The cultural and conservation value of lowland heathland is well recognised across Europe. The quality of lowland heathland is ultimately largely a function of the different kinds of species found there, and many species typically associated with this habitat are rare or rapidly declining. The Biodiversity 2020 Strategy aims to protect many of these species, and effective national monitoring and surveillance programmes are necessary to understand their population status and trends. Structured surveillance with volunteer recording communities is one potential approach.
Species taxon-group-based monitoring programmes using volunteers have been successful in providing evidence of the trends in biodiversity (for example, Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, National Bat Monitoring Programme). They have also provided some multi-taxa sampling at the same locations (for example, mammals collected at BBS sample locations; other insects collected at Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey locations).
However, to enable reporting on the quality of habitats and to broaden the taxonomic scope beyond groups with a large pool of volunteers (for example, beyond birds, butterflies and bats) there is a need to expand and develop volunteer-based surveys.
A habitat focus to structured species surveillance offers the possibility of networks, with multi-taxa surveillance, using existing volunteers. Co-locating habitat and species surveillance also has other potential advantages, such as the ability to relate habitat structure and quality to species changes, and to help understand the impacts of a series of environmental drivers.
The aim of this work was to explore the feasibility of establishing and operating a national species surveillance network for lowland heathlands across England that could co-ordinate and support recording activity.