Government survey shows mixed blessings for UK’s plants and wildlife

There is good news for rivers and streams, hedgerows and broadleaved woodlands but bad news for grasslands, road verges and bogs in the Countryside Survey 2000, produced for the Government.

The survey, released on 29 November and commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), brings together “the most advanced rural research in the world”. It was undertaken by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and provides a comprehensive assessment of habitats in the UK countryside, by charting changes in the countryside between 1990 and 1998. Among the most significant findings are:

  • a halt to the loss of hedgerows in England and Wales;
  • an increase of 38% in plant diversity in arable field boundaries in England and Wales, but a decrease in diversity of at least 8% in some meadows and road verges, including the loss of plants important to butterflies;
  • an expansion of broadleaved woodlands by 4% in England and Wales and 9% in Scotland and Northern Ireland;
  • an increase by 6% in the number of lowland ponds in Great Britain;
  • an improvement in the biological quality of small rivers and streams in Great Britain – over 25% of sites are in better condition and only 2% of sites declined;
  • an expansion of fen, marsh and swamp, by 27%, in England and Wales, but a decline in Scottish and Northern Irish bogs;
  • the creation in the 1990s of more broadleaved woodlands on formerly-developed land, than was lost to new development in Great Britain, but a fall in the area of semi-natural acid and calcareous grasslands by 10% and 18% respectively in the UK.

Countryside Survey 2000 provides a wealth of reliable information, which is a vital tool for managing our countryside and measuring progress, ” commented Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “This research will ensure that the UK continues to lead the world in making an integrated assessment of the countryside. To deliver on these commitments (the Rural White Paper), we need work like the Countryside Survey to provide reliable information to determine priorities and measure progress. Recent events have shown that our countryside is facing unprecedented environmental pressures. We need to understand these impacts and be able to respond accordingly.”

On the same day a Land Cover Map 2000, showing habitats across the whole of the UK field by field, was also previewed. It is being produced by NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology using satellite images.

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