C1. Protected areas

C1a. Total area of protected areas: on land

C1b. Total area of protected areas: at sea

C1c. Condition of Areas/Sites of Special Scientific Interest

 

Type:  Extent –  Response Indicator; Condition – State/Response Indicator

 

Summary

Figure C1i.  Extent of UK nationally and internationally important protected areas: (i) on land; (ii) at sea, 1950 to 2013.

Figure C1i. Extent of UK nationally and internationally important protected areas, 1950 to 2013.

Notes:

  1. The demarcation between protected areas on-land and at-sea is mean high water (mean high water spring in Scotland).  Coastal sites in the indicator are split between ‘on land’ and ‘at sea’ depending on whether they cross the mean high water mark.  At-sea extent includes offshore marine protected areas out to the limit of the UK continental shelf.
  2. Based on calendar year of site designation, except 2013 for which data are to the end of June.
  3. The 2013 indicator includes a data revision, to account for the date of designation of sites designated under the National  Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and their re-designation under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  The indicator is therefore not comparable with earlier years.
  4. Extent is based on the following site designations: Areas of Special Scientific Interest, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation (including candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Interest), Special Protection Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Scenic Areas, and National Parks. 

Source: Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

Figure C1ii.  Cumulative proportion of Areas of Special Scientific Interest (Northern Ireland) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (England and Scotland) in ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition, 2005 to 2013.

Figure C1ii.Cumulative proportion of ASSIs (Northern Ireland) and SSSIs (England and Scotland), in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable recovering' condition, 2005 to 2013.

Notes:

  1. England figures based on area, Scotland and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features. 
  2. Based on financial years (1 April to 31 March), unless otherwise stated.
  3. The 2013 indicator includes a data revision to split the data into favourable and unfavourable-recovering condition.  As a result of the calculation method there may be small differences from previously published results.
  4. Imputation has been used to calculate the breakdown between favourable and unfavourable-recovering for Northern Ireland for the years 2009 to 2011. 
  5. ‘Recovering’ is used in the graph above, and throughout the document, as a convenient shorthand for the condition category ‘unfavourable-recovering’.

Source: Natural England, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

Assessment of change in area and condition of UK protected areas

 

Long term

Short term

Latest year

Total extent of protected areas on land

indicator improving
1950–2013

indicator improving
2008–2013

No change (2013)

Total extent of protected areas at sea

indicator improving
1950–2013

indicator improving
2008–2013

No change (2013)

Condition of A/SSSIs

indicator - insufficient or no comparable data

indicator improving
2008–2012/13

No change
(2012-13)

 

 

  • The overall total extent of land and sea protected in the UK through national and international protected areas, and through wider landscape designations, has increased by nearly 6 million hectares, from just over 8.5 million hectares in December 2008 to just under 14.5 million hectares in June 2013.
  • A large contribution to this has been from the marine environment, following the designation of inshore and offshore marine sites under the Habitats Directive – the area of protected areas at-sea increased by more than 5.5 million hectares between 2008 and 2013.  The extent of protected areas on-land has increased by more than 300,000 hectares since 2008. 
  • The indicator also shows the condition of Areas or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (A/SSSIs) on land.  A/SSSIs are surveyed periodically to assess whether they are in good condition (‘favourable’) or, if not, whether they are under positive management (‘unfavourable-recovering’).
  • Since 2005, the percentage of features, or area, of A/SSSIs in favourable or recovering condition has increased by 18 per cent.  Since 2008, the increase is just over 11 per cent.  The proportion of features or area of land in favourable condition has declined slightly since 2005.  The proportion of features or area of land in unfavourable-recovering condition has increased from 14 per cent in 2005 to 35 per cent in 2013.  These changes reflect improved management of sites, but may also be affected by a greater number of sites/features having been assessed over time.  

 

Indicator description

Designation of protected areas is a key mechanism for biodiversity conservation.  The extent indicator has been expanded in 2013 to include wider countryside designations which have a mixed purpose, including conservation, recreation, and sustainable development.  As at the end of June 2013 (Table C1i), over 6.7 million hectares of land and freshwater have been designated under national and international legislation – representing over 27 per cent of the land area of the UK (Figure C1i).  A further 7.7 million hectares of UK seas, both within the 12 nautical mile limit and offshore, have also been designated, representing nearly 9 per cent of UK waters (based on the UK continental shelf limit).

 

Table C1i.  Area and percentage cover of protected areas by country, as at 30 June 2013.

