In this blog post, we delve into the second of England’s Biodiversity indicators, which focuses on habitats. We will look specifically at 2a. Extent and condition of priority habitats, which concerns itself with priority terrestrial and coastal habitat types, recognising their significance for biodiversity conservation.
Here we summarise the indicator's intentions, progress and most recent data. For a complete and detailed picture of how the indicators are maintained and updated, you can follow the link above.
What is the indicator’s goal?
This indicator's main goal is to help policymakers and others ensure that there are favourable habitats (i.e those that are considered in good health) which can cater to the needs of associated species. This is very important - remember that the Biodiversity 2020 strategy for England outlines a key objective: achieving favourable or recovering conditions for 90% of priority habitats and at least 50% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) by 2020, maintaining 95% in favourable or recovering conditions. Having information that tells you how well you are doing against this target is obviously vital.
This is where indicator 2a steps up: this indicator focuses on the progress toward the 90% target, assessing the condition of priority habitats. Conditions are graded as follows:
- Favourable conditions - means that a site meets agreed-upon habitat standards
- Recovering conditions - implies that the site, while currently falling short of standards, has appropriate management in place to reach those standards
- Unfavourable conditions - are assigned to sites with inappropriate or no suitable management).
What is the assessment measuring?
The assessment uses an inventory, last updated in 2013. While there are 56 habitats recognised as being of ‘principal importance’ for the conservation of biological diversity in England (under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006), this assessment uses 24 habitats listed here.
Habitats are broken down into three categories: Terrestrial and coastal, freshwater, and woodland. In its last update, the inventory transitioned to a single-layer system consolidating multiple habitat information documents into one unified dataset. Simplifying habitat classification, the update has made it more efficient and less complex for assessing and managing priority habitats.
While exact long-term changes in habitat extent cannot be assessed due to the inventory's nature, the indicator now evaluates changes in habitat condition based on the 2013 inventory. Efforts are ongoing to enhance data quality and quantity through improved habitat mapping standards and innovative research methods combining satellite, remote sensing, and field data.
To give an idea of scale, there are 1.87 million hectares of terrestrial and coastal priority habitats recorded in the 2013 priority habitats’ inventory for England. These habitats represent around 14% of the total land area of the country.
What are the recent results of the assessment?
As of April 1, 2021, approximately 1.23 million hectares of priority habitats in England were in their target condition. This means that just under 66% of all priority habitats, which were either in a favourable or recovering state. Notably, one out of the 24 habitat types achieved 90% of its area in a favourable or recovering condition, and an additional nine habitat types exceeded the 80% target value for each individual habitat, demonstrating significant progress in habitat conservation efforts.
The following graph (Figure 2a:2) gives a visual summary of these results, provided directly by National Statistics. In order to get a better picture of the state of play, we think it helps to take out the ‘not assessed’ band and look at the condition of priority habitat as a percentage of area assessed.
Further Indicator Progress
Over the past decade, there has been a notable 7.4% increase in the area of priority habitats in target condition, growing from 1.09 million hectares in 2011 to 1.23 million hectares in 2021. This positive change can be largely attributed to the adoption of Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) management agreements outside of SSSIs in 2012 and 2013 and the utilisation of Countryside Stewardship (CS) management agreements outside of SSSIs from 2016 onward.
It's essential to note that in the short term, there has been a slight decrease of 1.9% in the area of priority habitats in target condition, with the figure decreasing from 1.26 million hectares in 2016 to 1.23 million hectares in 2021. This underscores the need for ongoing conservation efforts to maintain and improve the condition of these vital habitats.