Ecological Coherence - it's what drives the project
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EcoCo LIFE is a £2.3 million (or 3.1 million euro) project funded by the Life+ financial instrument of the European Community for habitat restoration and creation to improve ecological coherence within the Central Scotland Green Network area (CSGN) .
The project will do this by improving biodiversity at key sites - through habitat creation and restoration to improve habitat connectivity and coherence. The project aims to improve habitat and species resilience, contribute to wider ecosystem services (such as improved natural flood management and reducing diffuse pollution) whilst also contributing to the CSGN’s socio-economic impacts.
"EcoCo" stands for "ecological coherence". All sites identified during the project have been tested for their value for improving ecological coherence – through habitat mapping and modelling, evaluating wider ecosystem benefits and socio-economic impacts by the project partners, bringing science and additional stakeholders together – the process and detail of which is some of the project’s innovation. The project developed an "Ecological Coherence Protocol". The development of this challenging piece of work involved all project partners and consideration of the range of project sites and habitats covered by the project.
A definition of ecological coherence is as follows (taken from Catchpole, R. (2013), Aspen International. “Ecological Coherence Definitions in Policy and Practice - Final Report”. Contract report to Scottish Natural Heritage, No. 41102);
In the context of the Natura Directives, an ecologically coherent network consists of sites designated for the protection of relevant habitats and/or species. It should support habitats and populations of species in favourable conservation status across the whole of their natural range (including the wider countryside and marine areas beyond Natura 2000 sites); and contribute significantly to the biological diversity of the biogeographic region. At the scale of the whole network, coherence is achieved when: the full range of variation in valued features is represented; replication of specific features occurs at different sites over a wide geographic area; dispersal, migration and genetic exchange of individuals is possible between relevant sites; all critical areas for rare, highly threatened and endemic species are included; and the network is resilient to disturbance or damage caused by natural and anthropogenic factors.
In order to determine ecological coherence for the project sites the main measurable parameters being considered are;
- patch size
- habitat structural and functional connectivity
- ecological functionality
- presence of endangered, rare or endemic species
The development of the project's Ecological Coherence Protocol went through two major iterations.
The first iteration was carried out at the very start of the project to validate project sites that had been earmarked during the project's development, and to identify priority new ones on which to focus subsequent activity during the project. The first iteration was very much led by a GIS modelling approach based on an application Ecoserv-GIS that uses a series of algorithms to calculate the best places for the project to work to provide the greatest benefits for people and wildlife. The ouput from this process is a series of detailed landscape scale opportunity maps indicating, using RAG rating, where interventions might be targeted . The protocol logic follows the following broad process outline;
Learn more about this approach from a summary document offering the highest priority siters across the CSGN; Assessment of Opportunities for ecological restoration in the CSGN
All project sites have used these maps and with additional criteria have been evaluated using this method, each with individual reports available here.
The second iteration followed the project partners' experience of using the first GIS - modelling based outputs where it was felt it more worthwhile to follow a more participatory approach, yet still using similar data sources as in the first iteration. This has resulted in a more widely accepted approach and mapped outputs that can be applied in practice. Two levels of assessment were carried out again, within the CSGN area. One, at broad landscape-scale covering the Inner Forth area to assess the entire area for potential ecological coherence improvements across all habiata types. The second, a regional approach over the whole CSGN area, to assess habitat for invertebrates following an already established B-Lines approach. Outputs from both approaches are available for download as follows;
Both levels of assessment have resulted in continued practical and applied focus for prioritised site-based interventions led by EcoCoLife project partners beyond the life of EcoCoLife;
B-Lines led by Buglife Scotland includes the extension of the B-lines mapping to the Central Scotland Green Network area that has already been successfully applied in England to provide a focus for invertebrate targeted landscape scale conservation actions
Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot led by the RSPB, includes more detailed coverage of this evolving project that uses habitat network and opportunity mapping methods to plan landscape scale conservation actions.