Assessment Report The Countryside Survey (CS) Integrated Assessment report is published today (27 October 2010). The Integrated Assessment uses CS data to investigate the ecosystem services - ecological processes that have value for individuals or society - provided by the British countryside.Countryside Survey Integrated Assessment Report

The work was led by scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) working with colleagues from CS partner organisations.

Defining, valuing and measuring ecosystem services provides a significant challenge for scientists. With increasing pressure on natural resources and declining biodiversity there is a concern about the potential of natural and semi-natural ecosystems to provide for human requirements both currently and in the future. It is vitally important to quantify how ecosystem services interact with each other both within and between ecosystems.

The CS Integrated Assessment tested novel approaches for using CS data alongside other national scale datasets to understand how different ecosystem services respond to anthropogenic pressures over time. The analysis enabled CEH scientists to quantify some services, make maps of where the services are provided, to determine possible causes of changes in services over time, and even to model what might happen under ‘what if’ scenarios.

“This survey will help us analyse what effects policy decisions have and where and how we need to take action.”

Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman

Previous work on this issue has focused on small scale experiments or on datasets which have been collected at different scales and with different purposes. The CS Integrated Assessment was uniquely able to use data collected at common sites using a sampling regime statistically designed to provide a representation of Great Britain.

38 bio-physical variables (covering the range of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment service categories) measured in Countryside Survey were identified as potential indicators of ecosystem services. These included measurements from headwater streams, soils, vegetation and cultural aspects of landscapes.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Nectar plants - The number of wild plant species that provide nectar for bees has decreased between 1990 and 2007 in small patches of semi natural habitat. These small but highly significant changes combine to make a total reduction in the areas supporting wild nectar providing plants that pollinators rely on. This decline is mainly due to nectar providing plants being crowded out by the growth of more competitive plant species. This overgrowth may be related to reduced management and air pollution where the deposition of nitrogenous compounds from the air acts like a fertilizer. In one habitat type, streamside margins, this reduced management has had benefits for freshwater quality, indicating the importance of not considering single ecosystem services in isolation.
  • Plant species diversity - ‘Appropriate diversity’ is a new term used in the report that describes the number of appropriate or desirable plant species (positive indicator species) in a habitat.  Less appropriate or undesirable species (negative indicator species) were also recorded for each habitat type. There was a general loss in plant species diversity between 1998 and 2007 (on average, 1.4 fewer plant species were found in 200m2 plots in all habitat types in 2007 than in 1998).
  • Soil carbon - Spatial patterns of change in topsoil carbon density between 1978 and 2007 could be partly explained by changing soil pH, and climate (temperature and rainfall). A drop in sulphur deposition since the 1970's was associated with an increase in soil pH which in turn was associated with reduced topsoil carbon concentration in some locations. These correlative relationships were consistent with expectation from the literature and provide unique large-scale evidence for the link between air pollution and climate change drivers mediated through soils.
  • Clean freshwaters - This service was indicated by the macro-invertebrate communities of headwater streams. Across the countryside, several factors are associated with poorer ecological quality and biodiversity of streams and small rivers. These are the amount of nearby intensive agriculture, simplification of the channel for land drainage and flood defence, and elevated levels of phosphorus. In Countryside Survey, as elsewhere, clear improvements in ecological quality and biodiversity of streams and small rivers were observed since 1990. In the countryside, these improvements are related to less intensive management of the vegetation on stream banks. This indicates a broad succession towards more natural river corridors with more dense trees and tall vegetation. However this succession can have negative effects on other services such as nectar plants, indicating the importance of trade-offs between services.
  • The Integrated Assessment results provide unique large scale evidence that key global change phenomena such as air pollution and land use change have affected delivery of ecosystems services across the British countryside, and have continued to drive change, over the last two decades.

Lead author of the Integrated Assessment report, Dr Simon Smart from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “Quantifying ecosystem services and understanding the interactions between them provides a significant challenge for scientists, one which we’re only just developing techniques to investigate. This new analysis, possible because of a unique national dataset, delivers, for the first time, evidence that key global change phenomena such as air pollution and land use change have affected delivery of ecosystems services across the British countryside over the last two decades. As well as measuring different services, such as pollination, we’ve also determined possible causes of changes in services over time, and even modelled what might happen under a number of ‘what if’ scenarios.”

Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, said, “‘The UK has some of the best environmental scientists in the world and using their skills we are gathering more information on changes to our land and the effects this has on species and habitats. This survey will help us analyse what effects policy decisions have and where and how we need to take action.”

The Integrated Assessment report is the final publication resulting from the 2007 Countryside Survey field survey. Previous reports have reported at various geographical scales (for Great Britain, England, Wales and Scotland), and on individual issues (soils, ponds and headwater streams).

Defra and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) commissioned the 2007 survey – the fifth since 1978 – on behalf of a partnership of governments, departments and agencies in the UK.

Additional information

Defra issued a press release for this story. Further information for journalists can be obtained from the Defra or CEH press offices.

The full report reference is:

Smart, S., Dunbar, M.J., Emmett, B.A., Marks, S., Maskell, L.C., Norton, L.R., Rose, P., Simpson, I.C. 2010. An Integrated Assessment of Countryside Survey data to investigate Ecosystem Services in Great Britain. Technical Report No. 10/07 NERC/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology 230pp. (CEH Project Number: C03259).

Countryside Survey website

Download a copy of the Integrated Assessment Report

Countryside Survey news stories - CEH website

Reports on state of Britain's ponds, soils and headwater streams now published - 4 February 2010

UK's biggest ever Countryside Survey: England results published - 23 September 2009

Wales results from 2007 Countryside Survey now available - 21 July 2009

Scotland results from 2007 Countryside Survey now available - 25 June 2009

Countryside Survey 2007: UK report published - 18 November 2008

New projects to address decline of bees and other insect pollinators – 22 June 2010

Science areas: