Developing your monitoring plan
When developing your monitoring plan you should consider the resources that you have available and how it fits with your other property management tasks. These resources may include budget, equipment, time and/or skills. The plan should outline the why, what, when, who and how of your monitoring activities.
Answering the following questions will help you plan your monitoring program.
- What are your monitoring objectives?
- How will your data be used?
- What will you monitor?
- Where will you monitor?
- When and how often will you monitor?
- Who will be involved and how?
- How will your data be managed?
A critical step in developing your monitoring plan is deciding what you want to gain from your monitoring. For example, monitoring can be used to:
- evaluate the effectiveness of your current management activities
- to facilitate early detection of potential or emerging problems
- record changes in condition over time
- plan ongoing management activities.
Your monitoring objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely and guide the development of the rest of your plan.
How you intend to use your data determines both the required data quality and monitoring methods. You should consider who will be using your data, how they will be using it and for what reasons it will be used. If you are collecting data only for your own land management decision-making, then you can choose the level of data quality and reliability that best meets your needs.
This guide provides one or more levels of monitoring for each indicator. These levels of monitoring differ in the methods that are used and not the study design (e.g. how often and where you monitor).
Level one monitoring is the minimum level recommended for collecting information for your own decision-making. For example, Native vegetation area describes using aerial photographs or satellite images, with hand-drawn overlays and field ground truthing, using tape measure, compass and vehicle trip meters.
Level two monitoring is recommended if you wish to share your data with others. For example, Native vegetation area uses Geographical Information Systems with electronic satellite, aerial photograph or other base layers and ground truthing and recording change in vegetation area with a Global Positioning System or GPS.
It is important to note that level two monitoring will only provide better quality data for the monitoring site at the time of measurement. It does not improve how well the monitoring site represents the entire area of interest nor does it improve the number of data records over time. How representative your monitoring locations are relies on your choice of monitoring sites, how variable your property is and how many sites you monitor (see ‘Where will you monitor?’). The number of data records you have for a site over time is dictated by how frequently you monitor (see 'When and how often will you monitor?’).
If you want to share your information with your industry group, a regional natural resource management body or another organisation, consider if they may require data collected according to a particular standard. For example, your local Landcare group or catchment association may be participating in a regional water quality monitoring program and will welcome your data as long as it is collected to the standards they have adopted. You should contact the organisation you may be sharing your data with to check their requirements.
The level 2 procedures for each indicator have been developed, where possible and appropriate, to be consistent with relevant minimum contemporary standards. This development has been supported by Indicator Reference Groups for each indicator, which contributed current information and reviewed and endorsed the procedures.
Standards for property level monitoring
There are no set standards that apply to monitoring at the property level because there is not one governing organisation that promotes, trains and coordinates monitoring for land managers.
Many standards for the collection of environmental natural resource management data have been established by state, national and international organisations across industries, science disciplines and levels of governments. The standard used depends on the affiliation of the organisation collecting the data and the level of data quality required. The quality level of the data is ultimately dependent upon who will use the data (yourself and/or others) and how it will be used. For example, the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality set national standards for collecting water quality data that is used by local government in the monitoring of potable water supplies.
Selecting monitoring sites usually requires choosing a small part of a larger area of land. This sampling of the larger area, as with all sampling, involves the risk of missing information present in the larger area. If an observation is made at a monitoring site on a particular occasion you can not be certain that the same is true for the rest of the land area. This is a sampling error that must be accepted.
Sampling error can be reduced by carefully selecting enough sites to represent the different vegetation types and management regimes on your property. Generally the more monitoring sites you have, the more reliable is the gathered data.
What you choose to monitor must reflect the objectives of your monitoring plan. There are many ways of identifying what to monitor on your property such as:
- adopting all or part of the approaches taken by existing initiatives, programs and/or policies
- exploring what monitoring is already occurring in your area—to assist with information sharing, and to help you become more familiar with specific issues and successful techniques applied in your area.
The following information describes some of the key industry, regional, state and national initiatives, programs and policies that relate to property level monitoring.
You may have identified some key goals or objectives you want to achieve as part of your personal, family or professional property management planning. This may involve monitoring the environmental outcomes or impacts of achieving your objectives. These goals or objectives may also have been generated through regulatory requirements (for example, lease renewal or reef protection), or a formal property management planning process provided by your industry group, your regional natural resource management body, or a local on-ground group or catchment management association. For more information see the property planning pages of this website.