2013

Million Hectares

Percentage

On land

At sea

On land

At sea

England

3.39

3.13

25.9

 13.8

Scotland

2.32

3.99

29.5

     6.5*

Wales

0.61

0.57

29.4

 17.6

Northern Ireland

0.39

0.06

27.8

 12.1

United Kingdom

6.71

7.75

27.5

   8.9

*Note: the percentage of protected areas at sea is lower for Scotland due to the large size of the area beyond 12 nautical miles (see Figure C1iv).

 

The on-land and at-sea extent indicators both show an increase in 1980, reflecting the designation of 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland.  There was another increase in the extent of terrestrial/freshwater protected areas between 2009 and 2010 – this is mainly due to the designation of a number of large sites in Scotland (see Figure C1iii). 

 

There has been a large increase in the extent of marine protected areas since 1995.  Between 1995 and 1996 the first set of sites under the EU Habitats Directive extending below mean high water were established.  These inshore and coastal SACs may also have a terrestrial/freshwater component, but the calculations to create the indicator split them between the 'on land' and 'at sea' lines in the indicator. 

 

To date, 20 offshore protected areas have been established.  The areas were designated in five tranches, submitted to the European Commission in August 2008, August 2010, August 2011, August 2012, and October 2012.  These tranches are shown in the increases in the marine extent line in Figure C1i.  The change in 2009 also includes a number of extensions to several Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive to cover feeding areas of seabirds.  The change in 2010 also reflects the designation of SPAs and inshore SACs away from the coast (see Figure C1iii).

 

Assessment of the extent indicator is based on a three-year average from the baseline, using the three earliest consecutive years available.

 

Figure C1iii.  Detailed change in extent of protected areas (SAC, SPA, A/SSSI) across the UK Continental Shelf.

Figure C1iii. Detailed change in extent of protected areas

 

Notes: New sites (shown in purple) added in the year given in the legend of each map.

Source: Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

Sites are designated with the aim of conserving specific biological or geological features.  The condition of these features is assessed on a rolling cycle against agreed standards.  A monitoring programme was initiated in 1998 to evaluate the outcomes of management action and conservation policy.  The indicator (Figure C1ii) identifies the proportion of these features – by feature or by area – that are in a desired state (favourable) or have appropriate management (recovering).

 

The first collation of results (to March 2005) was published by JNCC in 2006.  Data are based on financial years unless otherwise stated; the latest data available are for the financial year to March 2013.  The condition graph is cumulative and includes assessments from a number of years – as new assessments are completed they replace the previous ones; so the graph is a snapshot of the condition of the site network at that point in time.  

 

The proportion of features or area of land in favourable condition has declined slightly since 2005 – this reflects the difficulty of restoring species and habitats to favourable condition – it will take many years to reverse previous declines in species populations, or to restore the ecological functioning of habitats. 

 

Assessment of the condition indicator is based on a three-year average from the baseline, using the three earliest consecutive years available.  The background section includes information for protected areas designated under the European Union Habitats and Birds Directives, and more detailed information is available on individual country websites.

 

 

Relevance

Designation and management of protected areas are key mechanisms for taking action to reverse the loss of biodiversity.  These protected areas cover many of the most valuable sites for biodiversity in the UK with associated legal mechanisms for safeguarding habitats and species.  Wider countryside designations have a number of purposes, including conservation and public enjoyment.  In National Parks, if there is a conflict between protecting the environment and people's enjoyment, that can't be resolved by management, then the environment is more important and comes first.

 

In a densely populated country like the UK, where the landscape and habitats have been modified by centuries of use, protected areas often need to be actively managed to ensure the species and habitats they contain persist into the future.  The condition indicator is a measure of the outcomes of management action and conservation policy on protected areas.

 

Background

 

Extent

The extent of protected areas in Figure C1i is the combined area of:

  • nationally designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in England, Scotland and Wales, and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in Northern Ireland;
  • internationally designated Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC, including candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Interest) under the European Union’s Birds and Habitats Directives respectively; and
  • wider countryside designations: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland), National Scenic Areas (Scotland), and National Parks (England, Scotland, and Wales).

 

There is considerable geographic overlap in these designations, with many sites being designated as A/SSSI, SAC and SPA.  The calculation method used identifies non-overlapping polygons, and thus ensures that each protected area contributes only once to the total area.  Coastal sites are split at mean high water (mean high water spring for Scotland), and contribute to both the on-land and at-sea lines in Figure C1i as appropriate.  The total line on Figure C1i is the net area of all of the protected areas (shown in Figure C1iv).

