Habitat extent and condition, natural capital, UK: 2022

The size of area and condition indicators for eight natural UK habitats, including woodland, enclosed farmland, semi-natural grasslands and coastal margins. Uses the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting framework for Ecosystem Accounting. Experimental estimates.

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Cyswllt:
Email Hazel Trenbirth

Dyddiad y datganiad:
3 May 2022

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
To be announced

1. Main points

  • This bulletin brings together a range of statistics on extent and condition of nature in the UK for the first time within the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting Framework.

  • The extent of UK urban environments increased 30% between 1990 and 2019. 

  • The extent of enclosed farmland in the UK decreased 5% between 1990 and 2019. 

  • The extent of UK farmland that is woodland has increased from 2% in 1984 to 6% in 2020. 

  • Land used for organic farming in the UK decreased 32% between 2010 and 2020. 

  • Bird species abundance is in long-term decline in woodland, enclosed farmland and freshwater habitats. 

  • Non-native freshwater species more than doubled from 21 in the 1960s to 46 in the 2010s.

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2. Extent

UK extent

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) uses the broad habitat classifications from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (PDF, 2.09MB) with summary area statistics from UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) Land Cover Maps.

There are seven broad terrestrial habitats in the UK in 2019.

Enclosed farmland

12,694,693 hectares being 52% of UK land cover.

Woodland

3,268,707 hectares being 13% of UK land cover.

Mountain, moorland and heath

2,584,348 hectares being 11% of UK land cover.

Semi-natural grasslands

2,493,388 hectares being 10% of UK land cover.

Urban

1,843,901 hectares being 7% of UK land cover.

Freshwater, wetlands and floodplain

1,330,499 hectares being 5% of UK land cover.

Coastal margins

390,796 hectares being 2% of UK land cover.

Enclosed farmland covered 13,426,415 hectares of land area in the UK in 1990; by 2019 this area had decreased by around 5% to 12,694,693 hectares. Over the same period, urban areas increased from 1,418,964 hectares by around 30% to 1,843,901 hectares. Woodland habitats grew by 29%, from 2,540,272 hectares in 1990 to 3,268,707 hectares in 2019.

The area of mountain, moorland and heath decreased by 22% from 3,330,138 hectares in 1990 to 2,584,348 hectares in 2019.

The extent of freshwater, wetlands and floodplains across the UK increased by 25% between 1990 and 2019, increasing from 1,061,140 hectares to 1,330,499 hectares. Many former quarries have been converted into artificial lakes. Such re-purposing of former extraction sites can provide many benefits including new habitats for wildlife

Land use change in Great Britain

Figure 1: The combined extent of woodland, urban habitats and coastal have increased by at least a third between 1990 and 2019

Change of broad habitat extent in Great Britain, 1990 to 2019

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Notes:

  1. Raster data were used from UKCEH Great Britain land cover maps for 1990 and 2019.
  2. The marine and coastal habitats have been merged in this diagram.
  3. Digital Object Identifier (DOI) for LCM1990 Raster data for Great Britain. Rowland, C. S., Marston, C. G., Morton, R. D., and O’Neil, A. W. (2020). Land Cover Map 1990 (25 metre raster, Great Britain) v2 [Dataset]. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre.
  4. Digital Object Identifier (DOI) for LCM2019 Raster data for Great Britain. Morton, R. D., Marston, C. G., O’Neil, A. W., and Rowland, C. S. (2020). Land Cover Map 2019 (25 metre rasterised land parcels, Great Britain) [Dataset]. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre.
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Because of different data sources, woodland extent values here differ from National Forest Inventory statistics in our Woodland natural capital account bulletin. This bulletin uses the UKCEH Land Cover Map as it covers all the broad habitats.

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3. Condition

The United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) is an integrated spatial statistical framework for organising biophysical information about ecosystems. It was developed to make the contributions of nature to the economy and people more visible and adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2021.