There are also a number of property-level management systems that enable a systematic approach to managing for environmental impacts of land use, including:
- Environmental Management Systems (EMS) which aim to provide credible mechanisms for establishing and maintaining sustainable production systems. EMS involves a methodical approach to continuous improvement in planning, implementation and review of an organisation's efforts to manage its impacts on the environment and to potentially achieve certification to ISO14001 standards.
- Farm Management Systems (FMS) which are voluntary, systematic approaches to agricultural business management that can be used by producers to identify and manage risks which may occur as a result of their enterprise. They can also help drive sound business development and management. The term ‘Farm Management System (FMS)’ is used by Queensland Farmers Federation to refer to programs developed by QFF member industries.
- Australian Land Management Certification System (ALMCS) and MyEMS.
ALMCS is a voluntary third party audited farm level environmental management system. It combines: consideration of catchment level priorities and strategies; environmental measurement and monitoring, including biodiversity; information exchange between the farm and catchment; and public sector, community, and marketplace recognition of the commitment to continuous improvement in environmental management. MyEMS is a computer application that facilitates the creation, management and implementation of an ISO14001 certified EMS.
Regional natural resource management
A network of regional natural resource management bodies (and their equivalents) has been established across Australia. These bodies are responsible for preparing regional natural resource management plans. The plans must contain targets for managing the condition of natural resources and arrangements for monitoring and evaluating progress towards these targets. As a land manager in your region you may be able to participate in the projects, programs, incentive schemes and monitoring programs of the regional natural resource management bodies.
There are a number of international and national initiatives that provide opportunities to market your improved environmental performance. These include:
- ecolabelling such as organic farming certification under the Australian Certified Organic or Organic Growers of Australia certification systems, the Environmental Choice Label and EcoRange
- market-orientated environmental certification for rangeland pastoral industries and the global EUREPGAP.
- Delbessie Agreement (State Rural Leasehold Land Strategy)
A long-term strategy for the management and use of state rural leasehold land for grazing and agricultural purposes.
- Nature refuges
The Nature Refuge program assists landholders to formally protect the significant natural and/or cultural values of their property.
- Land and water management plans
Provides individual landholders with an opportunity to identify hazards and risks associated with irrigation practices and a practical management plan which will demonstrate that their water use practices are ecologically sustainable, both on and off farm.
- Environmental risk management plan (ERMP) (Reef protection)
An ERMP is a property management plan that develops a strategy to reduce the risk of sediment, fertiliser and chemicals ending up in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
The objectives of your monitoring plan should be the key factor that determines where you will monitor. You will need to define the geographic boundaries for your monitoring. For example, answering the following questions:
- Will you monitor your entire property or only a selected area?
- Do you want to work with any of your neighbours to share expertise and learning?
- Do you need information at a wider scale (e.g. subcatchment) to really understand what’s happening above and below you in the catchment?
- Do you want to use a control treatment, such as a fenced-off enclosure in a grazing paddock, to allow comparisons between treatments?
Careful consideration of the monitoring scale will help to avoid any misleading bias in the data and information you collect. For some issues you may need to identify which parts of your property are most at risk to a particular problem. For example, changes in the pH of your soil will only be an issue in certain soil types.
Some of the indicators in this guide require a property-wide approach while others require you to select a representative sample or transect of the property. When choosing specific monitoring sites the following points should be considered:
- How many different potential monitoring sites are there across your property?
- How many of these potential sites are likely to provide useful and different data?
- Do you have, or are you likely to have, any specific areas of concern? (e.g. areas of salinity or soil erosion)
- Which and how many of these areas of concern do you want to monitor?
- Are any of these sites suitable for other monitoring activities?
- Are the sites accessible in all weather conditions?
- Are the sites safe for anyone that will be carrying out monitoring?
How often monitoring will be carried out depends on the indicator(s) you choose and the objectives of your monitoring plan. Monitoring for gradual processes such as watertable rising or bushland decline will be less frequent (e.g. intervals of two to three years) than monitoring for more rapid processes such as the spread of some pest animals or plants. It can also be informative to monitor when key events such as fire, drought or floods occur. For example, the early stages of soil erosion can be most easily recognised after periods of heavy rain.
Alternatively, monitoring could be tied to the seasonal changes in the abundance of vegetation and native and pest animals. For example, the best time to monitor pastures is at the end of the growing season.
