The key achievement of the BioHab project is the development of a standardised field recording system for Europe, involving about 100 habitat categories, that transcends the need for specialist knowledge. It will be able to provide valid, statistical estimates of habitats and link these with other habitat classifications and biodiversity.
The BioHab system is based on plant life forms which were developed by a Danish botanist in the early 1900s and are recognised as a robust means of defining the essential character of habitats throughout the world. Only about 15 groups need to be learned, e.g. trees, grasses and mosses. The underlying scientific hypothesis is that, as the environment gets more severe, either because one is moving south to north or ascending a mountain, there is a gradient from forests to heathlands and eventually simply to rock with mosses. The use of life forms can not only be extended to new EU members such as Turkey, but even into Africa. Field procedures have been developed involving a set of rules that enable consistent recording on a single visit and these have been validated in the field. A monitoring handbook has been produced describing the rules and procedures, which are being revised for final testing in the autumn. An electronic version has also been developed, on a hand-held computer, and tested to facilitate field mapping. It is planned to make these outputs readily available to the public.
The recording system is designed to record both aerial and linear habitats because in many highly managed agricultural landscapes biodiversity is confined to boundaries. Modules are being developed at varying levels of detail appropriate for different stakeholder requirements. The procedure will enable direct comparisons between field data and satellite images in order to utilise the strengths of both approaches.
Collaboration with another EU project has produced an environmental stratification system, comparable to social strata used for opinion polls. Because the same sampling procedure is used, relatively low costs are involved in obtaining European estimates.
These results are important because it has now become feasible to produce consistent European figures for General Habitat Categories that could then be used for monitoring. This is possible because of the combination of efficient sampling and standardised procedures and represents a valuable product for a Concerted Action.
Habitats are one of the basic indicators of biodiversity and can also be linked to communities of plants and animals, or individual species. The BioHab General Habitat Categories are a common denominator that can provide links to many existing detailed biodiversity studies. Their principal value however is as a coordinated framework for monitoring habitats and links to other biodiversity indicators. In this respect they are of direct relevance to the 2010 target and, indeed, could provide the necessary information on the current state of European habitats.