SEEA EA:

  • measures ecosystem services

  • tracks changes in ecosystem extent and condition

  • values ecosystem services and asset

  • links this information to measures of economic and human activity

Condition indicators help us to understand the relationship between ecosystem condition and the ecosystem services they deliver. The SEEA definition of ecosystem condition (PDF, 605KB) is "the overall quality of an ecosystem asset in terms of its characteristics".

Figure 4 summarises the condition and long-term trends of physical, chemical, compositional, structural and landscape indicators for each broad UK habitat. A more detailed analysis for each habitat follows, including environmental pressure indicators. See our methodology publication for further details on condition indicators.

Figure 4: Summary long-term trend of condition indicators by broad habitat

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Notes:

  1. The condition indicators have varying geographies: UK, Great Britain, Scotland or England.
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4. Woodland

Physical state indicator: Soil

Soil is important in woodlands for providing a fertile topsoil for trees and plants to grow their roots (PDF, 1.42MB). The Countryside Survey showed a decrease in soil acidity (increase in pH value, Table 1) of broadleaf woodland between 1978 and 2007 (PDF, 5.01MB), this is consistent with the decrease of acidity of soils across Great Britain, an expected benefit from sulphur emissions reductions in the 1980s. Coniferous woodland shows a much smaller decrease in acidity.

Compositional species indicators for woodland

Species indicators are a useful indicator of wider habitat ecological health. Both the bees and the bats indicators have shown an increase in their indexes. The common pipistrelle (PDF, 6.95MB) is one of the three bat species in the bat index and their population in Great Britain is considered to have increased since 1999.

Species indicators in decline include those for butterflies, falling to an all-time low in 2012, and moths, in long-term decline from 1996. Woodland birds saw their greatest decline in the early 1980s to the early 1990s, driven by woodland specialist decline in willow tits, tree pipits, spotted flycatchers and lesser redpolls (PDF, 4.85MB).

Figure 5: The smoothed butterfly index declined by 44% between 1990 and 2020

Compositional woodland species for bats, bees, birds, butterflies and moths, Great Britain or UK

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Notes:

  1. Provisional index for bats for 2019 and 2020.
  2. Bats species in index: common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, and noctule.
  3. The Rothamsted Insect Survey, a National Capability, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council under the Core Capability Grant BBS/E/C/000J0200.
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National Forest Inventory

The National Forest Inventory (NFI) samples ecological data from over 15,000 woodland sites. Table 2 shows that no sites classed as favourable for the indicators for veteran trees – those of interest biologically, culturally or aesthetically – and the proportion of open space. Environmental and structural heterogeneity is improved with areas of open space in woodlands.

Landscape level indicator: Habitat connectivity

Habitat connectivity is a measure of how well different species can move between habitats in the landscape. The mean connectivity values (PDF, 4.85KB) for broadleaf, mixed and yew woodlands in England went from 0.0923 in 1990 to 0.0868 in 2007, having fallen as low as 0.0695 in 1998.

A different method is used in Scotland to calculate connectivity, and this provides river catchment-level statistics. Connectivity varies considerably across Scotland and between each catchment area for semi-natural woodland (Table 3). A higher value for the Equivalent Connected Area (Probability of Connectivity)or ECA(PC), shows greater connectivity, and is calculated as a percentage of total area of habitat in the region.

Ancillary woodland indicators

Herbivore damage

Herbivore damage negatively impacts on the ecological condition of woodland. The National Forest inventory for Great Britain between 2010 and 2015 shows the percentage of woodland area condition for herbivore damage was:

  • 40% unfavourable

  • 11% intermediate

  • 49% favourable

Woodland wildfires

Wildfires can be considered a pressure indicator, as most wildfires are caused by humans, intentionally or not. In Wales, it was identified between April 2018 and March 2019 that around 7 out of 10 fires on woodland, grassland and crops were started deliberately (PDF, 2.54KB).

