D1: Quantity, quality and connectivity of habitats

Short Description

This indicator will measure the extent, condition and connectivity, of terrestrial and freshwater habitats in England. In the 25 Year Environment Plan, government committed to establishing a Nature Recovery Network: an increasingly connected network of places that are richer in wildlife and more resilient to climate change. The network will build on the recommendations from ‘Making space for nature’, led by Professor Sir John Lawton, and will provide wider environmental benefits, including carbon capture and opportunities for recreation.

Data are available to measure some aspects of this indicator such as extent and condition of some habitats, but further work is required to assess habitats beyond protected sites, and reliable methods for measuring ecological connectivity need to be further tested. Some indicators of aspects of ecosystem functions and processes are available to assess condition, but these are not comprehensive. New methods of Earth Observation together with development of measures of favourable conservation status and long-term site-based monitoring offer good opportunities to develop this indicator.

Readiness and links to data

This indicator is not available for reporting in 2023 in a finalised form. An interim indicator for quantity is presented here that shows the percentage of land cover in England by broad habitat types. Interim figures for habitat quantity are available for reporting using the Living England Habitat Map. The Living England project, led by Natural England, is a multi-year programme delivering a satellite-derived national habitat probability map which uses a machine learning algorithm and ground habitat data to train and validate the model. Natural England published the Phase IV version of the Living England map in March 2022 and this is currently being updated and improved to develop a standardised methodology. The next iteration to be published will be Phase VI in 2024 using a standardised method. Ongoing work to progress this indicator includes statistical analysis of attributes to assess habitat quality and testing of different approaches to measure habitat connectivity.

During 2021 and 2022 a final list of habitat quality attributes was produced, together with identification of data sets which can be used to measure them. Work during 2023 will determine benchmarks for defining poor, moderate and good status for each attribute in each habitat type. Work will also bring in measurable elements of natural function for each habitat type, as well as determine how this indicator will utilise the England Ecosystem Survey when these data are available.

The development of the habitat connectivity element of the indicator is also ongoing. During 2021 and 2022, 3 potential connectivity metrics were trialled using the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology Land Cover map 2015. Two of these metrics were deemed to perform against several desirable properties best. Work in 2023 will assess these 2 metrics to determine which should be used in the final indicator. The 2 metrics will be tested against the Living England map, which will form the data source for the connectivity element of the indicator.

Notes on indicator

The Living England habitat probability map displays modelled likely broad habitat classifications, trained on up-to date field surveys and Earth Observation data as well as ancillary data layers. The figures presented here are derived from Phase IV of the Living England project. The Phase IV habitat probability map has some known issues including under-mapping of urban areas, with major roads, airports, car parks and dockland areas being classified under several other habitat types. This mainly affects habitat predictions around urban areas for the following broad habitat types: broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland; coastal sand dunes; bare sand; dwarf shrub heath; and acid, calcareous and neutral grasslands. This is an issue the Living England team are developing solutions for and are looking to improve in the next iteration of the map due for release in 2024.

Indicator components

Figure D1: Percentage land cover in England by broad habitat types, 2022

Table D1: Percentage land cover in England by broad habitat types, 2022

Habitat Percentage cover
Acid, calcareous and neutral grassland 25.52
Arable and horticultural 28.37
Bare ground 0.06
Bare sand 0.36
Bog 1.72
Bracken 0.64
Broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland 9.64
Built-up areas and gardens 6.76
Coastal saltmarsh 0.21
Coastal sand dunes 0.40
Coniferous woodland 2.15
Dwarf shrub heath 3.31
Fen, marsh and swamp 3.85
Improved grassland 15.41
Scrub 0.67
Unclassified 0.34
Water 0.59

Trend description for D1

Artificial habitat types comprising ‘arable and horticultural land’ and ‘built-up areas and gardens’ account for approximately one-third of land cover in England (28% and 7% respectively). Semi-natural habitat types account for the remaining 65%, with ‘acid, calcareous and neutral grassland’ and ‘improved grassland’ making up 26% and 15% respectively of total land cover in England, and ‘broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland’ making up a further 10%.

Assessment of change

No assessment of change was undertaken for this indicator as a suitable time series is not yet available in the Outcome Indicator Framework.

Indicator Metadata