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Environmental monitoring

Monitoring is about checking whether a project plan is going as expected, whether things are moving in the desired direction and whether predicted targets are being reached on time and within the limits of the original specifications of cost. Monitoring is also about transparency, since it is a demonstration of the success and sustainability - or otherwise - of a project to those who have access to the results of the exercise.

Monitoring and surveillance

Monitoring is not just about taking a periodic ‘look-see’ at a site, to check in general terms whether all is well. That kind of exercise is better described as surveillance and can provide a useful watching brief on the overall direction and speed of change. Monitoring needs to be much more specific and carefully geared to the precise aims of a project plan, what the targets are, and what timetable has been set for the achievement of the various stages. Monitoring is a measure of the effectiveness for the whole project process and can also be used to justify and confirm its sustainability.

Monitoring protocols

The key thing is to have a monitoring protocol for each of the projects stated aims and objectives. Those who will carry out the monitoring may need training to use the protocol and such people may change part way through the monitoring process. This is even truer of an ongoing project where as previously discussed personnel may change frequently and it is crucial that a sustainable framework of protocols is in place to ensure continuity.

How often to monitor

You will need to decide how often and when to monitor – and this frequency of monitoring may need to change if you want to know more about the direction and speed of processes that are becoming faster, slower or nearing the desired goal. Remember, too, that any commitment to repeat regular monitoring is a burden for those who come after you and this may not be sustainable in the long run. Be strict in timing your monitoring so that it tells you just what you need to know about how things are going. Superfluous information means that you are wasting valuable time and money or effectively carrying out a research project, which may be interesting but is not the point.

Permanent plots for monitoring change

One way to monitor change on a restoration site is to set out permanent plots – marked areas that provide an informative sample of conditions or a place to count individuals of particular species at the outset and when the monitoring is repeated. Using the data from such permanent plots can be a very good way of showing how things are going. This refers specifically to an ecological project but the fundamentals are the same, you need to be consistent with any monitoring to ensure that the results are accurate and able to be analysed against previous data. For a community project that is aiming to increase physical activity and participation through a new outdoor space these basic conditions are also applicable. You can only judge its success and potential for ongoing sustainability by monitoring at the same time and the same place consistently (ie Saturday afternoons will have a different visitor demographic than Saturday mornings regardless of what the project aims to provide).

Photographic monitoring

Taking photographs from the same position is often an extremely dramatic way of demonstrating change on a restored site, useful for interpretation or promotion of a project. Sometimes photographs exist of sites when they were in industrial use and then, if the same spot can be found again, further shots can provide a dramatic ‘’before and after’ contrast and highlight continuing landmarks that provide memories of the past. Often, businesses or people in the local communities will have company or family photographs that can provide the basis of an archive. As above the same principal applies to all types of projects – consistency in data gathering that will confirm the ongoing relevance and sustainability of a project.

Working with the local community for monitoring

If monitoring is fairly simple, think about enlisting the local community to help you or, where more technical knowledge is needed, nearby societies, schools or universities often welcome projects for individuals or classes who can pay repeat visits year after year at little cost to you. Some very easy monitoring protocols can be quick and fun to use. This fosters a sense of involvement and ownership in learning about what is happening and measuring the success of a community-led project. Any increase in local involvement now can only be good for the sustainability of the project in the future.

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Useful links

Guidance on monitoring

More guidance on monitoring

Even more guidance on monitoring