Since 2009 to 2010, the greatest number of woodland wildfire incidents and area burnt occurring in woodlands in England (Table 4) occurred in 2011 to 2012. There was a drought in the same period, with heatwave alerts in central, eastern, and southern England and in Wales.

Protected sites

There are several formal designations, including Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). These are usually established because of rare fauna or flora, or important geological or physiological features, which make them areas of interest to science.

Sites classed as favourable in Scotland rose from 46% in 2007 to 50% in 2020 (Table 5).

For England 40% of protected woodland sites were classed as favourable.

In Wales, the number of protected woodland sites for broadleaf, mixed and yew woodland in 2020 by condition was:

  • 30 sites favourable 

  • 112 sites unfavourable 

  • 169 sites unknown

Certified woodland

The UK's certified woodland is independently audited against the UK Woodland Assurance Standard, which promotes good forest practice. The area of certified woodland in the UK increased from 1,257 thousand hectares in March 2005 (42% total woodland) to 1,413 thousand hectares in March 2021 (44% total woodland).

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5. Enclosed farmland

Physical state indicator: Soil

Soils are a finite resource; one centimetre of topsoil can take up to 1,000 years to form. Topsoil is the fertile section of the soil profile that crops need to grow their roots. Topsoil can get washed off fields and carried out to sea during heavy rainfall events. It is estimated some hillside agricultural areas can lose more than 100 tonnes per hectare per year (PDF, 1.42KB).

The Countryside Survey identified the loss of carbon (0 to 15 centimetres depth) from the intensively managed arable and horticulture broad habitat in Great Britain. The carbon concentrate on arable and horticulture land has decreased 11% between 1978 and 2007 (PDF, 5.0MB) (Table 7).

Compositional species indicators on farmland

Changes in farmland management (PDF, 4.85MB) since the 1970s have adversely affected many farmland species. The farmland bird index has been in long-term decline from 1978 (Figure 6). By contrast, the butterfly index has remained fairly stable.

The enclosed farmland smoothed bat index (Figure 6) has significantly increased since the base year of 1999. The common pipistrelle (PDF, 6.95KB) is one of the three species in this index and their population in Great Britain is considered to have increased since 1999.

Figure 6: The smoothed farmland bird index has declined by 57% between 1970 and 2019

Bat, bee, bird, butterfly and moth farmland species, Great Britain or UK

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Notes:

  1. Bats provisional Index for 2019 and 2020.
  2. Bats species in index: common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, and noctule.
  3. The Rothamsted Insect Survey, a National Capability, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council under the Core Capability Grant BBS/E/C/000J0200.
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Organic farms

In the UK, organic farming (ODT, 1.42MB) uses natural methods of production and pest control. The share of UK agricultural land that is organically farmed decreased by 32% between 2010 and 2020, with 3% of UK agricultural land in 2020 being organic (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Organic farming accounts for 3% of total agricultural land in 2020

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Landscape indicators: Woodland and hedgerows on farmland

The proportion of woodland on UK farmland has increased from 1.6% in 1984 to 5.7% in 2020 (Figure 8). By contrast, the average length of hedges on farmland in Great Britain declined 23% between 1984 and 2007.

Figure 8: The percentage of woodland on farmland has steadily increased between 1984 and 2020

Woodland and linear features on farmland, Great Britain or UK

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Ancillary enclosed farmland indicators

Wildfires

The Welsh Government identified in July 2018 that there were almost nine times more fires on grassland, woodland and cropped land compared with July 2017 (PDF, 2.55MB). There were 40% more sunshine hours and half the rainfall in July 2018 than in July 2017.

Fertiliser and pesticide usage

A surplus of phosphorous and nitrogen from fertiliser can lead to environmental pollution, such as eutrophication of surface water. This can be limited through efficient use of fertiliser. Fertiliser used per tonne of produce declined 53% between 1985 and 2019.

