Countryside Survey Science

Scientific teams (many from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) are using the results, data and analyses from Countryside Survey to investigate a range of interests relating to change in our natural resources.

These interests are grouped into four main areas:

  • determining whether a previously detected change in data or ‘signal’ has continued
  • the causes of changes
  • investigating how changes may affect ecosystem function and services*
  • increasing our understanding of the processes of change, and our ability to forecast and manage change

The Survey also provides information that is used to underpin a range of Biodiversity Indicators – an important measure of change in the health and diversity of UK species and habitats.

*The processes by which the environment produces resources utilised by humans – such as clean air, water, healthy soils, genetic resources, recreation.

Where the survey data records a change

  • Condition of habitats - changes in the condition of habitats were recorded between the surveys in 1990 and 1998. The number of plant species recorded had decreased and habitats were less rich (became more homogenous). Did this continue or change in 2007?
  • Soils - a recovery from acidification was recorded in 1998. Has this changed or continued?
  • Ecological quality - can we detect differences between ecological quality in agri-environment land and the wider countryside?
  • Microbial diversity in soils - in the 2007 Survey we carried out the first country-level soil sampling. What is the relationship between the soil microbial community and soil quality?

Investigating the causes of changes

  • Does air pollution, such as nitrogen deposited from the atmosphere, contribute to the recorded vegetation changes?
  • Is there an increase in types, quantity and distribution of non-native plant species?
  • Do the changes matter to our biodiversity goals and our use of natural resources?

Investigating how change may affect Ecosystem Function and Services

  • Declines in arable weeds, butterfly and bird foodplants, loss of pollinators. What is the wider impact?
  • Changes in catchment land use - what is the effect on ecological quality of watercourses, their biodiversity and ecosystem function? What is the effect of riparian corridors on aquatic communities?
  • Energy - what environmental capacity is there for providing energy?

Understanding the processes of change; forecasting and managing change

  • Integrated assessment framework – how do the effects of different pressures (pollution, climate change, agricultural policies) translate into effects on species, habitats and ecosystem services?
  • Can a linked soil-vegetation model forecast plant species change?
  • Can further work on scenarios of land use change inform a sustainability assessment of European Regions?

Contributing to UK Biodiversity Indicators

The UK government has committed to achieving a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. The UK Biodiversity Indicators are a way of monitoring progress towards this goal by showing changes in aspects of biodiversity, such as the population size of important species, or the area of land managed for wildlife.

Information from the UKCEH Countryside Survey is used to update a range of biodiversity indicators, including:

  • UK BAP Priority Habitats
  • Plant Diversity (specifically open habitats, woodlands and boundary habitats)
  • Ecological Impacts of Air Pollution (specifically areas affected by acidity and nitrogen)
  • Invasive Species
  • River Quality (biological and chemical)

More information about UK Biodiversity Indicators is available on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

Countryside Survey