Country Profiles

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The United Kingdom (UK) is four separate countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as 14 Overseas Territories and 3 Crown Dependencies (see below). The ‘metropolitan’ UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) has a diverse mix of habitats and species for its small size (approximately 240,000km2); with a marine area approximately 3.5 times the size of the land area.

The UK’s ground breaking National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA, published in 2011) presents a thorough account of the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity that are essential for national social and economic wellbeing. The NEA shows the enormous value of biodiversity to the UK; for example the value that inland wetlands give to water quality and the value of pollination to agriculture. The UK also has habitats and species that are of global significance; for instance the UK has approximately 13% of the world’s blanket bog and 20% of Europe’s lowland heathland. Additionally, there are important assemblages of mosses, liverworts and lichens, and the UK’s estuaries are a crucial link in the migratory chain for waders and wildfowl.

Much of the evidence on status and trends of biodiversity is provided by the UK Biodiversity Indicators, which are published annually. The UK Biodiversity Indicator information used to inform this profile, and the UK’s 5th National report to the CBD, is based on the 2013 update of the indicators (more recent updates of the indicators are available on JNCC’s website). The UK Biodiversity Indicator for protected areas demonstrates that the area of terrestrial and freshwater habitats with protected status has increased to 27% in 2013 and the protected areas at sea has increased to c9% in 2013. Additionally, the condition of many of these protected sites, particularly Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), has been improving because of management interventions.

In the marine environment, Charting Progress 2 (published in 2010) is a comprehensive report on the state of the UK seas, outlining the progress being made towards the UK’s vision for healthy and biologically diverse seas. The UK’s seas are important for their variety of benthic habitats and high overall biodiversity. The improvements in the sustainability of UK fishing is demonstrated by the indicator on fish-size classes that shows the proportion of large fish in the North Sea rose from a low of 2.1% in 2001 to 10% in 2011.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The key drivers of change across terrestrial biodiversity in the UK, as identified in the NEA, are habitat change (land-use/condition) and pollution. Other threats to UK biodiversity are over-exploitation, invasive species, and climate change. As identified in Charting Progress 2, the main threats to the marine environment are fishing pressure, climate change, acidification, hazardous substances, and eutrophication.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The UK has overall responsibility for the environment and biodiversity but to allow conservation approaches to be tailored to the different environments each country has developed national biodiversity strategies which underpin the ‘UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework’:

• England: Natural Environment White Paper and the Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services

• Northern Ireland: Valuing Nature: A Biodiversity Strategy for Northern Ireland to 2020 and the State of the Environment Report for Northern Ireland

• Scotland: 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity and Scotland's Biodiversity - A Route Map to 2020

• Wales: Nature Recovery Plan for Wales (setting the course for 2020 and beyond)

The UK high-level marine objectives set out how the UK can achieve its vision to have ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

A suite of actions has been undertaken by the UK to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The priority actions are set out in the UK Biodiversity Framework and the country strategies listed above. Progress and outcomes are being assessed using UK and country-level indicators, and annual reports on the UK Biodiversity Framework’s implementation plan. Further details on actions taken to achieve the Aichi targets are outlined in the UK’s 5th National Report. Scotland has published an interim assessment of progress towards the Aichi Targets for 2016 and 2017.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The UK has a number of mechanisms to support national implementation; one important driver for mainstreaming is legislation which places a ‘statutory duty’ on all public bodies to have regard to biodiversity conservation. Each country has listed priority habitats and species which are the subject of the duty. Additionally, spatial planning legislation and policies include safeguards for biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) on some developments.

Particular success has been achieved in mainstreaming biodiversity within agriculture policy, with almost 34,000km2 of farmland under higher-level agri-environment schemes in 2012, as well as with forestry and planning policy. However, mainstreaming is a continuing challenge and further work is needed to integrate concern for biodiversity in other sectors. Key to this is the growing understanding of the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services, particularly as a result of the work of TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity).

Monetary support for national implementation is increasing in the long term as demonstrated by the 2013 update of the UK Biodiversity Indicator measuring expenditure on biodiversity in the UK and internationally. Between 2000-01 and 2012-13, public sector spending on UK biodiversity increased by 76% in real terms (to £471 million in 2012-13) and on international biodiversity by 74% (to £56 million in 2012-13).

The UK is funding and leading the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) research programme; providing, through the International Climate Fund (ICF), £3.87 billion to help the world’s poorest adapt to climate change, and to promote cleaner, greener growth. The UK is also supporting the implementation of ‘Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES)’ to establish environmental accounts in six to ten countries, develop guidelines for ecosystem accounting, and promote environmental accounting.

The UK is aiming to protect habitats and species in our seas by contributing to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provides the legal mechanism to protect and sustainably use the marine environment, included within the act is the designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), a type of marine protected area. MCZs protect areas that are important to conserve the diversity of nationally rare, threatened and representative habitats and species. Designation of these zones takes social and economic factors into account, alongside the best available scientific evidence. There are now just under a quarter of English inshore waters within marine protected areas.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The UK recognises the importance of having an evidence-based approach and as such has collected a great deal of information about its biodiversity. One key source based on this information is the UK set of Biodiversity Indicators; these provide an effective means of assessing and communicating progress on implementation.

The UK Biodiversity Indicators were reviewed in 2011, to ensure that they were based on robust data and to fit them to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity targets. Additionally, the UK Framework’s implementation plan will be subject to annual reports, to provide an update on progress on the 60 milestones identified.

UK Overseas Territories (OTs) & Crown Dependencies (CDs)

The UK OTs and CDs host a diverse range of terrestrial and marine environments that together make a significant contribution to global biodiversity. It is estimated that 94% of the UK’s biodiversity is found in the OTs, including many species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

There is an increasing awareness in the OTs and CDs of the importance of biodiversity and the vital ecosystem services it provides. Some of the UK OTs and CDs are in the process of developing a Biodiversity Strategy and/or National Biodiversity Action Plan. These combined with a number of other policies and strategies work to conserve the wildlife and habitats in the OTs and CDs. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been extended to 6 OTs and 2 CDs (British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands and St Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha, Falkland Islands; and Isle of Man and Jersey).

Jersey released its first Biodiversity: a Strategy for Jersey in 2000. The Isle of Man recently published its own Biodiversity Strategy: Managing our Natural Wealth, The Isle of Man’s First Biodiversity Strategy, which runs from 2015-2025. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands recently released their National Biodiversity Action Plan which runs from 2016-2020. The Biodiversity Action Plan for the Tristan da Cunha Islands was published in 2012 and is currently being updated. The National Biodiversity Action Plan for Ascension Island is also available online. The Cayman Islands Biodiversity Action Plan was produced in 2009. Gibraltar's Biodiversity Action Plan was published in 2006 and formally adopted in 2012. Some aspects of the BAP are currently being updated in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve Management Plan. The Falkland Islands have a vision for the environment as set out in the Falkland Islands Biodiversity Framework (2015-30).

Full details of activities and progress are recorded within the individual UK OT and CD reports in Appendix 4 of the UK’s 5th National Report.