Sustainable pest management (PDF, 918KB) is encouraged as it enhances UK biodiversity. Pesticide use for arable, potato storage, soft fruit and orchards has decreased by 60% between 1990 and 2020 (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Fertiliser per tonne of produce declined by 53% between 1985 and 2019

Tonnes of fertiliser used per tonne produce, UK 1985 to 2019 and total pesticide usage in tonnes, UK, 1990 to 2020 (all biomass less grazed biomass)

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Protected sites

On enclosed farmland, 97% of protected sites were classed as favourable in both 2018 and 2022 (Table 9).

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6. Semi-natural grassland

Physical state indicator: Soil

The reduction in soil acidity (increase in pH) (PDF, 5.0MB) between 1978 and 2007, in neutral grassland, acid grassland and bracken (Table 10) is consistent with expected benefit of reductions in sulphur emissions from the 1980s.

Compositional species indicators for semi-natural grassland

Natural England reported 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, with the UK now having 1% of its land area as flower-rich grassland. The butterfly index for semi-natural grassland has declined by 61% between 1976 and 2020. The bird index has steadily declined 18% from 2005 to 2019. By contrast, the average number of bees in semi-natural grassland increased 32% between 2010 and 2020 (Figure 10).

Figure 10: The semi-natural grassland bird index has declined by 61% between 1976 and 2020

Bee, butterfly and bird species indicators for semi-natural grassland, Great Britain or UK

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Landscape indicator: Habitat connectivity

Habitat connectivity is about a measure of how well different species can move between habitats in the landscape.

The developmental habitat connectivity statistics for England showed an increasing trend in the connectivity of neutral grasslands between 1990 and 2007. The mean functional connectivity values (PDF, 4.73MB) for neutral grasslands in England were: 

  • 0.3272 for 1990 

  • 0.7569 for 1998 

  • 0.8226 for 2007 

A different method was used in Scotland to calculate connectivity. As Table 11 shows connectivity varies considerably across Scotland and between each catchment area for semi-natural grasslands. The Equivalent Connected Area (Probability of Connectivity) or ECA(PC) shows the higher the value the greater the connectivity. The ECA(PC) is calculated as a percentage of total amount of habitat in the region. While the semi-natural grasslands for Forth and the North Highland catchments have similar total areas, the Forth has a much higher ECA(PC), indicating this area is better connected.

Ancillary indicators for semi-natural grassland

Wildfires

Wildfires in England vary over the data time series, with a declining number of wildfires between 2013 to 2014 and 2016 to 2017 (Table 12).

Protected sites

The number of designated protected sites, for either fauna, flora or important geological or physiological features, in Scotland that were classified as good increased from 38 in 2007 to 73 in 2020 (Table 13).

The percentage area of protected sites on grassland in England classed as favourable was 44% in 2018 and 2022 (Table 14).

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7. Mountain, moorland and heath

Physical state indicator: Soil

Soil information is important for understanding species distribution (PDF, 5.0MB). Dwarf shrub heath soils found on mountain, moorland and heath habitats have always been naturally acidic in Great Britain.

Chemical state indicator: Water

The UK Uplands Water Monitoring Network investigates the chemical and biological responses of acidified streams and lakes to changes in air quality and “acid rain” and also investigates impacts of climate change and land management on these systems.

Upland water condition has improved from the reduction in concentrations of non-marine sulphate and the reduction of water acidity (increased pH) from 1996 to 2018 (Figure 11). Mean concentration of dissolved organic carbon, largely derived from the degradation of plant and soil organic material, often causing a brown staining to upland waters, roughly doubled between 1989 and 2018.

Figure 11: Mean concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) roughly doubled between 1989 and 2018

Chemical levels in Uplands Water Monitoring Network, mountain, moorland and heath sites, upscaled to UK, 1989 to 2018

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Compositional species indicators for mountain, moorland and heath

Our bird populations can provide a good indicator of the state of wildlife in the UK as they occupy a wide range of habitats and respond to environmental pressures. The unsmoothed bird index between 1994 and 2019 has increased by 12% (Figure 12). The moth index has been increasing over the data time series, with abundance showing a fourfold increase from 1991 to 2019. By contrast, the average total number of bees per kilometre walk decreased by 10% between 2010 and 2020.

