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United Kingdom

Nature protection and biodiversity (United Kingdom)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

In Conserving Biodiversity – the UK approach, the case for conserving biodiversity was restated:

·      Because our survival depends on it (life-support services);

·      Because our economy and lifestyles depend on it (products and regulation services);

·      Because to do otherwise is wrong (moral/ethical/philosophical);

·      Because it inspires and enriches our lives (aesthetic/spiritual/cultural services).

These messages remain true, and will help to guide future implementation of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and thereby of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011


The UK has a wide variety of ecosystems and species.  The main factors that lead to this biodiversity are the diversity of geology, landforms and sea floors, the long history of land management, the climatic influence of a prevailing westerly air flow and North Atlantic Drift, and a large tidal range. These factors create:

·         productive and varied seas which harbour globally significant numbers of fish, seabirds and sea mammals;

·         abundant and diverse wildlife along a great length of coastline that comprise high cliffs, expanses of productive estuarine habitats supporting internationally important numbers of wintering waterbirds;  

·         a patchwork mix of land uses, semi natural habitats and settlements in the South and East that include important areas for biodiversity such as heathlands, ancient woods, chalk downland, broads and fens;

·         wet oakwoods in the West, supporting endemic mosses, ferns, lichens and liverworts;

·         large tracts of upland and mountain areas of the North and West that support some relict populations of species surviving from the last Ice Age and extensive peatlands that provide important ‘ecosystem services’ such as water provision, regulation and carbon capture;

·         an intricate web of freshwater habitats including rivers, lochs, freshwater lakes, waterfalls, coastal lagoons, reedbeds etc.

The species within this varied landscape are also diverse but there are relatively few species that are endemic or at high risk of global extinction.  A review of the priority habitats and species listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan took place between 2005 and 2007.  It resulted in a revised UK list of 1,150 priority species and 65 habitats ( 

There are many surveillance and recording schemes currently operated, providing a wealth of biodiversity-related information (see links below and the National Biodiversity Network) and a basis by which trends in, current status of, and threats to, UK biodiversity can be assessed.  For certain groups, systematic survey data spans 30 years or more.  The status, trends, threats and constraints to plan delivery for 371 species and 45 habitats that were originally identified as UK Biodiversity Action Plan priorities have been assessed at three year intervals, most recently in 2008.


Principal Sources of Information on the Status and Trends of UK Biodiversity

Surveillance and Monitoring Schemes

Overview of surveillance and monitoring supported by JNCC -

Countryside Survey -

Tracking Mammals partnership results -

Breeding birds -

Seabirds -

Wintering waterbirds -

Butterfly Monitoring Scheme -

State of Britain’s Moths -

Biological Records Centre (Atlases) –

UK SeaMap –  

Marine Climate Change Impacts -

Climate Change Impacts –

Common Standards monitoring of protected sites – first six year report -


Status Assessments

Vascular Plant red data book -

Breeding birds in the wider countryside -

Wintering waterbird changes in population size -

Butterflies - and -



UK 2010 indicators -

The UK has developed a set of indicators (UK Biodiversity Indicators in Your Pocket) to measure performance against the 2010 target.  These biodiversity indicators are discussed in detail in Chapter 4 of the 4th National UK Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reviewing UK progress towards the 2010 target and the global goals.  The indicators provide a standardised overview of biodiversity across the UK, and deliver UK obligations to CBD and European reporting.

The indicators show positive outcomes for biodiversity in some areas, for example increases in populations of bats and other priority species, and plant diversity in arable fields.  For other components of biodiversity such as woodland and water birds, butterflies and priority habitats, previous declines have been slowed or halted.  However, the indicators show continuing or accelerating declines in the populations of breeding farmland and seabirds, wintering waterbirds and plant diversity in woodland, grassland and field boundaries.  The 2010 assessment of the 33 measures underpinning the indicators is shown in Table 1. 

Table 1.  Overview of assessment of change for all indicators


Traffic light assessments over the longer term and since 2000, for the 18 indicators and their 33 component measures.  Assessments as at May 2010.

