In 2018, Natural England (NE) changed the way the condition of SSSIs are monitored and reported. It was decided that a move to whole feature assessment (WFA) would support the need to reinvigorate the monitoring programme, enable the use of new technologies, increase the sources of information utilised and provide understanding of SSSI condition in the wider landscape. This report summarises the findings of the 2021 WFA pilot studies and evaluates the risks identified in moving to WFA.
The pilot sites were West Nidderdale Barden and Blubberhouses Moors SSSI (large upland habitats) and Duddon Estuary SSSI (complex coastal habitats). They were chosen due to their complex and large nature, so to address key concerns raised by both internal and external stakeholders in moving to WFA. The pilots successfully produced condition assessments via WFA for each site.
The pilots successfully determined condition for all monitored features (except one due to seasonality constraints) and addressed all associated CSM attributes. It is expected that WFA will be successful for comparative SSSIs. However, the pilots identified issues with assigning unfavourable condition trend qualifiers (sub-categories) at the feature scale and highlights the requirement for further consideration.
The results demonstrate that some risks identified by stakeholders are no longer valid and has identified where risks remain requiring further evaluation. The pilots also identified issues in need of further work and mitigation. The 2022 pilots aim to evaluate the remaining risks and issues, test the adjusted methodologies and evaluate WFA in other complex habitats.