Figure 12: The moth index shows abundance, having a fourfold increase from 1991 to 2019

Bee, bird and moth species for mountain, moorland and heath, Great Britain or UK

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Notes:

  1. The Rothamsted Insect Survey, a National Capability, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council under the Core Capability Grant BBS/E/C/000J0200.
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Landscape indicators for mountain, moorland and heath

Habitat connectivity

Habitat connectivity metrics were created for 10 catchment areas using Equivalent Connected Area (Probability of Connectivity) or ECA(PC) in Scotland, which shows the higher the value the greater the connectivity. The ECA(PC) for heathland varies considerably across catchment areas in Scotland (Table 17), with the north east of Scotland having the highest connectivity value for heathland.

Hedgerows

The Countryside Survey shows a decline in the mean length of hedgerows in mountain, moorland and heath in Great Britain from 1984 to 2007 (Figure 13).

In addition, it showed a decrease in species richness score (PDF, 29.4MB) of surveyed plots alongside linear features on moorland for Great Britain from a mean value of 22.2 in 1998 to 18.9 in 2007.

Ancillary indicators for mountain, moorland and heath

Wildfires

The number of wildfire incidents, a pressure indicator (see previously), varies across Great Britain, with 2010 to 2011 being the highest in the data time series for England and Wales (Table 18).

Protected sites

The number of designated protected sites in mountain, moorland and heath, because of fauna, flora or important geological or physiological feature, in Scotland, in a favourable condition rose from 182 in 2007 to 281 in 2020 (Table 19).

The area of designated protected sites in England classed as favourable increased from 18% in 2018 to 19% in 2022 (Table 20).

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8. Freshwater, wetlands and floodplain

Physical state: Soil

While the soils of fen, marsh and swamp became less acidic over the same period, there was no major change in mean soil acidity (pH level) in the more acidic, organic-rich soils found in bogs (PDF, 5.0MB) across Great Britain between 1978 and 2007 (Table 22).

Water quality

The Water Framework Directive helps assess the water environment for water bodies, including rivers, lakes and canals. The overall condition of each body of water is examined and categorised into one of five classifications, ranging from "Bad" to "High" condition status. As shown in Table 23 there has been very little change in the number of rivers and canals classed as "Good" and "High" in each classification.

While the share of lakes classified as “High” and “Moderate” has risen, the share classed as “Good” has fallen from 37% in 2009 to 22% in 2020 (Table 24).

Compositional species indicators for freshwater, wetlands and floodplains: Bees, bats and birds

The total average number of bees varies over the data time series, however, the average number of queen bees has declined from 2012 to 2020 (Figure 14). The wetland bird smoothed index decreased 15% between 1975 and 2019.

The freshwater bat smoothed index was higher than the baseline year between 2003 and 2008, then the number declined to 2020. This bat index uses the Daubenton's bat, which is considered to have a stable bat population in Great Britain (PDF, 6.95MB).

Figure 14: Wetland birds decreased by 15% between 1975 and 2019

Bee, bat and bird species indicators for freshwater, wetland and floodplains, Great Britain or UK

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Notes:

  1. Bats provisional Index for 2019 and 2020.
  2. Bats species in index: common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, and noctule.
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Compositional state indicator: Freshwater salmonids

Trout and salmon catch data are recorded to manage fish stocks. The number of rod-caught and retained salmon and trout has decreased by 94% in Great Britain between 1996 and 2020 (Figure 15). Fixed engine fishing is an ancient practice used in the UK as a general descriptor of stationary fishing gears, fixed to the bed or bank; this has declined 94% between 1994 and 2020.

