As the demand for land has grown with the growing population natural habitats have become ever more scarce. The areas that remain are under constant pressure for development for intensified farming, industrial complexes, transport, and increased housing and urban expansion. Therefore it has become essential to try to conserve both the habitats and their communities of flora and fauna of these remaining areas. Being given the status of nature reserves has protected many such sites. In order to protect and maintain these areas management plans must be formulated in order to retain, or enhance, the intrinsic features of the sites for which the reserves have been designated.
Throughout much of the populated world, and particularly in Britain, valued sites are most often not truly “natural”, but “semi-natural”. There has been considerable human modification of the landscape, but the plants and animals, which occupy it, are largely derived introduced. As a result most of these sites are the product of the human management of land. Examples include pastures and hay meadows produced by clearing woodland and introducing cutting and grazing regimes, and woodlands managed for centuries by the periodic cutting of regrowth (i.e. coppicing).
In order to retain the interest it is generally necessary to continue the traditional management. It is only on the largest of the nature reserves where conservation managers could consider adopting a policy of non-interference and still expect to find a high proportion of the reserve’s flora and fauna persisting almost indefinitely. This approach has been tried in some of the very largest nature reserves in, for example America and Finland, typically in areas approaching wilderness, little affected by humankind and natural rather than semi-natural. However, most reserves are not large enough, or natural enough to consider non-interference as a viable strategy. Also most conservation managers would argue that a management plan is still essential even if there were a policy of non-interference.
Most management and conservation of protected areas tends to favour the retention of the maximum species diversity which will in turn conserve the greatest variety of gene types, although this will be at the expense of a reduction in numbers of some species. In order to retain species diversity there are a number of costs:
● a reduction in the size of population reduces the size of heterogeneity within species;
● the stabilization of a species population reduces evolution of the species by natural selection;
● management resources must be continually invested to achieve species diversity.
It should also be understood that the maximization of diversity is not necessarily the optimum policy. Consider a species-rich hay meadow. If one ploughs half of it up, and uses it to grow arable crops, there will almost certainly be an overall increase in plant, and probably even in invertebrate diversity. Few hay meadows species would become extinct, and a wide range of ‘weeds’ would appear. Nevertheless this ploughing policy would rarely be advocated, because the stability and complexity of the rare and valued grassland ecosystem would be compromised. Similarly, it would be easy to increase the diversity of a woodland by cutting clearings, creating ponds and marshes by damming streams, and by planting new species. It is quite clear that none of this should ever be done if it is at the expense of the continuity and naturalness of the existing habitat.
The first and primary process in the management of a site for nature conversation is to get to know what habitats and species are on that site and to try to understand its ecology as fully as possible. This means that all the information relevant to that site has to be assembled.
The next process is the appraisal of this information. The appraisal involves both understanding the functioning of the ecosystems present, and also deciding which are the most important nature conservation features, since almost always it is necessary to make choices in management and these choices need to be based on the relative importance of the features to be protected. Other factors may also need to be considered such as the educational and evaluation criteria depending on whether it is an urban or rural site, etc. The resources which it is to devote to managing the site also need to be considered: it is no use advocating extensive management work if there is no labour and no money available.
Once all of this has been done it will be possible to formulate the objectives for the management of the site in order to maintain or enhance the valued features. Also the methods by which the objectives are to be met can be chosen, and also the methods by which the success of the management will be monitored.
The formulation of a written management plan is an effective and comprehensive way in which all these targets can be met and by which continuity and stability of management can be ensured.
If conversation management is to succeed in protecting biological diversity there is a real need for knowledge to be shared. Therefore the production of a working guide for the writing and recording of a management plan is important.
THE PURPOSE OF A MANAGEMENT PLAN
The primary aim of a management plan for a nature reserve must be to protect and conserve as much as possible of the nature conservation interest present. There are, however, a number of functions of a management plan:
● to provide a full description of the site utilizing the available data
● to provide a site evaluation against recognized standards
● to identify clear objectives and purposes for managing the site based on objective criteria
● to identify potential methods to achieve the objectives
● to enable planning of resources and manpower
● to anticipate conflicts and problems regarding the site
● to identify monitoring procedures
● to ensure the continuity of effective management of the site, especially if there are changes in personnel; a plan can help to inform and control a transient workforce
● to facilitate communication between sites, organizations, local authorities, public, etc., and draw together different interest groups
● to act as a reference document and historical record. A management plan should be considered as a working document to be used on regular basis and to be updated as and when further information becomes available.
It is of course possible to write management plans for sites which are not primarily nature reserves – country parks, public open spaces, etc. – but the objectives associated with public use can be fully taken into account.
(Sustainable Development of Industrial and Urban areas. Student Manual for BSc and MSc students. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego Katowice, 2000)
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