 

The UK, along with other European Union Member States, is required to designate protected areas under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives for particular habitats and species.  These sites, known as Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the Birds and Habitats Directives respectively, may be terrestrial or marine.  In the last few years the majority of terrestrial sites required to be designated under Birds and Habitats Directives have been submitted to the European Commission, but marine sites are still being designated. There are currently 650 SACs and candidate SACs covering over 8 million hectares (including offshore sites).  There are 270 SPAs, covering a total of 2.7 million hectares on land and at sea. 

 

Some coastal Special Protection Areas (SPAs) contain species that are dependent on the marine environment.  Following research on use of the sea areas adjacent to these seabird SPAs, seabird colony SPAs may be extended seawards to encompass marine areas.  For example, 31 of Scotland’s seabird breeding colony SPAs were extended to protect their adjacent marine habitats in September 2009. These extensions contributed to the increase in the at-sea extent line of indicator C1i in 2009.

 

The SSSI and ASSI designation (6,976 sites covering just over 2.4 million hectares) underpins almost all of the terrestrial and freshwater international sites.  The European sites go further, by the inclusion of marine areas – just under 5 million hectares of UK waters have been designated as SAC and/or SPA.  As a matter of policy, candidate SACs are given full protection from the time they are submitted to the European Commission.  The indicator shows the cumulative effect of adding such sites over time, as they were submitted in a number of tranches over many years.

 

There are 15 National Parks in Great Britain:

  • England: 10 National Parks cover 1.2 million hectares – about 9 per cent of the land area.
  • Wales: 3 National Parks cover 0.4 million hectares – about 20 per cent of the land area.
  • Scotland: 2 National Parks cover 0.6 million hectares – about 7 per cent of the land area.

 

There are 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales (33 wholly in England, 4 wholly in Wales and 1 which straddles the border).  AONBs cover 2 million hectares – about 18 per cent of England and Wales.  There are also 8 AONBs in Northern Ireland; covering 0.2 million hectares – about 14 per cent of Northern Ireland.

 

In Scotland, the equivalent designation to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is National Scenic Area (NSA).  There are 40 NSAs, mainly in the more remote and mountainous areas of Scotland.  They cover 1.38 million hectares; about 13 per cent of the land area of Scotland. 

 

Figure C1iv.  Map of UK terrestrial and marine protected areas, as at 30 June 2013.

Figure C1iv. Map of UK terrestrial and marine protected areas, as at 30 June 2013.

Source: Joint Nature Conservation Committee, based on its own data and data from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

The basis for calculating the extent indicator was changed in 2012 to show marine and terrestrial sites separately rather than showing the types of sites.  The new indicator is based on a spatial analysis of protected area polygons which removes overlaps between site types.  The indicator was further revised in 2013 to include wider countryside designations – Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), National Scenic Areas (Scotland), and National Parks (England, Scotland, Wales).  In addition, in 2013, a correction to the series was published to reflect the most appropriate date to allocate to designation of individual sites, defined as the year in which the largest portion of the site was designated, based upon the electronic boundaries for the current site series.  The effect of this was that sites designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and re-designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 were allocated to the year in which the largest part of the site was designated.  Further details are provided in the technical background paper.   This corrected an error in the 2012 publication which only took account of the re-designation process, and therefore incorrectly allocated the date of designation for sites which were already designated under the 1949 Act.  For SACs and SPAs, the date of first submission of the site to the European Commission is taken as the date of designation for the purposes of calculating this indicator.

 

Condition

The UK-wide Common Standards Monitoring programme is undertaken by the statutory conservation agencies to assess the effectiveness of management action aimed at maintaining or restoring the features for which protected areas have been designated.  The data presented for this indicator are for the biological (species and habitats) features only; the monitoring of condition of features is also undertaken for geological features. Conservation objective(s) (sometimes called performance indicators) will have been set for each feature or site.  The monitoring tests whether these objectives have been met.

 

Sites may have one or more interest features on them and each of these is assessed separately.  Conservation objectives (or performance indicators) are developed by identifying the key attributes which make up or support the feature (e.g. extent, quality, supporting processes), and setting targets for them.  Each attribute is then measured and compared against the target value set.  If all the targets are met, the feature is in favourable condition.  Human activities which are likely to be affecting the site adversely, and the conservation measures taken to maintain or restore the site, are also recorded.  Sampling and assessment methods may vary between countries. 