Figure 15: The number of rod-caught and retained salmon and trout has decreased by 94% between 1996 and 2020

Salmon and trout caught in rivers in Great Britain

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Structural state indicator: Invasive species

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee invasive species indicator for freshwater includes species that have arrived since 1500. It shows the change in the number of invasive non-native species that have become established across 10% or more of Great Britain's land area. Between 1960 and 2019, the number of non-native freshwater species has more than doubled from 21 to 46 (Figure 16).

Landscape level indicators for freshwater, wetlands and floodplain

Habitat connectivity

In Scotland, habitat connectivity metrics were created for 10 catchment areas using Equivalent Connected Area (Probability of Connectivity) or ECA(PC) with higher values meaning greater connectivity. The ECA(PC) for fen, marsh and swamp varies considerably across catchment areas in Scotland (Table 25), with the Tweed having the highest connectivity value for fen, marsh and swamp.

River naturalness

"River naturalness" refers to the extent to which a river has departed from its original state. The chemical, biological, hydrological and physical habitat change indicators can assist in interpreting the overall condition of the river.

England

In England, hydrological, physical habitat, biological and chemical integrity scores are investigated, and the number of river water bodies with limiting naturalness scores in 2017 was:

  • 9,485 for physical integrity

  • 1,281 for biological integrity

  • 879 for chemical integrity

  • 152 hydrological integrity

Wales

In Wales, rivers were assessed using a Hydromorphological Impact Ratio (PDF, 1.18MB), which looks at the physical character and water content of water bodies. For 2007 to 2008, the areas with highest departure from naturalness are south east and south central Wales (Table 26).

Scotland

In Scotland, the surface water bodies environment are assessed as part of river basin management plans, including looking at physical changes to the riverbeds and banks, such as straightening or culverting, and barriers to fish migration, such as dams and weirs. The percentage of water environment condition classed as good or better condition in 2020 for Scotland (PDF, 608MB) was:

  • water quality – 87%

  • water resources – 90%

  • fish migration – 88%

  • physical condition – 90%

Ancillary indicators for freshwater, wetland and floodplain

Pollution incidents from sewerage

Pollution by discharges or escapes of contaminants into rivers are recorded by the water companies. The number of pollution incidents has decreased by 34% in Great Britain between 2011 (3,316 pollution incidents) and 2019 (2,194 incidents).

Protected sites

In Scotland the number of designated protected sites classed as favourable condition on wetlands has risen from 509 in 2007 to 609 in 2020 (Table 27).

In England, the area of designated protected sites classed as favourable for freshwater and wetlands is 19% for 2018 and 2022 (Table 28).

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9. Coastal margins

Compositional species indicators for coastal margins

The total wintering waterbird index has increased from the 1975 baseline to a peak in the late 1990s, then declined. The smoothed index in 2018 stands 90% above its 1975 baseline (Figure 17).

The average number of queen bees has declined by 27% from 2010 to 2020, and the average total bees by 24% in the same period. The coastal moth index has steadily declined from 1995 and has decreased 88% from 1990 to 2019.

Figure 17: The wintering waterbird index has increased by 90% between 1975 and 2018

Bee, bird and moth species indicators for coastal margins, Great Britain or UK

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Notes:

  1. The Rothamsted Insect Survey, a National Capability, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council under the Core Capability Grant BBS/E/C/000J0200.
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Landscape level indicator: Hedgerows

The average length of hedgerows on coastal habitats has decreased by 39% from 1984 to 2007 in Great Britain.

Ancillary coastal indicators

Wildfires

The number of wildfire incidents in coastal, freshwater and saltwater habitats in England increased between 2009 and 2012, with a peak of 450 incidents in 2010 to 2011. The number then decreased in 2012 to 2013, to 134 incidents, but increased the following year (2013 to 2014) to 267 incidents. Since then, the number of wildfire incidents has been decreasing, with 161 incidents recorded in 2016 to 2017.

