Changing landscapes, habitats and vegetation diversity across Great Britain

R. Haines-Young, C. J. Barr, L. G. Firbank, M. Furse, D. C. Howard, G. McGowan, S. Petit, S. M. Smart, J. W. Watkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes how Countryside Survey 2000 (CS2000) and earlier Countryside Surveys in 1990 and 1984, can be used to develop an integrated view of the changes in land cover, landscape and biodiversity that have taken place at the regional scale in Great Britain. A particular concern is to develop an understanding of how the national patterns of stock and change are distributed across Great Britain, and whether such changes are leading to more or less regional differentiation in our landscapes and biodiversity. A further concern is how the structure of landscape is changing.

A description of the major Environmental Zones that make up Great Britain is given. Analysis of the regional patterns of change observed suggests that there has been considerable geographical variation in the gains and losses of the stock of the Biodiversity Action Plan Broad Habitats. Between 1984 and 1990, in the lowlands of the south and west of England and Wales, there were significant increase in the area of the Arable and Horticultural and Broadleaved Woodland Broad Habitats, and a marked loss of Improved Grassland. Over the same period, in the uplands of England and Wales, significant losses of Acid Grassland were observed, with associated gains in Improved Grassland. The Environmental Zones in Scotland were more stable in terms of the changes in stock of Broad Habitats. In addition to the analysis of net changes in stock of the Broad Habitats, the paper provides an analysis of the exchanges of land between major cover categories or each of the Environmental Zones.

In contrast to the regionally concentrated changes in habitat stock, more ubiquitous and uniform changes in habitat quality were detected between 1990 and 1998, which continue trends observed for the 1980s. The quality of freshwater habitats increased. However, there were declines in the quality for some terrestrial biotopes, as indicated by the loss of species diversity from agricultural habitats, and the gains in diversity in semi-natural habitats, such as Acid Grasslands, more usually associated with vegetation types that are poor in species. An important driver of qualitative change appears to be widespread nutrient enrichment from nitrogen. However, such processes are probably superimposed upon more local factors, such as changes in the way land is managed for agriculture. The importance of understanding the various drives of change for future countryside policy is emphasized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-281
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • landscape change
  • countryside monitoring
  • landscape pattern
  • broad habitats
  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan
  • Countryside Survey 2000
  • Countryside Survey 1990


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