May 14, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Conservation according to Fred

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Colin Wilsonweb2The well respected local conservationist Fred Burton, who headed up the successful Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, is now with the Department of Environment’s terrestrial programme to pick the best land for conservation.

Burton has come up with a novel way to help the National Conservation Council execute this task by developing a scoring system and objective tools to measure the nominations from the public of land to be conserved.

The public consultation period for people to nominate areas is open until the end of October.

From the Draft Scoring System for Ranking of Nominations for Terrestrial Areas:

The scoring system

Each nominated parcel or area of land is scored by measuring or assessing a series of specific criteria which are designed to be objectively measurable if at all possible.

For two non-technical criteria where no objective measure is possible, scoring is set by averaging subjective scores from Department of Environment (DoE) staff members with knowledge of the areas concerned, who are not directly involved in the nominations. One more technical criterion, which is subjectively scored will be initially scored by DoE’s Terrestrial Resources Unit but must be reviewed by Council in working group.

All criteria are initially scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with higher scores supporting a higher ranking (more justifiable to protect).

There are a total of 18 criteria in the current (2016) version of this scoring system. These are grouped into criteria for four value classes. Of these criteria, two (Connectivity and Strategy) are only applicable at the parcel level, while the remainder can also be used at wider geographical scales.

For each of these criteria, the corresponding purposes and objectives defined for protected areas in NCL Section 8(1), and the corresponding criteria for selection of protected areas set out in Section 8(2) are listed. All NCL purposes, objectives and criteria are addressed by the scoring criteria, and all scoring criteria address at least one of the Section 8(2) criteria. The scoring system is thus a quantitative implementation of the selection process laid out in NCL Section 8.

Weighting

By consensus of the DoE’ s Terrestrial Protected Areas Committee,the overall weighting for the total score for individual nominations should allocate 52% of the maximum possible total score to Biological value,12% to Climate value,18% to Financial & Strategic value, and 18% to Social value.

The number of criteria in each group already creates a prior weighting in favour of Biological, and Financial & Strategic values, which will vary depending on whether the analysis is at the parcel level or at a larger scale (because two Financial & Strategic criteria are not applicable at larger scales).

The final scores in each group will therefore be adjusted by the factors required to bring the final weighting to the agreed 52-12-18-18 ratio, before summing to generate the final total score for each nomination.

Other headings with details are:

Plant Biodiversity
The overall biodiversity of a nominated area is measured using vascular plant biodiversity as the key indicator.

Integrity
The Integrity criterion indicates the extent to which the nominated area is free from historic or current habitat conversion for human uses.

Endangered Species
To the extent known, the number of geographically restricted endangered species (both animals and pants) will be listed for any nominated area. Endangered species which have very broad distributions will not be factored in because they are less informative in the context of selecting one area over another.

Probable Critical Habitat
This criterion scores the presence of one or more areas within the nominated area, of habitat which would be reasonably expected to form a “Critical Habitat” for an endangered species at such time as a Conservation Plan (NCL s.17) is written for it.

Ecological Function
This criterion scores the following ecological functions which benefit natural environments and processes beyond the boundaries of the nominated area.
SIX categories listed.

Threat Distance
Geographic data layers held by the Department of Environment include a biological threats layer, generated with assistance from the Nature Conservancy during a workshop on protected area planning. The layer models the fall-off in threats from various kinds of infrastructure, such as buildings, quarries, roads and land clearances. Proximity to these features brings threats from invasive species moving out into adjacent natural areas. Proximity to these features also signals higher likelihood that land conversions for human uses will spread into adjacent wild areas.

Habitat Representation
This criterion addresses the degree to which some habitats are under-represented in the existing protected area system, as compared to a theoretical optimum where an equally representative proportion of each habitat is protected.

Oasis Effect
This criterion places value on sites which contain geographically concentrated resources in landscapes where those resources are generally rare. Such sites are of critical importance to certain species assemblages, seasonally or year-round.

Carbon Sequestration
This criterion places value on areas which help store and/or lock away carbon, thus contributing locally to a globally urgent need to reverse the increase in atmospheric C02 concentration, and so to limit catastrophic climate change. The Cayman Islands is limited {by small size) in the scale of its global contribution in carbon sequestration, but we can play our proportionate part as a group of islands under extreme threat from sea level rise.

This score is allocated simply by assessing the major habitat or habitats present in the nominated area. Habitats are scored as in the following table. Where more than one major habitat is abundant in a nominated area, the sub-areas are quantified and the score is the area-weighted average of the two or more habitat areas.

Climate Resilience
This criterion is a measure of how robust the nominated area will be under expected conditions arising from global climate change. The key changes expected are rising sea level, and a drier climate.

High lands, and land in the highest rainfall areas, are the least vulnerable to biodiversity loss.

Affordability
Cost per acre of land is the main financial consideration when assessing conservation return for capital investment. Actual land values can at best be estimated by professional valuation, but valuations in advance for all nominated areas would be costly and difficult to justify.

Management Ease
Also factoring into the expense of acquiring land for protected area, is the likely ongoing cost of management. The management ease criterion estimates this on the 1 to 5 scale by considering costs associated with perimeter protection, managing human activity, and likelihood of developing and having to maintain visitor infrastructure. Both existing and planned or probable infrastructure and activities are considered.

Island Weighting
This is a strategic policy criterion, based on the principle that effort in conservation land purchase overall should be appropriately balanced between the three islands. In proportion to total land area, the percent of land area protected currently varies from island to island, and will change every time a protected area is added.

Urgency
This criterion must partly be assessed subjectively, with the only objective information being available from pre-consultations with developers and records of unimplemented planning permissions, available through the Department of Environment’s Sustainable Development Unit.

Scores are intended to reflect how soon the land is likely to be committed to conversion for human uses, if not protected.

Connectivity
This is a parcel-level criterion, which should be set to zero score if the system is used to assess larger, multi-parcel areas.

Where used at the parcel level, the criterion measures the degree to which the parcel connects to, and improves the overall configuration of an existing protected area.

Strategy
Again, this is a parcel level criterion, which should be set to zero score if the system is used to assess larger, multi-parcel areas.

Tourism
This criterion estimates the actual or potential value of a nominated area as a nature
tourism asset, bringing direct and indirect benefits to the economy.

Because there are no quantitative metrics which can be used to generate score values for this criterion, scores are assigned by averaging individual subjective assessments by members of the DoE staff not directly involved in protected areas nominations.

Social

This criterion assesses the value of ecological services the nominated area does or will bring to the people of the Cayman Islands. These services may include recreational and physical health opportunities potentially consistent with the purposes of a protected area, such as walking, running, wildlife photography, nature study, swimming and beach activities.

IMPLEMENTATION

Once nominations have been received and screened to verify they meet the requirements of NCL s.9, all nominations will be delineated on DoE’s GIS and then entered into a scoring spreadsheet that implements the scoring system detailed above. DoE will then apply the scoring methodologies detailed in this document, for each nominated area, and will output each area’s scores for each criterion, and in total, in a report to NCC.

END

Wow. Very impressive.

Burton said it would not be possible to remove subjectivity completely. However, if this scoring system is adopted it will give greater weight to key considerations such as the biology of the land. He also asked the NCC to adopt the scoring system for this first round of nominations and see how it worked. He said the aim was “to try not to meddle with it during the process of assessment” that will start after the nomination period closes.

I sincerely hope our Islands’ Conservation according to Fred is at least given a try. It sure beats anything else.

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