Protected sites

In Scotland, the number of designated protected sites, for fauna, flora or important geological or physiological features, classed as favourable condition on coastal sites, has risen from 222 in 2007 to 276 in 2020 (Table 30).

The area of designated protected coastal sites classed as favourable in England dropped from 31% in 2018 to 30% in 2022 (Table 31).

In Wales the numbers of protected sites by condition in 2020 and their condition for supralittoral sediment were:

  • 6 favourable

  • 21 unfavourable

  • 30 unknown

For supralittoral rock there were:

  • 4 favourable

  • 8 unfavourable

  • 24 unknown

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10. Marine

Physical state: Water

The Water Framework Directive helps assess the water environment for water bodies, including estuaries and coastal, with classifications from "Bad" to "High" condition (see previously). There is a small improvement in the number of estuaries and coastal water bodies classed as "Good" and "High" between 2009 and 2020 (Table 32).

Compositional state indicators

Seabirds

The UK seabird index in 2019 was 24% lower than in 1986 (Figure 19).

Sustainable fishing

Fish are an integral component of marine biodiversity, an important food source for seabirds and aquatic mammals, as well as a source of food and employment for people. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee states that sustainable fisheries help to ensure our marine ecosystems remain diverse and resilient, providing a long-term and viable fishing industry.

Among the 57 marine stocks fished in an acceptable mortality range, stocks exploited at or below the maximum sustainable yield (FMSY), increased from 9% in 1990 to 51% in 2019 (Figure 20).

Invasive species

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee invasive species indicator for freshwater includes species that have arrived since 1500. It shows the change in number of invasive non-native species that have established across 10% or more of Great Britain's coastline extent. Between 1960 and 2019, the number of non-native freshwater species has risen from 15 to 37 (Figure 21).

Ancillary marine indicators

Sea litter

Accounting for methodological changes – which beaches are included and variations in the number of volunteers across years – the density of plastic-related litter on beaches seems to have declined between 2008 and 2021 (Figure 22).

Blue Flag awards

The Blue Flag certification (PDF, 416KB) (Figure 23) has 33 individual targets including water quality, including bathing water quality for resort beaches with facilities. Water samples must be taken no longer than 31 days apart throughout the Blue Flag season.

Protected sites

In Scotland, the number of designated protected marine sites classed as favourable has risen from 76 in 2018 to 102 in 2020 (Table 33).

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11. Urban

Compositional species indicators

The urban smoothed bat index has gradually increased from 2003, and by 2020 was 28% higher than the base year of 1999. The number of moths found in urban areas has been largely stable between 1990 and 2019, while the urban unsmoothed bird index has also remained fairly consistent between 1994 and 2019.

Figure 24: The smoothed bat index rose by 28% for Great Britain urban areas between 1999 and 2020

Bat, bird and moth species indicators for Urban, Great Britain or UK

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Notes:

  1. Provisional data for 2019 and 2020 index.
  2. Species in index: common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, and noctule.
  3. The Rothamsted Insect Survey, a National Capability, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council under the Core Capability Grant BBS/E/C/000J0200.

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Ancillary urban indicators

Wildfires

In England, there were 11,199 wildfire incidents in built-up areas and gardens in 2016 to 2017, the latest period with available figures. This was lower than the previous year (2015 to 2016), which saw 13,115 incidents.

Previously, the number of urban wildfire incidents was higher between 2009 and 2012, with the highest number of incidents in 2011 to 2012 (23,750 incidents).

Urban green spaces

Outdoor green and blue space in urban areas, such as parks, gardens, rivers and lakes are important for well-being. Of the approximately 1.77 million hectares of urban area in Great Britain, 0.55 million hectares are classified as natural land cover, 31%. In 2020, one in eight households (12%) has no access to a private or shared garden.

Green Flag awards

The Green Flag Award (PDF, 3.0MB) is a scheme that recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, a standard for the management of UK recreational outdoor spaces. The number of Green Flag awards has increased 26%, from 1,404 in 2017 to 1,765 in 2021.

