In 2012, Environment Systems became a preferred supplier of ecological mapping for the coastal monitoring frameworks for the North West, North East, South West and South East of England. Since that time, we have carried out projects across all of these areas. The habitat mapping component of the monitoring is undertaken to provide freely available coastal and terrestrial habitat extent data for use by Local Authorities, the Environment Agency, Natural England and other stakeholders. They help to improve the understanding of the current situation, and how change is occurring in these dynamic environments. The data can also be used to predict how factors such as climate change, driven by sea level rises, could impact flood risk and biodiversity.
The monitoring takes place every 5-8 years to ensure that changes are monitored effectively and that new improved processes and analyses can be brought to bear. Most recently, we have returned to the South East, an area that stretches from the Isle of Grain in the east to Portland Bill in the west. The project ran for nine months and included ground surveys over ten randomly selected areas to assess the coverage of vegetation and different habitat types. The ground survey data were compared to the habitat attribution in the map data, mostly generated through air photo interpretation, in order to gauge the accuracy of the dataset as a whole, and on a class-by-class basis.
The resulting map data provides an extremely detailed representation of habitat distribution throughout the project area, which includes particularly detailed mapping of fine-scale features such as hedgerows and saltmarsh, as well as fine-scale definition of other intertidal habitats such as shingle and sand/mudflat.
Coastal environments are very dynamic by their nature, and frequent monitoring of these areas is invaluable for identifying trends and changes that need to be dealt with, such as threats to important habitats and species, and flood risk for coastal communities. One recommendation that has resulted from this survey is that algal communities, not currently included within the scope of the ecological mapping, should be included in future monitoring. A good example is nutrient enrichment, particularly in the Solent region, where increased nutrient loading is a key risk to the condition of protected sites such as the Solent Maritime SAC. This has been cited as a reason for delaying new residential developments.