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Monitoring the Dorset Heaths

Monitoring is carried out in many ways to help our local heathland sites by identifying areas of need and potential management practices.

Monitoring aims to identify heaths at risk from urban pressure, target mitigation work, establish baseline data for visitor use and gauge opinions on heathlands as well as provide information to allow continuous assessment of the Urban Heaths Partnership (UHP) project. The Monitoring is carried out in various ways:

  • Incident Recording
  • Automated Visitor Counters
  • Car Park Counts
  • Site user surveys
  • Wildlife and habitat recording

The RSPB (opens in a new window) carry out scientific bird distribution and breeding bird surveys across the Dorset heaths IPF area. This is required to gain an understanding of the impacts of recreational activity on breeding success and population.  Footprint Ecology prepare the monitoring strategy for the Urban Heaths to work towards.

Incident recording

UHP has an incident database stretching back to 2002 that records damaging activities such as heath fires, motor vehicle trespass, ramp and den building  on SSSI sites.  The incident database is on the Dorset Explorer Geographic Information System. It can be accessed by all partners from any computer with internet access.  These records can be used to inform wardening effort and  monitor trends in unwanted activities.

All UHP wardens enter incidents on Dorset Explorer promptly after the event so that current trends can be identified more easily.  

All fires recorded on Dorset Explorer are cross referenced by the Senior Warden with the heath fire database maintained by Dorset Environmental Records Centre (DERC). This ensures both sets of information are correct.  Dorset Fire and Rescue Service(DFRS) notify DERC of any fires on heaths. 

Automated visitor counters

A network of automated visitor counting sensors have been established across the UHP area.  There are a combination of recognised visitor monitoring methods in use; different types of sensors include pressure pads, infra red beams and induction loops.

The sensor data are gathered, downloaded and used to record numbers of visitors, identify trends of visitor behaviour and site usage across the South East Dorset Heathlands. Working with Footprint Ecology and DERC the data are analysed and stored.

Car park counts

Simultaneous (snap shot) counts are co-ordinated for two hour period at a chosen time at all the identified heathland parking areas. The counts gather information on how many cars are at each location and provide a simple measure of use. There are 14 co-ordinated counts organised per year.

Random counts are also carried out by UHP wardens who count cars at any identified parking area they visit within their working day.

Data from both types of car park counts are sent to Footprint Ecology for analysis.

Site user surveys

Site user surveys are carried out to find out who visits the heaths, why, what they do, where they go and how and where they are travelling from, and their opinions of the sites.  

The first survey results were collated by Natural England and Footprint Ecology.  UHP carry out this type of monitoring out for partners who need to monitor success of Dorset Heathland Planning Framework(DHPF) funded projects. All results are sent to Footprint Ecology for analysis.

Wildlife and habitat recording

The UHP monitoring and wardening team assist partners as required with all recording of wildlife and habitat information for sites within their area.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) provide the necessary training and licences for UHP Wardens to permit Wardens them to collect reptile data. Records are collected across the whole Urban Heaths Partnership area. These records must be submitted to ARC annually for addition to the database and for inclusion in licence returns to Natural England. Persons acting as accredited agents under ARCs protected species licence and not submitting records will not be re licensed.

Standardised survey and recording methods are being developed to facilitate data exchange across the partnership and to monitor the effectiveness of the Interim Planning Framework.

For more information on monitoring carried out by the UHP team and surveying methods please contact the Urban Heaths Partnership Office for details of the UHP Monitoring Strategy.

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