In our previous blogs, we’ve explored the essential role of the UK’s Biodiversity Indicators, where they came from, how they’re managed, and what they entail as far as measuring biodiversity health across the UK and in the world at large.
In this blog, we will explore the objectives and background of the 2022 indicators, along with their key findings.This refined set of indicators offers an updated perspective on the state of the UK’s biodiversity.
Focusing on economic activities and sustainable consumption across the UK, this indicator is currently under development - meaning the validity and usability of the indicator is being reviewed. It draws from various sources including trade models, research from academic institutions, and international organisations like the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). As it is, the indicator assesses the environmental impact of the UK's consumption of agricultural commodities from 2005 to 2018.
To date, it has calculated various footprints including tropical deforestation, biodiversity loss, CO2 emissions, land use, scarcity-weighted water, and material footprint. For instance, in 2018, the UK's crop consumption contributed to an estimated regional species loss of around 63 species, a 31% decrease since 2005.
This indicator offers a comprehensive view of the ecological effects tied to consumption. However, the key finding was that UK consumption of crop, cattle-related, and timber commodities in 2018 resulted in about 35,977 hectares of global tropical deforestation . While at first glance, this is disheartening, it marks a substantial 51% reduction since 2005 (Figure A4i).
This indicator examines the impact of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and ammonia, particularly focusing on their contribution to acidification and terrestrial eutrophication.
Acidification refers to the process where pollutants in the air lead to an increase in acidity levels in soil and water, negatively impacting ecosystems.
Terrestrial eutrophication is the over-enrichment of ecosystems with nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, which can disrupt natural balance and lead to excessive plant growth, often causing harm to biodiversity and ecosystem health.
The key findings of the 2022 update for this biodiversity indicator reveal that between 2010 and 2019, the proportion of ecologically sensitive land areas in the UK that exceeded critical acidification levels decreased by 16%. This indicates a positive shift in managing the impact of acidification on important habitats during this period.
Additionally, there was a 9% reduction in areas with excessive nutrient nitrogen deposits, which are harmful. In 2019, around 53% of sensitive habitats faced a significant issue with acid levels exceeding safe limits, while nitrogen deposition exceeded safe levels in 68% of these habitats. This emphasises the ongoing challenges related to acidification and nitrogen impacts on ecosystems.
Showcasing the coverage of UK protected areas on land and in the sea, this indicator provides insights into their condition and features. These designated protected areas are crucial for conserving biodiversity and are the result of strategic management efforts to safeguard habitats and species in the face of extensive historical landscape modifications.
The latest update reveals that the UK experienced a 13-million-hectare increase in protected land and sea areas, roughly equivalent to the size of Bulgaria. This is largely due to new marine site designations. Land protection alone grew by 8,613 hectares, which is about half the size of Liechtenstein.
Additionally, site conditions improved from 67% in 2005 to 76% by 2022. The slight improvement in site condition signifies modest gains in biodiversity, indicating enhanced habitat quality and management efforts supporting ecosystem health.
Aversly, unfavourable-recovering conditions, those monitoring sites that have been negatively impacted but are undergoing recovery efforts, rose from 14% in 2005 to 31% in 2022. This suggests that ongoing restoration actions and management are likely leading to long-term improvements in biodiversity and habitat quality.
Butterflies are sensitive biodiversity indicators, serving as robust environmental indicators due to their swift response to habitat shifts and representing broader insect trends.Focusing on population abundance, this indicator examines various butterfly species across different UK landscapes and habitats. It aims to provide insights into the state of biodiversity, particularly concerning habitat specialists and species found in the wider countryside. Habitat Specialist butterflies are those linked to specific habitats affected by human development, typically found in agricultural or grazing lands.
In the latest key finding of the UK’s butterfly biodiversity indicator, 67% of species showed reduced abundance in 2021 due to adverse weather conditions. Since 1976, habitat specialists' numbers have dropped by 60%, while countryside species declined by 37%.
Despite yearly fluctuations, long-term trends, analysed through smoothed data (data that eliminates short-term fluctuations, revealing underlying trends over a longer period), reveal significant declines in habitat specialists since 1976, while no significant change occurred in countryside species since then. Both short-term trends have remained stable since 2016.
With a spotlight on 389 insect species, bee and hoverfly species in particular, this indicator underscores the pivotal role of these pollinators. As these species expand or shrink their habitats, local ecosystems experience shifts in diversity, potentially influencing their effectiveness in pollination. Amidst yearly fluctuations, the prevailing trend points to a decline in pollinator populations, heightening concerns about their essential role in pollinating diverse crops and wildflowers.
The most recent data indicate a decline in pollinators, hoverflies, and wild bees since 1987, with a 21% drop observed by 2019. New methodology in selecting species and collecting data reduces uncertainty, and indicates a less severe historic decline than previously observed. However, species range and size is still decreasing.
Updated indicators for pollinators, hoverflies, and wild bees show that over the long term, 16% of pollinator species became more widespread with 8% showing a strong increase. 42% became less widespread with 20% showing a strong decline. Over the short term, more species showed decline (48%, with 33% exhibiting a strong decline) rather than increase (27%, with 17% exhibiting a strong increase).
Scrutinising spending, this indicator works as a tangible gauge of the government's dedication to biodiversity. Comprising two facets, it evaluates actual public sector and non-governmental organisation expenditures for UK biodiversity, while also spotlighting UK's financial support for global biodiversity endeavours. Beyond the fiscal lens, this indicator contributes to the broader commitment to conservation priorities and target achievements, drawing insights from expert opinions and data across the UK and the globe.
The key findings here are as follows:
- In 2020/2021, the UK allocated £624 million to biodiversity, a 103% increase since 2000/2001.
- Public funding rose by 14% for the latest year but declined 5% over five years.
- Public sector support for biodiversity relative to GDP ranged from 0.018% to 0.037% and was 0.023% in 2020/2021.
- NGOs focused on biodiversity spent £243 million in 2020/2021, up 16% since 2010/2011.
- International biodiversity received £162 million, a 67% increase since 2001/2002, but declined 24% over five years and 12% for the latest year due to irregular contributions.
This newest addition to the UK’s biodiversity indicators serves as a compass, guiding us through the changing landscape of priority species in the country. Plainly put, it tracks the shifts in the abundance of priority species within the country. By examining species flagged for conservation concern due to factors like rapid population decline, this indicator provides a clear picture of biodiversity trends.
The official priority species lists, totaling 2,890 species, tracks abundance changes in 228 species (long-term) and 215 species (short-term). Key findings show that in 2021, the relative abundance index of priority species had decreased to 37% since its baseline in 1970 with 19% increasing and 58% declining. Between 2016 and 2021, the indicator remained relatively stable, with 47% of species showing some increase and 35% declining in the short term.
The latest biodiversity indicators present a nuanced view of our ecological landscape. While some areas show expansion and positive trends, others raise concerns. The fluctuations in various species and habitats emphasise the dynamic nature of ecosystems. It's evident that both short-term weather impacts and long-term environmental changes play pivotal roles in shaping biodiversity. Overall, these indicators highlight the critical need for ongoing conservation efforts and policy initiatives to preserve the complex web of life on our planet