Research and Monitoring

ammocoetes - larval stage of lamprey ©Ross Gardiner, Fisheries Research Services

Research and monitoring are words that are often used interchangeably and there is a degree of overlap, but each has a vital role to play in the management of the Special Area of Conservation.

In order to meet the aims of the Habitats’ Directive, conservation objectives seek to maintain (or restore) the habitats and species at (or to) ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ (FCS).

Ongoing monitoring of the habitats and species is an essential part of the process of assessing the condition of the SAC features. A requirement of the Directive is that the UK reports every six years to the EC on the conservation status of habitats and features identified in the Directive. The FCS for the Cardigan Bay SAC features has been assessed and will be submitted to the EC in December 2007. The status of bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic grey seals and sea caves has been assessed as favourable. River and sea lamprey have both been assessed as unfavourable. A programme of research and monitoring will be required to provide more information and to improve our understanding of the factors affecting the distribution and abundance of these two species. Subtidal sandbanks and reefs have not yet been assessed.

Monitoring also allows us to assess whether management of the site is effective. A good example is the Dolphin Watch study. For many years this has been monitoring not only dolphin sightings at key point along the coast, but also boat activity and how vessels behave when they encounter marine mammals. This has highlighted a decline in dolphin sightings at New Quay as boat numbers increase on busy days, suggesting that an increase in boat activity would probably be detrimental to the dolphin population in some areas. Dolphin Watch has also shown that although overall compliance with the code of conduct has improved since 2004 and is very good at around 90%, it is less good to the south of the area, away from the main harbours. This knowledge has allowed Ceredigion County Council to improve how the code is promoted in this area as part of the Crown Estate funded Recreational Boating Scheme.

Research (in this context) refers to those studies aimed at improving our knowledge of the natural environment (including its interactions with man) which generally have an end point when conclusions can be drawn. Continuing with the Dolphin Watch example; by studying how boats and dolphins interact has demonstrated that dolphins are less likely to be scared away from favoured feeding sites when boats follow the code of conduct. This aspect of the project is research rather than monitoring and tells us that the code is giving out the right messages.

Natural Resources Wales is responsible for licensing research within the SAC. This allows potential damage to the site to be balanced against the benefits of the knowledge gained.