D4: Relative abundance and/or distribution of widespread species

Interim Interim

Short description

This indicator will use regularly collected data to track changes in relative abundance and/or distribution of species which are widespread and characteristic of different broad habitats in England including birds, bats, butterflies, moths, other invertebrates and plants. The indicator will have 2 components: (a) changes in the relative abundance of those widespread species for which relevant data are available; and, (b) changes in the distribution (the number of 1 km grid squares in which species are recorded in any given year) of widespread species for which relevant data are available.

This indicator is not available for reporting in 2021 in a finalised form. An interim indicator is presented here that shows trends in the abundance of breeding wild birds, widespread butterflies and bats in England. The expectation is that this indicator will be expanded to include more species groups and habitat types in the future. Some data are already published annually elsewhere (wild birds, butterflies and bats), and methods for analysing trends in plants are being developed. Further work is required to combine and present trends for different species groups and habitat types within the abundance and distribution measures in this indicator.

Trend description

The indicators for breeding wild birds in woodland and on farmland in England have both declined between 1970 and 2019; the former by almost 40%, the latter by 60%. Farmland birds experienced steeper declines during the late 70’s and early 80’s because of rapid changes in farmland management.

The indicators for widespread butterflies in woodland and on farmland in England also declined between 1990 and 2010, the former more steeply than the latter. However, in recent years, the woodland butterfly indicator has shown little change while the farmland butterfly indicator has increased to a figure close to its 1990 baseline value.

The indicator for widespread bats in England has increased by approximately 40% since the turn of the century. The bat species within this index vary in their habitat requirements, but all occur in farmland and woodland landscapes.

Whilst these overall trends are clear from the charts, they mask the trends for individual species within each index – some farmland and woodland species trends have increased whereas others have either remained the same or decreased over time. Further details on these individual species trends are available in the source documents.


Choose categories from the dropdowns below to see different breakdowns of the data. Some will not be available until a higher level is chosen.

This table provides metadata for the interim or final indicator presented above.

Indicator name

Relative abundance and/or distribution of widespread species

Indicator reference


Outcome Indicator Framework theme


Headline indicator status

Nature on land and water

Relevant goal(s) in the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
Relevant target(s) in the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Taking action to recover threatened, iconic or economically important species of animals, plants and fungi, and where possible to prevent human induced extinction or loss of known threatened species in England and the Overseas Territories
Position in the natural capital framework
  • Condition of assets - species and ecological communities
Related reporting commitments
  • Relevant to Convention on Biological Diversity Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land)
Geographic scope


Status of indicator development


Date last updated

11 June 2021