9 min read | September 1, 2023

The latest update on the UK’s Biodiversity Indicators

In recent blogs, we have delved into the history of the UK's biodiversity indicators. In this instalment, we will explore the various types of indicators and their evolving nature.

In recent blogs, we have delved into the history of the UK's biodiversity indicators. In this instalment, we will explore the various types of indicators and their evolving nature.

As of 2023, the UK biodiversity indicators comprises 24 indicators and 52 measures. It's important to note that these numbers are constantly changing as older indicators and measures undergo critical review and new concepts are explored. This diverse array of indicators provides a comprehensive view of the interplay between human activities, environmental conditions, and biodiversity.

Data from these biodiversity indicators serve to inform both long-term and short-term analyses. The long-term assessment involves examining changes since the earliest available data. Such assessments are only conducted if data spanning 10+ years are available. Meanwhile, the short-term assessment offers insights into changes over the past five years.

A complete list of the various indicators, along with the UK's performance for each, can be found here. As mentioned earlier, this list of indicators is continuously being revised. In 2022, several types of indicators were updated. The following provides a brief overview of what each of these updated indicators assesses and the significance they hold in terms of biodiversity impacts.

A4. Global biodiversity impacts

Sustainable consumption is the focus of this indicator as it assesses the environmental effects of UK consumption of agricultural commodities, spanning 2005 to 2018. It covers factors such as tropical deforestation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions linked to deforestation, water use, cropland area, and material consumption. The statistic breaks down impacts by commodities and production areas, aligned with UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reporting. 

Classified as an “experimental statistic”, this indicator is a developing measurement. To that effect, it is subject to refinement and feedback on its relevance and accuracy is encouraged.

B5a. Air pollution

This indicator evaluates the consequences of air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and ammonia. Originating from activities like livestock waste and industrial fuel combustion, these contaminants contribute to acidification and terrestrial eutrophication. 

Given the vulnerabilities of the UK's landscape, approximately 36% of its land is susceptible to acidification, while 38% faces nutrient nitrogen impacts—approximately 72,000 km² grapples with both challenges.

Exceeding critical pollutant loads can trigger detrimental consequences. Acid deposition surpassing critical levels can result in lowered soil pH and elevated aluminium availability, rendering habitats inhospitable for many species. Excessive nitrogen can disrupt species balance, promoting the overgrowth of certain species at the expense of others. These impacted species and habitats often hold high conservation value, making them particularly susceptible to change and potentially leading to a loss of essential ecosystem functions.

C1. Protected areas

Focusing on protected areas both on land and at sea, this indicator presents the coverage of UK-protected areas in these domains. It also evaluates the condition of features on Areas or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (A/SSSIs), designated for their scientific significance. Each UK country assesses feature conditions, reporting them as percentages of favourable or unfavourable-recovering status.

C6. Butterflies

Obviated in its name, this indicator assesses butterfly population abundance, considering two categories. The first focuses on habitat specialist butterflies, those linked to specific habitats affected by human development, typically found in agricultural or grazing lands. The second measures widespread butterflies found in both habitats affected by human development and broader countryside settings. 

Butterflies are valuable biodiversity indicators, reflecting environmental changes and habitat management due to their sensitivity and broad habitat range. Their fine-scale resource usage complements birds and bats, making them essential for gauging environmental health.

D1c. Pollinating insects

Tracking the changes in bee and hoverfly distribution across the UK, this indicator looks at 389 different types of these insects. Bees and hoverflies are chosen due to their pivotal role as pollinators. 

As these species expand or contract in their range, local communities become more or less diverse, potentially affecting pollination effectiveness. Despite year-to-year fluctuations, the overall trend indicates a decline in pollinator populations, raising concerns for their vital role in pollinating various crops and wildflowers.

E2. Biodiversity expenditure

With financial allocation serving as a measure of the government's commitment to biodiversity, this indicator tracks spending on biodiversity efforts. It’s broken down into two parts. 

The first presents actual public sector spending on biodiversity within the UK, alongside funding allocated by non-governmental organisations dedicated to biodiversity and nature conservation. 

The second component focuses on real-term UK public sector expenditure designated for global biodiversity efforts. Such international funding is crucial for implementing the commitments made through biodiversity conventions and other international environmental policy promises.

While fiscal support is just one aspect of gauging biodiversity priority within government, it's integral for effective conservation work and achieving both national and international biodiversity targets. The indicator considers changes in public sector expenditure within the context of funding requirements and aligned policy measures. Expert opinions and data from diverse UK entities contribute to this indicator's assessment.

C4a. Status of priority species: relative abundance 

Published on 25 May 2023, this latest indicator addition tracks changes in the abundance of priority species in the UK, using data from species on the priority lists of each UK country. These species are flagged for conservation concern due to factors like rapid population decline. The indicator rises when average priority species populations grow and falls when they decline. 

While focusing on abundance is more sensitive to change, recovering species might stabilise their distribution. The indicator's direction is influenced by the proportion of species that are stable or increasing; growth in this proportion slows its decline, while decline in the proportion accelerates it. 

Oliver Lewis

Founder of Joe’s Blooms

Oliver Lewis is the founder of Joe’s Blooms, providing end-to-end digital solutions to help you create best-in-class Biodiversity Gain Plans. Expert in this field, he shares his knowledge on the Environment Bill which will be effective in November 2023.

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