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Some comments on the identification of Local Wildlife Sites

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has long been involved in the identification of areas of importance for wildlife. Historically these were assembled by local members. In some areas an historical list of sites does not exist.

The recognition of such 'local wildlife sites' within local and structure plans has led to the need to ensure that the identification of a site can be justified, that the process of selection is consistent, that the implications for conservation and management are followed through, and that they are relevant to user groups, organisations and individuals. The Scottish Wildlife Action Programme was launched by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in 1998 to respond to these demands with the following objectives:

identify and assess all 'Wildlife Sites' throughout lowland Scotland;

develop effective liaison with the landowners, the relevant statutory bodies and other organisations, to encourage the long term conservation of these sites;

use SWT's local and national expertise and strength to address any threats to the Wildlife Sites to prevent their destruction.

A key objective, also, of many Local Biodiversity Action Plans is to ' identify and safeguard Local Wildlife Sites'.

A process for defining Wildlife Sites has been described in detail by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (Wildlife Sites Manual, 1996).

The sequence of analysis defined by the Scottish Wildlife Trust builds on a Phase 1 survey of the area concerned involving both desk and field survey second stage involves the evaluation of surveyed sites against defined criteria of species and habitat diversity and rarity, naturalness, extent, vulnerability, access, amenity and education potential. Such criteria, however, cannot always be applied directly in the preliminary site search.

In the absence of a completed Phase 1 or habitat survey of the region the identification process must initially build on:

the information resources identified in any local Environmental Audit;

the sum of knowledge held by local naturalists;

published records of sites, species and areas;

distribution data held or published on individual species or groups;

occasional area or habitat specific surveys.

SWT already recognises the importance of existing data sources and aerial photographic coverage in developing a habitat survey. For many areas the best current guidance to regional and local habitats of significance is provided by the work done for the Local Biodiversity Action Plan, a programme not available previously to other wildlife site searches.

All sites identified should:

meet species and habitat priorities agreed through the Local Biodiversity Action Programme;

provide opportunities for conservation action;

demonstrate the relevance of the LBAP to the region's wildlife;

represent both the diversity and quality of the region's wildlife;

represent a geographic spread within the region.

Several alternative approaches are possible to meet the needs of this initial survey stage.

a) It has been suggested that a GIS based analysis (or similar manual system) using data sets on biodiversity, distribution and rarity could be employed to enhance the existing Biogeographic Zonation of Scotland (SNH) to a local scale (say 1km square refined by other geographic and ecological information to give an 'on the ground' site definition). The problems that might be encountered include:

data sets are inconsistent or difficult to access;

the timescale is inadequate;

it does easily result in site specific information;

it is not directly compatible with the Wildlife Site System;

further assessment would be needed to incorporate LBAP priorities.

b) Other land analysis tools (e.g. LCS88, landscape characterisation maps, local habitat mapping, aerial photographs) could be combined to reveal detailed environmental patterns but this would be:

not directly related to biodiversity;

not conservation orientated.

c) SNH has also investigated a method of assessing natural heritage resources on a broad area basis (SNH, 1996). This might have problems in that:

it does not provide site specific information;

requires field examination/ confirmation;

an extensive time scale might be required.

Whilst any of these approaches might, in the longer term, provide useful benefits to the Local Biodiversity Action Plan programme, their employment would require time and resources to be applied.

A simpler approach might be to assess an initial list of sites drawn from the sources listed at the top of this note against the following criteria:

perceived reliability of information source;

presence of supportive habitat rarity, fragility or diversity data;

presence of supportive species rarity, fragility or diversity data;

distribution within LBAP priorities;

distribution within regional geographic patterns;

provide an appropriate scale for survey and for conservation action.

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