In this guide a suggested monitoring frequency is provided for each indicator described. For some indicators many years of monitoring may be needed before a clear trend can be reliably established. Remember, if a problem develops slowly (e.g. the development of salinity) the correction will also be slow.
You should think about who will be involved with your monitoring. Will it be yourself, a team approach (involving staff or family members), or a specialist in the relevant field? Remember, involving more people may make the task easier, but it is essential there is a common understanding of how to measure and assess the things you choose to monitor. If you don’t, the value of the data could be weakened by differences in measuring and recording the data.
Deciding who should be responsible for carrying out regular and accurate monitoring is an important decision. People with the following personal characteristics and abilities may be the most suitable:
- An understanding of why the indicator is being monitored and how it relates to what is done on the property
- An understanding of the monitoring method and why it needs to be done in a particular and consistent way
- Skills to carry out procedures for each indicator (e.g. mapping, use of GIS or plant identification)
- Ability to make good observations
- Ability to accurately record information
- Skills to analyse and present data to show changes or trends.
As your collected data and information will grow and develop over the years it is important for the information to be well organised and quick and easy to locate. If you intend to share your data, some simple steps/guidelines at the start will make your data more useful or acceptable to the data collection standards in place. Key questions to think about are:
- Will you retain the information as paper-based or electronic records?
- How you will maintain consistency in your record keeping?
- How will your records will be accessed in the future?
Whether you use paper-based files or electronic records, the structure should be clear. It is best to be consistent with generally accepted computer file naming conventions and a logical directory structure.
Using an organised storage (filing structure) simplifies the classification of your information. It makes it easier to file, sort and retrieve information, saving time and increasing efficiency. It also makes it easier for anyone involved in your business to access, use and contribute data to the records.
You should adopt a consistent file structure for the way you lump together your information. You may want to group things, projects or activities that are common such as crops, fencing, sales, biodiversity, climate, water, vegetation, imagery, infrastructure or soils. Or you may want to adopt a location or geographically-based structure such as my farm, top paddock, yards, creek flats, creek or roadways. Whichever system you adopt, document your approach in a file directory, so it is easier for anyone who may access your filing system to add, amend and manage the data.
As with all your business records, consider the consequences of losing the data and any handwritten or printed records that you have collected over the years. You should consider whether you should make and store copies of key or summary data in a separate location from your primary storage place. For electronic records always regularly backup and/or separately store copies of your electronic files. Do not rely on the records you keep on a hard drive on your personal computer.
As the amount of available information grows it is helpful to keep a summary record of your key sets of data. This is particularly valuable if you plan to share your information or expect that you may need to pass your records onto someone else in the future.
Metadata is data that describes data - the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a data set. Metadata is critical to preserving the usefulness of data over time. For example, metadata captures important information on how data was collected and/or processed so that future users of that data understand these details. Metadata includes background information which describes:
- the content
- other appropriate characteristics of data.
Metadata can be a text document with some key elements or you can use the worksheet provided with each indicator monitoring tool (see Metadata example (PDF, 26K)* ). These key elements are:
- a short description of the contents of the dataset
- the name of the land manager or business responsible for the dataset
- a brief assessment of reliability of the information in the dataset
- a brief history of the source and processing steps used to produce the dataset
- maintenance and update frequency of the dataset
- what location or area the data relates to.
Taking the steps of developing a copyright notice will help ensure that you retain some control of the use of your data and information should you decide to pass it on to others. A copyright notice or intellectual property statement should include:
- conditions of use
- conditions of access
- who is granted permission to use the data, and for what purpose and period.
You may want to use the example notice of copyright, intellectual property, disclaimer and privacy (PDF, 13K)* provided in the guide as a template for your own datasets. This document can also be used to state the privacy conditions that you expect to be maintained if the data is to be provided to a third party.
For example, provide the full data set that identifies your property, your contact details and the data you have collected to your natural resource management regional body, nominating which fields they do/do not have permission to pass on to someone else (such as state or Australian government agencies) and for what purpose the data can be used.
The information in this section has been amended from but based upon information derived from:
- The Information Management 01 Project funded under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality Program.
- Waterwatch Australia National Technical Manual published in June 2003 by Environment Australia
- The Water Quality 05 Project (Enhancing Community Capacity to Monitor Water Quality Targets), a state investment project funded under National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality Program.
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Last updated 7 September 2010