Monday, 9 July 2012

Mapping to inform conservation and habitat restoration

The latest issue of Science for Environment Policy, the European Commission’s environment news service for policy-makers, has highlighted a recent Biological Conservation paper by CEH scientists Dr Danny Hooftman and Prof James Bullock. Their paper, “Mapping to inform conservation: a case study of changes in semi-natural habitats and their connectivity over 70 years”, published earlier this year, developed an ecological mapping method to analyse habitat changes and declining ecological connectivity over large areas and in a 70-year period in high resolution.

The paper’s selection for inclusion in the Science for Environment Policy newsletter underlines its potential policy relevance at both the UK and European scale.

UK Land Cover Map 2000

During the research, funded by the EU SCALES project, the scientists digitised historic land use maps of Dorset from the 1930s and compared the results to CEH’s UK Land Cover Map from 2000* to assess the changes. The historic maps were a result of the first Land Utilisation Survey done in the UK in the 1930s, initiated by Laurence Dudley Stamp, later professor of geography at the London School of Economics, which is considered an early example of volunteer recording. 

After digitising the maps, the scientists combined the Dudley Stamp map with soil maps to derive a habitat classification, a method to make the habitat types comparable to the Broad Habitat Types of Land Cover Map 2000.  Their study revealed large decreases in semi-natural habitats and severely reduced connectivity among the remaining fragments. The most important driver for the loss was agricultural intensification combined with afforestation of grasslands and heathlands.

The findings have particular relevance as an important first step for those engaged in habitat restoration work at landscape and regional scales. Analyses such as those presented in the paper not only quantify the scale and pattern of habitat loss but are important to inform land-use planning to restore biodiversity.

Danny told us, “Although it is important to note a number of caveats to the approach, the work  shows the value of such maps to identify the magnitude of the land-use conflict problems for semi-natural habitats. Only when the spatial scale of connectivity and habitat size problems are properly quantified in a region, can mitigation measures be assigned with a higher chance of success for successful restoration.”

Additional information

"Mapping to inform conservation: a case study of changes in semi-natural habitats and their connectivity over 70 years" is published by Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.09.015

More information on the Land Utilisation Survey maps

* Since the research began CEH has published an updated UK Land Cover Map. Click here for more details of Land Cover Map 2007.

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