This first review of data from the Vegwatch program has provided the opportunity not only to report and summarise the findings of the monitoring undertaken to date in 33 Vegwatch monitoring plots between 2011 and 2018, but to also investigate the methodology and commonly applied inferences behind change in condition.
The Capital Region Landkeepers Trust and the ACT Environment Grants Program are thanked for supporting and partially funding the preparation of this report.
The Vegwatch program was developed between 2011 and 2013 by the Molonglo Conservation Group (formerly Molonglo Catchment Group, MCG) to support an adaptive management approach to conservation of ecological systems. The Vegwatch program was intended to guide and help people to quantitatively measure changes to vegetation attributes over time, to help identify whether on-ground management activities were achieving the desired outcomes. In addition, the program was developed to provide data that could contribute to a larger dataset in order to guide adaptive management of conservation areas.
The Vegwatch program has been successful in a number of ways:
- Its methods are consistent, robust, and compatible with methods common in other programs.
- Citizen scientists have shown they are capable of monitoring vegetation and habitat change.
- Participants have gained knowledge and understanding of ecological processes occurring in the sites that they are involved in managing.
- The data are comparable with data collected by professional ecologists.
- Changes in condition due to natural ecological drivers or historical processes have been quantified and identified for all plots and distinguished from changes as a result of other factors, particularly management.
- There are possibilities for wider application of the updated Vegwatch. It could be incorporated into other programs, including to provide quantitative monitoring of outcomes of on-ground activities undertaken as a part of grant reporting.
- Vegwatch monitoring data may be used as a component of other monitoring programs for identifying changes in condition as a result of particular management interventions.
Weaknesses in the program implementation have been identified:
- Some data proved difficult for participants to record accurately; for example, some people found species identification and estimating abundance and cover challenging.
- The lack of on-going support to participants has decreased motivation and compromised the quality of some data.
- Lack of resources has limited opportunities to communicate the results to volunteers, community, government and other groups, to share the data with other organisations or otherwise promote the program.
- While the program was effective in identifying changes to condition indicators in the individual monitored locations, there was limited scope to generalise about the impacts of management interventions on those changes. Possible trends are suggested but need further testing and potentially more replication built into the program or data combined with larger datasets.