Monitoring of natural resources

Why monitor?
Constraints to conventional monitoring
Locally-based monitoring

Why monitor?

Knowledge of changes in populations of species, habitat area or condition, and ecosystem services is often rudimentary. This presents a serious challenge for attempts to understand and reverse negative trends in natural resource values in many parts of the world. Monitoring of natural resources can answer questions such as:

  • Are there increased benefits to local people from sustainable natural resource use?
  • Are habitats and ecosystems being degraded or improved?
  • Are the populations of individual species of plants and animals declining or increasing?
  • What are the causes?
  • Has management intervention the intended impact on the ecosystem?

In other words, monitoring can answer:

  • Are the management interventions in the area effective in addressing conservation of ecosystem goods and services - and sustainable development?

Constraints to conventional monitoring

Professional scientist-executed natural resource monitoring schemes often face a number of important challenges:

  • Running costs are high
  • The schemes are hard to sustain
  • Difficult to implement
  • Perceived by managers to be highly technical or irrelevant
  • Seen by some as paying inadequate attention to other stakeholders than scientists

Locally-based monitoring

Locally-based monitoring of natural resources embraces a broad range of approaches, from self-monitoring of harvests by local resource users themselves, to censuses by local government staff, or inventories by amateur naturalists. In all of these approaches, the monitoring is carried out at a local scale, and by individuals with no or only limited formal science training.


The field methods used in locally-based monitoring schemes vary from scheme to scheme depending on the local circumstances. Five broad classes of generic methods appear particularly suitable:

  1. Patrol records. Filling-out routine patrol sheets on key resources, habitats or extent of resource exploitation
  2. Transects. Simple dedicated transects of resources and human resource use
  3. Species lists. Presence/ absence of resources on fixed-time lists
  4. Simple photography. On-the-ground fixed point photography
  5. Village group discussions. Discussions between government staff and local volunteer members of ‘community monitoring groups’

    A description of these methods are available here and examples of schemes using them.


The potential benefits of locally-based monitoring of natural resources are:

  • Provides relevant information for management actions
  • Can be sustained using locally available resources
  • Promotes participation of local people in the management
  • Stimulates discussion about natural resource management amongst stakeholders
  • Builds the capacity of field government staff and communities in management skills
  • Seeks to provide people with direction regarding the aims of sustainable resource management
  • Reinforces the consolidation of existing livelihoods through strengthening community-based resource management systems

This graph shows the effectiveness of participatory and conventional scientific natural resource monitoring methods in generating natural resource management interventions intended to improve the way local people (black), outsiders (white), and both (gray) manage Philippine forest and coastal resources. For the same recurrent government investment, far more interventions resulted from participatory monitoring methods as compared with conventional scientific ones (a). This pattern also holds if the analysis is restricted to those interventions that only target the three most serious threats to resources at each site (b), or those interventions that led to policy change with a potential long-term impact on sustainable development (i.e.,new resolutions or bylaws, c. From Ambio 36: 566-570 (2007).

This graph shows the spatial and temporal scale of decision-making from environmental monitoring, based on data from published monitoring schemes 1989–2009 (n = 104). The circles comprise all the scientist-executed (blue) and all the participatory monitoring schemes (red). The bar chart indicates the number of scientist-executed monitoring schemes (blue bars), monitoring schemes with local data collectors (white bars) and participatory monitoring schemes (red bars) at each level of spatial scale and implementation time. From J. Appl. Ecol. 47: 1166-1168 (2010).