Three ways to improve ecosystem monitoring and evaluation

1 March 2019

 Guest article from: Kerry Waylen, Senior researcher at The James Hutton Institute, on behalf of the "Monitoring and Evaluation for Ecosystem Management (MEEM) team.

Ecosystems are increasingly under pressure from unsustainable demands and a changing climate. Adaptive management can help address this situation, but this requires monitoring and evaluation.  Resources for monitoring are limited; are these resources being well spent?

We recently published a study examining the monitoring programmes associated with 3 key European policies – Natura 2000, Water Framework Directive and Agri-Environment Schemes under the CAP. These policies have driven the collection of much monitoring data, which is a great resource for Europe: however, improvements are possible. Our 4-page briefing can be found on the Oppla Marketplace and we recommend three actions to improve monitoring:

1. Take a step back: We recommend taking a step back and considering what is needed to understand systems and enable better decisions. More information about social factors and ecosystem processes will often be helpful. Once you understand what information would be needed, you should compare this with current monitoring programmes to identify any gaps.

2. Share learning: Where there are gaps in knowledge it may be possible to look at secondary data collected for other policies or by other agencies. The sector must increase public transparency of data wherever possible and learn through sharing examples across countries and policy areas.

3. Prioritise spending: The environmental sector is already under-resourced. We might have to cut monitoring of some topics in order to free up resources for other monitoring priorities. There will always be a balancing act; should we reduce monitoring of environmental state and trends in order to free up resources to learn about management interventions? Overall, the amount of resources allocated to monitoring and evaluation might need be reconsidered – the literature recommends 10% of the management budget.

Our study suggests policy-driven monitoring and evaluation can be improved. Solutions will depend on specific places and policy areas, but addressing monitoring and evaluation challenges will ultimately result in improved decision making and more sustainable ecosystem management.