Biodiversity strategy and action for the UK

Here we use Co$ting Nature v2.48 to examine baseline biodiversity, ecosystem service, pressure and threat in the UK and examine the lessons for biodiversity and conservation strategy, including the potential impacts of increased investments in agri-environmental stewardships schemes. The analysis is for the CN tile centered on 55.0N,-5.0W and thus does not include the east of England, but could easily be completed for the entire UK.

Baseline biodiversity and ecosystem services

Context and biodiversity

The UK (and especially England) has few remaining forested lands, and is largely an agricultural landscape, dominated by croplands, pastures and significant urban conurbations. Conservation organisations generally agree on the conservation priority sites in the UK but none of these sites occurs in more that 2/3 of the global conservation prioritizations. Species richness of IUCN sampled redlist mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds is not high by global standards and tends to increase to the south. Endemism, on the other hand, shows the opposite pattern with greater endemism in parts of the north. The red-list data are coarse for the UK and UK has more detailed biodiversity data which could be uploaded and used in place of this, but nonetheless our results are broadly in line with others.

Ecosystem services

Because of high population, agriculture and infrastructure, most of the ecosystem services produced in the UK are realized locally with a relatively small contribution to globally realized services (carbon and biodiversity). Carbon value is highest in the UK and Ireland's peatland areas. Water value is present throughout the country but highest in the catchments of the large urban centres and thus the greatest water value from protected areas comes from the protected areas upstream of significant populations. The UK is not a particularly environmentally hazardous place so realized hazard mitigation services are mainly realized in coastal or inland flood prone areas or hilly areas susceptible to landsliding but only where there is also human exposure. On a catchment basis this is largely in the wetter, hillier west of the country. Across all theses services the bundled ecosystem service metric shows highest benefits being provided by the peak district national park (that is surrounded by urban areas) and areas to the west of London. The counties in which ecosystem service provision is highest are thus the so-called home counties.

Pressure and threat

Current pressures are dominated by the agricultural footprint and are highest by county in a swath of the midlands and by protected area in those proximal to large populations and intensive agriculture. Future threats reflect areas with high projected population growth and proximity to current population centres. The most threatened protected areas are thus those in the Peak District and South East.

Conservation Priority

Overall conservation priority on the basis of equally weighted biodiversity, realized ecosystem services, pressure and threat is thus highest to the west of London, in parts of the Peak District and South Wales as well as west of Dublin and south of the Highlands of Scotland. Protected areas with the highest priority for careful conservation management in order to sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services in the face of these pressures and threats include the Chilterns and the south Pennines. The countries with greatest conservation priority for the services they provide and the consequences of loss of these services are shown below and here:

By updating the input datasets we can monitor and evaluate the changing metrics and priorities in response to policy interventions aimed at ensuring the conservation of these critical areas.

Potential impacts of scaled up agri-environmental schemes

In this analysis we generate a scenario for the implementation of agri-environmental systems which increase tree cover by 20% for 20% of areas with cropland or pasture covering more than 20% of the area. These areas are converted from their current land use to "natural" land use. The details of the scenario are shown in the image to the right.

This significant scenario leads to increases in tree cover of upto 16% in selected areas of farmland throughout the UK.

This scenario leads to increases in bundled ecosystem services in these areas and in the rivers that drain from them as shown here affecting 4.7 million some people directly but also reducing cropland cover by 12% and pasture cover by 12%.

We can, of course, assess a range of scenarios and examine which of these has the most positive impacts with respect to biodiversity, and ecosystem services as well as crop production