Focal area, indicator number, title and individual measures (where applicable)

Long term change

Change since 2000

Focal area 1. Status and trends of the components of biological diversity

1a. Populations of selected species (birds)

Breeding farmland birds

red 1970-2008

Breeding woodland birds

red 1970-2008

Breeding water and wetland birds

yellow 1975-2008

Breeding seabirds

green 1970-2008

Wintering waterbirds

green 1975-6 - 2007-8

1b. Populations of selected species (butterflies)

Semi-natural habitat specialists

red 1976-2009

Generalist butterflies

yellow 1976-2009

1c. Populations of selected species (bats)

red 1978-1992

2. Plant diversity

Arable and horticultural land

green 1990-2007

Woodland and grassland

red 1990-2007

Boundary habitats

red 1990-2007

3. UK priority species


4. UK priority habitats

white yellow

5. Genetic diversity

Native sheep breeds

white yellow

Native cattle breeds

white green

6. Protected areas

Total extent of protected areas

green 1996-2009

Condition of A/SSSIs


 Focal area 2. Sustainable use

7. Woodland management


8. Agri-environment land

Higher level, targeted schemes

green 1992-2009

Entry type schemes


9. Sustainable fisheries

green 1990-2008

 Focal area 3. Threats to biodiversity

10. Impact of air pollution


green 1996-2005


green 1996-2005

11. Invasive species

Freshwater species

red 1960-2008

Marine species

red 1960-2008

Terrestrial species

red 1960-2008

12. Spring Index

Not assessed

Not assessed

 Focal area 4. Ecosystem integrity and ecosystem goods and services

13. Marine ecosystem integrity

red 1982-2008

14. Habitat connectivity

Broad-leaved, mixed and yew woodland


Neutral grassland


15. Biological river quality

green 1990-2008

 Focal area 5. Status of resource transfers and use

16. UK biodiversity expenditure

white green

17. UK global biodiversity expenditure

white green

 Focal Area 6. Public awareness and participation

18. Conservation volunteering

white green






little or no overall change






insufficient or no comparable data

















15 measures (46%) show an improvement since 2000, and 9 measures (27%) show improvement over the longer term. 

Each indicator has its own story.  Some of the biological outcomes (e.g. populations of birds and butterflies) have been affected by a series of wet summers, which have reversed previously improving trends.  Other biological outcomes (e.g. plant diversity) are slow to respond and may take many years to show recovery.  For some indicators (e.g. habitat connectivity and condition of protected sites) suitable methods and data are not yet available to make an assessment of the trend.  These aspects need to be taken into account when drawing overall conclusions.

Taken together, it is possible to conclude that the rapid declines in biodiversity in the UK during the last quarter of the 20th century have been substantially slowed and in some cases halted or reversed, and that efforts to address these declines through spending and public engagement have increased.  Nevertheless, it is fair to say that there is a lot more to do.  The UK Government has developed an ecosystem approach to conservation (see below) to try to improve the delivery of species and habitat conservation.

The pie charts below summarise the whole set of biodiversity indicators, and display the numbers of measures that have shown improvement (green traffic light), deterioration (red traffic light), little or no overall change (amber traffic light) or that have insufficient data for an assessment to be made (white traffic light). Assessments of change over the longer term and since 2000 are shown[1].   

biodiversity indicators

*Based on 33 measures, which make up 17 indicators (1 indicator is not assessed).


The assessments since 2000 generally show marked improvements compared with longer term (i.e. 10-30 year) trends where comparable data exist. 

[1] The pie charts show results as at May 2009.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The key issues that are either currently, or are predicted to pose, a significant threat to the highest proportion of priority species and habitats are:

·         Habitat loss (particularly due to agriculture or changes in management practices),

·         Infrastructure development (mainly housing infrastructure and development on the coast)

·         Climate change including adaptation and mitigation actions taken in other sectors.

