Monitor and Evaluate
Why we need to monitor and evaluate
It was the great economist John Maynard Keynes who said ‘There is no harm in being sometimes wrong - especially if one is promptly found out.’ In a world of imperfect knowledge and ecological urgencies we proceed with what knowledge we currently have, and adapt as required. We aim to implement ‘no-regrets’ actions which have strategic impacts, and are based on the best available knowledge. In the long term such an approach will only be successful if constantly reviewed and revised as improved information comes in. Additionally, the many wonderful donors and funding bodies who have supported work across Gondwana Link deserve to know if we are indeed making a difference. We are all constantly curious.
How we help
Success needs to be measured at all scales, and the various measurements with data cohesively brought together so the local pictures can enlighten the regional pictures and the regional pictures can enlighten the local pictures, with this also working for all the scales in-between.
At the project scale we have worked with a number of colleagues to develop simple methodologies to evaluate success, such as standardised photo points for restoration projects, functional bird guild monitoring and GIS data protocols.
At the local scale we work with numerous groups on their Conservation Action Plans (CAPs) that identify 6-8 targets and 10 year success indicators. But funding to fully implement monitoring programs is an even bigger problem than with implementation of the Plans. Establishing good benchmarks is a priority. Where possible we have encouraged CAP monitoring indicators to be standardised with national standards, such as for water quality.
Across the various regions we have worked with key national players to develop simpler approaches to achieving monitoring. For the largest operational area (the 16 million ha Great Western Woodlands) the success measures to date have been more political (gaining bi-partisan support, involvement of major mining companies, Traditional owner programs etc) but we are now sorting out what key ecological indicators would be (relating to intactness, function etc).
Across all of Gondwana Link we have developed a standard set of indicators that enable rapid tracking of overall progress, against readily measured gross indicators (such as hectares protected and managed) which we are trying to underpin with the more detailed monitoring data coming from local areas. It’s a bit like building a train line from two different start points, and adjusting both survey lines so they eventually meet up. We hope to eventually monitor ecological function at a grand scale, and some remote sensing techniques show promise here, but it’s a job for the future.
What is happening
Monitoring is underway at a number of scales and for a number of purposes. For example, the restoration plantings are generally monitored for seedling success and establishment. Some plantings, such as on Greening Australia’s Peniup property, has had detailed establishment and ecological monitoring underway for over ten years, involving a number of researchers, and with a number or science papers produced.
It has proved much harder to scale-up such data to give us good comparisons of progress that work from the wet forests to the semi-arid woodlands. One technique trialed in 2017-18, and which shows great promise, is the use of ‘functional bird guilds’, rather than individual bird species, to monitor ecosystem health. This has already provided good evidence of the improvement in biodiversity richness as restoration techniques improved, and will be developed further in the next few years.
We are, of course, also working with drone and satellite data to give us gross measures of ecosystem change.