The biggest and most comprehensive survey of the natural resources of the British countryside begins this week. The Countryside Survey will be carried out by a team of over sixty specially trained scientists working for the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. The team will survey in excess of 600 one kilometre squares of the English, Welsh and Scottish countryside. At the same time a complementary survey will be carried out in Northern Ireland.

Information will be collected on natural landscape features, including plant communities and habitats within farmland, woods, heathland, moors, soils, small rivers and ponds. The results of the survey will provide a unique audit of UK environmental assets, generating an overall picture of the current status of our countryside. This is especially important as the countryside faces major challenges such as climate change, pollution, non-native species and the introduction of new crops including biofuels.

The 2007 survey is the fifth in a sequence that stretches back to 1978. The Countryside Survey provides evidence that informs us about the status of our countryside and feeds into new Government policies. The last survey, which reported in 2000, demonstrated the effectiveness of this system by confirming a reversal in the decline of hedgerows. Countryside Survey data from 1978 onwards had provided evidence of the extent of this decline which led to changes in legislation and new agricultural policies encouraging more effective land management.

Barry Gardiner MP, Defra Minister for Biodiversity said, "I greatly welcome this year's Countryside Survey. The countryside is constantly changing. It is the product of millions of decisions by individual farmers and consumers, along with the policies of government, public and voluntary bodies. It is essential that we understand the effects of change, so that we can conserve its best features and guide the direction of change in the future."

Professor Pat Nuttall, Director of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the UK's leading land and freshwater research organisation, who are carrying out the Survey, commented, "In the twenty-first century it is more important than ever to gather reliable data to underpin our scientific understanding of the environment. Countryside Survey is a key part of this process and I'm delighted that we are playing a leading role. I look forward to seeing the results."

Funding for the fifth Countryside Survey, which totals around £8 Million, comes from the Natural Environment Research Council, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and eight government departments and agencies headed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).   

For more information contact:

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology Press office:
Barnaby Smith, tel: 07920 295384 (mobile) or 01491 692439 (office). 
Email: cehpress@ceh.ac.uk

Natural Environment Research Council Press Office:
Marion O'Sullivan tel: 01793 411727 (office) or 07917 086369 (mobile).
Email pressoffice@nerc.ac.uk

Defra Press Office: 
Liz Grundy tel: 020 7238 5608. email: liz.grundy@defra.gsi.gov.uk

For more information on the current survey see the Countryside Survey website

Notes to editors

The 2007 Countryside Survey fieldwork season runs from mid May to the end of October. The first results and analyses from the 2007 Survey will be available in Autumn 2008.

The Countryside Survey is a very detailed study of a sample of 1km squares. The individual squares are chosen so that they represent all major habitat types in the UK. The location of the study squares is kept confidential to avoid any deliberate influences that could affect them or the features within them. Within each square, different features are recorded on a portable data recorder (similar to a very robust lap-top) using specially-developed software. Teams of trained field surveyors record a range of features, which include:

  1. vegetation plots of different types   
  2. broad habitat and priority habitat data
  3. field boundaries and linear features (hedges, walls and fences)
  4. freshwater habitats, which are sampled for physical and biological features
  5. soil cores, collected for biological and chemical lab analysis

Pictures of Countryside Survey surveyors and the tablet PCs used to record the results are available from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and NERC Press Offices.

Previously the Countryside Survey has reported at UK level. The 2007 Survey has been increased in size so that we will be able to report by country as well as for the whole of the UK. Separate reports will be issued for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These changes were especially requested by the devolved countries, who are keen to draw on the findings for their own respective areas.

The Countryside Survey partnership includes the Natural Environment Research Council, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Natural England, Scottish Executive, Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland), The National Assembly for Wales, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Forestry Commission.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is the UK's leading research organisation for land and freshwater science. Its scientists carry out research to improve our understanding of both the environment and the processes that underlie the Earth's support systems. It is one of the Natural Environment Research Council's research centres. www.ceh.ac.uk.

The Natural Environment Research Council is one of the UK's eight research councils. It uses a budget of about £370M a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. It is addressing some of the key questions facing mankind, such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.

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