For UK priority habitats, the top ten reasons for adverse condition of protected areas are: overgrazing (typically in the uplands); moor-burning; coastal squeeze; drainage; water pollution from agriculture and discharge; air pollution; undergrazing (typically in the lowlands); inappropriate scrub control; and lack of appropriate forestry/woodland management (including management of deer grazing).

To halt biodiversity loss, the country conservation strategies seek to make biodiversity part of the mainstream of policies and incorporate the relevant UK BAP targets at the country level.  Many actions are being taken at a variety of levels, and often in a cross-cutting manner.  There is a statutory requirement on public bodies to have regard for biodiversity conservation when undertaking their functions. 

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Implementation of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan has been greatly assisted by the partnership approach to delivery, involving Governments, NGOs, the research community and the private sector.  A targeted approach initially concentrating on carefully selected priorities has been successful in keeping delivery firmly focussed on positive outcomes for biodiversity.  The preparation of Local Action Plans has also been extremely useful in reaching out to and involving local communities in delivering country, UK and even global objectives. The UK will consider the outcome of current international discussions on a post-2010 target, expected to be completed at CBD COP10 in Japan, in the further development of national targets for 2020 and beyond.

Future priorities are to maintain the momentum already established and to take a more holistic ecosystem approach to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, led within the four devolved countries and administrations of the UK. This will involve increased efforts to work with other sectors, incorporate social and economic issues, take a broader landscape/wider countryside perspective and do more for the marine environment, including offshore waters (out to 200 nautical miles).  Existing priorities for the conservation and restoration of priority habitats and species, and improved management of protected areas will continue.

Probably the greatest capacity building need for the UK is to raise awareness of biodiversity in non-environment sectors and with the general public, and in particular to increase understanding of the impacts of development activities on biodiversity and the role biodiversity plays in provision of ecosystem services and maintaining the quality of life, such as helping to address climate change issues, flood mitigation, air quality improvements, natural resources such as fish, timber, thatch, etc. 

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) was the UK Government's response to the CBD.  Published in 1994, the BAP drew together existing instruments and programmes for nature conservation throughout the UK, set out a series of activities for a 20 year period, and recognised the need for specific biological targets and plans for the recovery of species and habitats to help drive forward their conservation. 

Following devolution and a number of other high-level drivers, a new strategic framework was published in 2007: ’Conserving Biodiversity – the UK approach‘.  This new approach is based upon the twin principles of partnership and the ecosystem approach. 

Underpinning the UK framework are country strategies for biodiversity in each of the four countries of the UK.  These include further priorities and are supported by additional measures and indicators, reflecting the countries’ different priorities and means of delivery.

The four country strategies are:

·         Working with the grain of nature: A biodiversity strategy for England, Defra, 2002

·         Scotland’s Biodiversity, It’s In Your Hands; A Strategy for the Conservation and Enhancement of Biodiversity in Scotland, Scottish Executive, 2004

·         Environment Strategy for Wales, Welsh Assembly Government, 2006;jsessionid=vN4dJ6BLw6whgdhWdGmYnx2vZpbmNgyKT7y1nvhzy1zMljfGxrGk!2101391267?lang=en

·         Northern Ireland Biodiversity Strategy, Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group, 2002

Objectives of the strategies are generally to:

  • Halt the loss of biodiversity and continue to reverse previous losses through targeted actions for species and habitats.
  • Increase awareness, understanding and enjoyment of biodiversity, and engage more people in conservation and enhancement.
  • Restore and enhance biodiversity in urban, rural and marine environments through better planning, design and practice.
  • Develop an effective management framework that ensures biodiversity is taken into account in wider decision making.
  • Ensure knowledge on biodiversity is available to all policy makers and practitioners.

Implementing the strategies is a cross-government responsibility, seeking to make biodiversity part of the mainstream of policies and incorporate the relevant UK BAP targets at the country level.  Statutory duties on public bodies to have regard for  biodiversity conservation when undertaking their functions have been introduced by the Devolved Administrations.  Our landscape and surrounding seas are required to accommodate a range of requirements - food, fibre, housing, infrastructure, energy, biodiversity, enjoyment, etc  - i.e. ecosystem services.  The key is to find optimal solutions to the needs of society while safeguarding and where possible restoring the natural environment. 

The UK is the first country in the world to have a legally binding long term framework to cut CO2 emissions and adapt to climate change.  The Climate Change Act 2008 and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 create a new approach to managing and responding to climate change in the UK through setting ambitious targets, taking powers to help achieve them, strengthening the institutional framework, and establishing clear and regular accountability.  The statutory UK risk assessment will help set priorities for adaptation programmes, and to make sure that other policies reflect the potential risks and opportunities posed by climate change. 

A Marine and Coastal Access Act came into law in late 2009.  This contains an integrated set of complementary proposals for a new approach to the management of activities in English, Welsh and UK offshore waters.  Part 5 of the Act provides for the designation and effective protection of a new type of marine protected area, to be called Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).  These can be used to conserve habitats and species of national importance, and will help to create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas around the UK. MCZs will have clear conservation objectives and will be protected through a series of duties placed on public authorities.  Other provisions dealing with marine planning, licensing, the creation of a new Marine Management Organisation and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, and improved enforcement powers, will also help to improve the management and conservation of marine biodiversity.  Similar proposals are under way in Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

The UK list of priority species was thoroughly reviewed in 2005/6, resulting in the new BAP priority list of 1150 species being published in 2007.  This was a considerable increase on the original list, partly due to increased information but also because of new or increased declines in some species.  Most of the species in the original BAP list were re-selected, although 123 species no longer met the criteria and were removed.  The UK BAP indicator (included in Table 1) is based on the 339 species for which data were available.

The UK list of priority habitats was also reviewed in 2007, increasing the number of priority habitats from 49 to 65 with none being removed.  These cover a wide range of natural and semi-natural habitats that are judged to be particularly important for biodiversity conservation.  The UK BAP indicator (included in Table 1) is based on the 43 habitats for which data were available. 

The UK has put considerable effort into developing agri-environment schemes, which require farmers to implement environmentally-beneficial management and demonstrate good environmental practice on their farm.  Entry level schemes aim to encourage large numbers of farmers, across all farmland, to implement simple and effective environmental management on their farms.  Higher level schemes are more targeted: to conserve wildlife; maintain and enhance landscape quality and character; protect the historic environment and natural resources, and to promote public access and the understanding of the countryside. 

Conserving Biodiversity – the UK approach also puts UK work into an international context and sets out how UK will work with its Overseas Territories.  In this regard Her Majesty’s Government has agreed a new Strategy for addressing biodiversity issues in the OTs (December 2009).  In addition the UK continues to fund biodiversity projects in developing countries through the £7m per year Darwin Initiative, collaborating with institutions in host countries.  Moreover, the UK has provided input to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project which will help to understand the value of ecosystem services and provide the basis for the selection of indicators around the increased emphasis on ecosystem services in the post 2010 targets.

On a national level, the UK is undertaking a National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), starting in 2009 and based on the MA framework.  The National Ecosystem Assessment will be completed in 2011.  It will make a major contribution to the provision of an evidence base to support implementation of an ecosystem approach to policy and decision making.  The first phase will be to provide a high level assessment of the status and trends of ecosystems and the services they deliver.  The second phase will look at the future and how the ecosystems and services are likely to change, and possible policy options. 

Plant Diversity Challenge is the UK’s response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, and also contributes towards the European Strategy for Plant Conservation (revised in 2008).  Progress in the last five years is documented in a report published in 2007 ‘Plant Diversity Challenge: 3 years – 16 targets – 1 challenge’. 

The GB invasive non-native species framework strategy was launched in May 2008.  Following on from the Invasive Species in Ireland Report the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin (NPWS), jointly initiated the 'Invasive Species in Ireland Project' in 2006 to address the issues in an island of Ireland context.   



The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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