The study and management of rocky shores within SACs

General implications for management of SACs


In theory, rocky shores are an accessible, easily sampled marine habitat. Monitoring rocky shore communities is an efficient means of assessing the general condition of coastal ecosystems. Monitoring changes in the geographical ranges of rocky shore species would allow an assessment of the ecological consequences of climate change. There are certain features of individual shores which affect their suitability as monitoring sites. These are discussed below.


Rapid, efficient sampling of a site depends on ease of access. For obvious reasons, there will be considerable problems associated with sampling offshore sites such as Papa Stour and St Kilda and any other sites with no road access. Similarly, steeply sloping shores and cliffs are not suitable for rapid sampling.


Most ecological studies of rocky shores have focused on free-draining bedrock. The communities present on this substratum are well understood and clearly defined sampling methods have been developed. Communities found in microhabitats such as crevices, rock pools and the underside of boulders are of considerable ecological interest but are less easily sampled. Monitoring programmes aimed at assessing impacts or the general condition of ecosystems should concentrate on free-draining bedrock. This will facilitate between site comparisons. Detailed studies of the ecological characteristics of shores should include microhabitats.


The value of rocky shore monitoring as a means of assessing the condition of coastal ecosystems is, obviously, limited by the presence of rocky shores. Monitoring the distribution of rocky shore species within SACs will allow an assessment of the ecological effects of climate change. The detail of any resulting data will be limited by the number and distribution of monitoring sites. South Wight Maritime may prove a useful site for monitoring the eastern spread of Atlantic species. However, not all species will establish populations on this unstable shore. Changes in the Northern or Southern limits of species will be best seen along the West coast. We recommend that any attempt to initiate a programme to monitor the effects of climate change should integrate additional West Coast sites with those in SACs. Ideally, these would be situated within easy working distance of marine research centres.

General implications for management of SACs

Where suitable rocky shores exist within SACs, we suggest that these are used as a basis for monitoring the condition of coastal ecosystems and assessing the impact of anthropogenic activities. We also recommend the initiation an integrated programme to monitor the effects of climate change on the distribution of rocky shore species. This programme should involve all SACs which adopt rocky shore monitoring and, possibly, additional West Coast sites. Monitoring of rocky shores can be based on simple techniques involving in-situ assessment of the abundance of up to 30 species. This work must be conducted by field workers who understand the sampling scheme and are skilled at identifying the relevant species. Since rocky shore monitoring clearly has a significant role to play in the management of SACs, we recommend that training should be made available on a national basis to ensure that practitioners have these skills and that practices are standardised.

Rocky shores are susceptible to acute and chronic anthropogenic impacts. The conservation objectives of SACs can be met if potential impacts are identified and minimised. The identification of chronic impacts will depend on well designed surveillance programmes. A particularly important issue is the potential effect of visitor pressure. We recommend the implementation of programmes which both minimise this impact and cultivate public goodwill and understanding of conservation issues. On site education will partially fulfil these needs. However, specific strategies, based on local research, should be devised to protect popular shores.In general, shores which have suffered anthropogenic disturbance are best left to recover without any human intervention. The main exception is that shores soiled with rubbish should be cleared by hand. It might be possible to achieve this with a volunteer workforce who should be well briefed to prevent any further disturbance.