In the following blog, a follow up to our last post on the second of England’s Biodiversity indicators, we'll zero in on Indicator 2b: The Status of Threatened Habitats – European Priority Habitats. Here we'll look into how these crucial European habitats and species are evaluated in England - from the assessment process to the parameters considered, and what the most recent results are.
Indicator 2b provides insights into the challenges and trends affecting a set number of “priority” habitats, underlining the urgency of biodiversity conservation efforts.
What are the EU priority habitats?
In compliance with EU regulations pre-Brexit, the UK introduced this indicator to evaluate the conservation status of important European habitats and species in England. It stems from the European Habitats Directive and its annexes which, for many years, underpinned much of the UK’s conservation strategy.
The 2b indicator focuses on the conservation status of habitats and species of European interest as mandated by the Habitat Directive. More specifically, it assesses whether these European habitats in England are in one of the following conservation status:
- 'Favourable' - the habitat is healthy and meets conservation standards
- 'Unfavourable Inadequate' - suggests improvement potential
- 'Unfavourable-Bad' - indicates poor condition
- 'Unknown' - means insufficient data for assessment
Member States, which between 1973 and 2020 included the UK, are required to report every six years on these habitats and species listed in the Habitats Directive's Annexes.
What does the evaluation assess?
So how are these habitats measured? In a nutshell, assessments involve an evaluation of four parameters for each habitat: range, area, structure, functions and future prospects.
- Range: assesses the extent or distribution of the habitat, determining how widely it occurs within a specific area
- Area: quantifies the actual physical space covered by the habitat within its range, providing insight into the habitat's size and spatial distribution
- Functions: evaluates the ecological roles and functions the habitat performs within the ecosystem, such as providing habitat for specific species or contributing to nutrient cycling
- Future Prospects: considers the habitat's outlook for the future, taking into account factors like trends in habitat size and quality, management practices, and potential threats or disturbances
The evaluation aims to provide insights into how effectively conservation actions are influencing the condition of these priority habitats by tracking their changes and trends. Assessing the condition of priority habitats in England, and their progress over time, the evaluation compares the results from 2019 to those from 2013 (a short-term comparison) and 2007 (a long-term comparison).
The evaluation sets out to determine whether these habitats are getting better or worse in terms of their condition. It acknowledges that it can take some time for habitats to transition from an unfavourable condition to a favourable condition due to conservation efforts and management practices. Therefore, it doesn't just look at the current status; it also analyses whether a habitat is improving, deteriorating, or remaining stable over time.
2019 Evaluation Results
In 2007, only 6% of the habitats in England’s habitats of European importance were in favourable conservation status, this figure decreased to 3% in 2013 before increasing again to 6% in 2019.
The conservation status of 49% of habitats was unfavourable-improving in 2007, it decreased to 33% in 2013 and 21% in 2019.
The conservation status of 30% of the habitats was unfavourable-declining in 2007, this decreased to 24% in 2013 and 23% in 2019.
The following graph (Figure 2b:1) is a graphic depiction of this data, provided by National Statistics.
In 2019, 27% of habitats improved, compared to 36% in 2013 and 54% in 2007, resulting in a declining trend. The term "unfavourable stable" is used for habitats showing no improvement or decline. The data indicates that, in general, more habitats are in unfavourable conditions, especially in the "unfavourable-bad" category, compared to species.
This is clearly a worrying state of affairs. It highlights the importance of efforts to preserve these important habitats - and for all of us to do our bit in promoting biodiversity in general.