The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) undertook a project for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) focussing on what is meant by ‘strategic monitoring’ in the context of assessing the impacts of human activities on the UK marine and coastal environments. The main driver for this project was to develop an approach for implementing strategic monitoring of offshore wind and associated infrastructure development to better understand interactions, effects, impacts, and trade-offs within the marine and coastal environment for English (and Welsh) waters.
The study utilised a literature review, semi-structured interviews, and workshops to identify the key considerations for a strategic monitoring approach. These considerations were brought together into a set of principles and an overarching definition.
Following the agreement on the definition and principles (Task 1a), existing strategic approaches, not limited to monitoring, were reviewed covering regional, to national and international scales (Task 1b). These approaches were reviewed based on workshop attendees’ direct recommendations of examples to the project team, as well as from a general literature search. The review of the approaches (Task 1b) determined if they met the definition and principles of strategic monitoring (from Task 1a) and assessed whether they could be used to support future strategic monitoring programmes.
The review of approaches identified that many strategic monitoring programmes meet some of the principles of strategic monitoring but not all. Whilst some of the existing approaches do not meet the criteria for supporting strategic monitoring, the data from these approaches would be useful in providing context for defining the current baseline and taking into account how baselines change.
From interviews and workshops, it was agreed that strategic monitoring is a complex topic, and the key is to develop a clear hypothesis or overarching research questions that target policy or change in the environment deemed meaningful (rather than just statistically significant) for any strategic monitoring programme. Once set out, and only at this point, should the monitoring then consider the next steps such as scale, analyses, and data (types and methods to collect). Other considerations have been discussed to help inform any future programmes.
It is recommended that the definition and principles proposed in this report are used as a basis for future strategic monitoring programmes and that the work be continued to develop a framework to set out structured and adaptable strategic monitoring programmes to aid marine managers.