A new unified and comprehensive classification coding system for all terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats in the UK has been published.

UKHab, which is free to use, has been published by the UK Habitat Classification Working Group, which includes Dr Lisa Norton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).

Thanks to its flexibility and simplicity, the scientists behind the project expect it to rapidly become the standard habitat classification used by professional ecologists across the UK.

A major benefit of widespread adoption of a single system is the potential to combine new field data with existing regional and national habitat datasets managed by organisations such as CEH, National Parks, local authorities and other statutory agencies. UKHab can be used either for collecting field data on handheld GIS-enabled devices or using paper maps.

One of UKHab’s key strengths is the combination of a primary habitat hierarchy and secondary codes, integrating all major classifications in use in the UK and Europe. A series of letters and numbers make up the complete code for each habitat.

The system is the culmination of nearly five years work of development, testing and revision.

The UK Habitat Classification Working Group – which, in addition to Dr Norton, comprises Bill Butcher and Dr Jo Treweek of eCountability, Dr Peter Carey of Bodsey Ecology and Bob Edmonds of SLR Consulting ­- has been supported by a network of dedicated experts who have field-tested and reviewed the classification prior to publication.

Dr Norton, who is head of the Land Use group at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “UKHab is a new habitat classification which aims to improve on and harmonise existing classifications. Its adoption will enable spatial comparisons between surveys carried out by different surveyors in different places as well as comparisons of the same places over time.

“It is free to use, comprehensive and straightforward to understand and we encourage surveyors to get out there and use it.”

The full classification, the UK Habitat Classification Professional Edition, comprises 213 primary habitats and 296 secondary codes. A basic edition, which does not include smaller or rarer habitats, is also available.

How the UKHab system works

UKHab adopts a pyramid-like structure, with five levels in the primary hierarchy.  

The first level is major ecosystems – either terrestrial, freshwater or marine. Below this is the second level, ecosystem, while the third level is broad habitats. The fourth level includes UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitats, while the fifth level includes EU Directive Annex 1 habitats.

Levels two to five in the primary hierarchy are coded with alternate letters and numbers, for example, g3b5. The complete UKHab code can also include secondary codes which can be linked to the primary habitat, for example. 10 (Scattered scrub) could be linked with g (Grassland) or h (Heathland). This gives surveyors the option of recording habitat management, origins and other environmental and species features.


The UKHab documents can be downloaded for free from http://ecountability.co.uk/ukhabworkinggroup-ukhab

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