 

A report on the Common Standards Monitoring programme was published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in 2006 based on data to the end of March 2005.  Since then the countries of the UK have continued to evaluate the effectiveness of site management, but have customised their approach to national circumstances.  In England assessments are undertaken on management units – the parcels of land into which sites are split.  In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland assessments are undertaken on a feature by feature basis.

 

In order to calculate a UK indicator, the country condition results, presented as the percentage in ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition, have been weighted by the proportion of the protected area network in each country.  Sites or features which have yet to be assessed are excluded from the indicator; effectively this means the indicator is based on terrestrial and coastal features.  Figures C1v and C1vi provide analagous information to that in Figure C1ii, but for features protected on sites designated under the European Union Habitats and Birds Directives respectively (SPAs and SACs). 

 

Figure C1v.  Cumulative proportion of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) in ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition, 2005 to 2013.

Figure C1v. Cumulative proportion of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable-recovering' condition, 2005 to 2013.

Notes:

  1. England figures based on area; Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features.
  2. Based on financial years unless otherwise stated.
  3. The 2013 indicator includes a data revision from 2012 to split the data into ‘favourable’ and ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition.  As a result of the calculation method there may be small differences from previously published results. 
  4. Imputation has been used to calculate the breakdown between favourable and unfavourable recovering for Northern Ireland for the years 2009 to 2011, and for Wales for the years 2008 to 2012.
  5. Includes candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Interest.  Includes inshore but not offshore sites.

Source: Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

Figure C1vi. Cumulative proportion of Special Protection Areas (SPA) in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable recovering' condition, 2005 to 2013.

Figure C1vi. Cumulative proportion of Special Protection Areas (SPA) in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable recovering' condition, 2005 to 2013.

Notes:

  1. England figures based on area; Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features.
  2. Based on financial years unless otherwise stated.
  3. The 2013 indicator includes a data revision from 2012 to split the data into ‘favourable’ and ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition.  As a result of the calculation method there may be small differences from previously published results.
  4. The figures for December 2006 have been calculated by imputation based on the figures in March 2005 and December 2008 for England, as a breakdown was not provided. 
  5. Includes inshore but not offshore sites.

Source: Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

Since 2005, the proportion of European Sites in favourable or recovering condition has increased by 17 per cent for SACs, and 11 per cent for SPAs.  As with A/SSSIs, the proportion in favourable condition has slightly decreased since 2005 for both SACs and SPAs.  The proportion in recovering condition has increased from 16 per cent in 2005 to 36 per cent in 2013 for SACs, and from 9 per cent to 27 per cent for SPAs.  This change reflects improved management of sites, but is also affected by a greater number of sites/features having been assessed over time.  Significant effort has been put into targeted conservation effort, including agreement of the management required with land-owners/occupiers.

 

Goals and targets

 

Aichi Targets for which this is a primary indicator

Strategic Goal C. To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.

Aichi icon 11Target 11: By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascapes.

 

Aichi Targets for which this is a relevant indicator

None

 

Web links for further information

Reference

Title

Website

Joint Nature Conservation Committee  

 

Common Standards Monitoring Programme 

www.jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2199

www.jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-3520

Joint Nature Conservation Committee

Broad information on Surveillance and Monitoring

 

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=3713

England

Condition Information

http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/Special/sssi/
report.cfm?category=N

Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage Information Service, and Site Condition Monitoring

 

http://www.snh.gov.uk/publications-data-and-research/
snhi-information-service/

 

 

http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/
protected-areas/site-condition-monitoring/

 

Wales

State of the Environment Report

 

https://statswales.wales.gov.uk/Catalogue/Environment-
and-Countryside/State-of-the-Environment

Northern Ireland

NI Environmental Statistics Report

 

http://www.doeni.gov.uk/northern_ireland_environmental_
statistics_report_2012r.pdf
 (PDF, 1.7Mb)

National Parks

Aims and Purposes of National Parks

http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/learningabout/
whatisanationalpark/aimsandpurposesofnationalparks

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Introduction and links

http://www.aonb.org.uk/

National Scenic Areas

Purpose & Links

http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/
protected-areas/national-designations/nsa/

 

 

Download Datasheet

Download Technical background paper

 

Last updated: October 2013

Latest data available: June 2013 (extent data); March 2013 (condition data)