Under the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive the UK Government has established a series of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which, with Special Protection Areas, form a series known as Natura 2000 (N2K). Articles 11 and 17(1) of the Habitats Directive require that member states regularly assess the ecological condition of the designated features within the N2K series. Condition Assessment of European Marine Sites is carried out on a six yearly cycle, and it is the responsibility of Natural England to report this to Europe through the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee).
One of the qualifying marine features for SAC designation is the Annex 1 reef habitat. Monitoring studies on subtidal reef within the Isles of Scilly SAC were initiated during nine days of diving fieldwork in June 2011. A team of six divers undertook a total of 62 person-dives at 13 sites, spread between the north coast of St Martin’s to the south coast of St Agnes.
A total of six attributes (assigned to the four sub-features of the ‘reef’ feature: kelp forest communities; vertical rock; subtidal rock and boulder communities; and subtidal faunal turf communities) were considered and a monitoring strategy for each was devised (referred to as ‘tasks’).
All six tasks were undertaken, with baseline monitoring data being acquired for all. All sites were recorded with video, including a number of recorded quadrats and transect positions. dGPS positions and accurate depth measurements of all sites were taken which, together with site diagrams, should provide sufficient information for biotope relocation in future visits.
The results of this study will enable any changes to be monitored and so inform the site managers as to any adaptations that may need to be made to the future management of the SAC.