system going
(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."
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© BirdLife International, graphic by Leon Bennun
As the official compiler of the IUCN Red Data Book for birds, BirdLife monitors the state of the world's birds and identifies species threatened with extinction.
Explore the BirdLife Data Zone, where you can search for detailed information on species, see examples of recent analyses and download subsets of the database.
Learn about the science of biodiversity hotspots.