Protected sites

The area of designated protected urban sites classed as favourable in England decreased from 39 hectares in 2018 to 23 hectares in 2022. Those sites classed as recovering stayed the same at 1.7 hectares in 2018 and 2022, while those classed as unfavourable also increased, from 3.3 hectares to 19.8 hectares, in the same period. Those sites classed as destroyed stayed the same over the period, at 15.2 hectares.

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12. System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) condition summary

We have used the new United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) template for creating extent and condition metrics, to organise the biophysical data for natural capital accounting. This has highlighted data gaps (Table 35 and Figure 4).

This includes data that appear for at least one year between 2010 and 2020. The compositional state is relatively well-covered, with indicators for most of the eight broad habitats, including for bats, bees, birds, moths and butterflies. However, there are significant data gaps for physical state, chemical state, structural state (other than woodlands), functional state and landscape-level characteristics.

Using the SEEA format to organise these data helps to create an index of condition over time. We were unable to calculate the SEEA Ecosystem Condition Index (ECI) for all habitats because of data gaps. The supplementary tables accompanying this bulletin include the full index, with available data for each part of the natural capital accounts.

This provides a starting point to gather new datasets to enable future natural capital accounting to report changes of values over time for ecosystem condition.

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13. Habitat extent and condition, natural capital data

Habitat extent, natural capital, UK – supplementary tables
Dataset| Released 3 May 2022
The extent of the eight broad habitats needed to present habitat-based natural capital accounts.

Habitat condition, natural capital, UK – supplementary information
Dataset| Released 3 May 2022
Suitable condition indicators for an understanding of the relationship between the ecosystem condition and the ecosystem services they deliver.

Habitat SEEA condition, natural capital, UK – supplementary information
Dataset| Released 3 May 2022
Creation of extent and condition metrics, to organise the biophysical data for natural capital accounting, using the new United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) template.

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14. Glossary

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the flows of benefits that people gain from natural ecosystems. This includes provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood protection and pollution removal; and cultural services such as recreation and heritage.

Natural capital

Natural capital is a way of measuring and valuing the benefits that the natural world provides society. These benefits from natural resources include food, cleaning the air of pollution, sequestering carbon, and cleaning fresh water.

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15. Measuring the data

In this release, the condition accounts for eight broad habitats are presented in two sections:

  • the size of the area covered by semi-natural (extent account)

  • indicators of the quality of the semi-natural ecosystem and ability to continue supplying services (condition account)

The data underpinning the eight broad habitats come from a range of sources with different timeliness and coverage. This release is based on the most recent data as at March 2022.

Data sources include:

  • Bat Conservation Trust

  • Blue Flag

  • British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

  • Bumblebee Conservation Trust

  • Butterfly Conservation (BC)

  • Countryside Survey

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)

  • Environment Agency

  • Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

  • Forest Research

  • Forestry Commission Scotland

  • Forestry England

  • International Council for the Exploration of the Sea

  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)

  • Keep Britain Tidy

  • Marine Conservation Society

  • National Biodiversity Network

  • Natural England

  • NatureScot

  • Natural Resources Wales

  • Ordnance Survey

  • Rothamsted Insect Survey

  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency

  • UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

  • Welsh Government

The Office for National Statistics's (ONS's) natural capital accounts are produced in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

DEFRA logo

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16. Strengths and limitations

Data quality

The UK Natural Capital Accounts are Experimental Statistics. Currently, there is no single data source for the UK for the individual condition indicators. These are calculated from data from the four UK countries and often have different timeliness.

Condition indicators provide a diverse range of data on the health of an ecosystem and not all have been included in this publication, either because of unavailability of data or the need for new methods of evaluation. We intend to continue to develop our ability to report on all condition indicators as recommended by the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA).

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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Hazel Trenbirth
natural.capital.team@ons.gov.uk
Ffôn: +44 1633 580051