C1. Protected areas

a. Total extent of protected areas: on-land

b. Total extent of protected areas: at-sea

c. 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: (a) on-land; (b) at-sea, 1950 to 2015.

Figure C1i. Extent of UK nationally and internationally important protected areas: (a) on-land; (b) at-sea, 1950 to 2015

Notes:

  1. The boundary 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’ if 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.  For 2015, the data cut-off is 31 July.
  3. Extent is based on the following site designations: Areas of Special Scientific Interest, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, Marine Conservation Zones, Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas, Ramsar Sites, Special Areas of Conservation (including candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Importance), Special Protection Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Scenic Areas, National Parks.

Source: Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, 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 2015.

Figure C1ii. Cumulative proportion of A/SSSIs in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable-recovering' condition, 2005 to 2015

Notes:

  1. England figures based on area.  Scotland and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features. 
  2. Based on data to the end of the calendar month shown.  Data were not collated in 2007.
  3. Imputation has been used to calculate the breakdown between favourable and unfavourable-recovering for Northern Ireland for the years 2009 to 2011. 
  4. ‘Recovering’ is used in the graph above, and throughout the document, as convenient shorthand for the condition category ‘unfavourable-recovering’.
  5. Figures exclude condition of A/SSSIs notified for geological features only.

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
1950–2015

2010 indicator stable
2010–2015

No change (2015)

Total extent of protected areas:
at-sea

indicator improving
1950–2015

indicator improving
2010–2015

No change (2015)

Condition of A/SSSIs

indicator improving

2005–2015

2010 indicator stable
2010–2015

No change (2015)

 

 

  • The total extent of land and sea protected in the UK through national and international protected areas, and through wider landscape designations, has increased by 10.7 million hectares, from 10.8 million hectares in December 2010 to 21.4 million hectares at the end of July 2015.
  • This 10.7 million hectare increase is almost entirely down to the designation of inshore and offshore marine sites under the European Union (EU) Habitats Directive, the designation of Marine Conservation Zones in English, Welsh, and Northern Irish waters, and designation of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas in Scottish waters.  The extent of protected areas on-land increased by 36,800 hectares since 2010. 
  • 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’).
  • The percentage of features, or area, of A/SSSIs in favourable or recovering condition increased from 67 per cent in 2005, to 84 per cent in 2010, and to 86 per cent in 2015.  The proportion of features or area of land in recovering condition has increased from 14 per cent in 2005 to 36 per cent in 2015.  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

 

Extent

The extent indicator is a calculation of the net (non-overlapping) extent of protected areas using mean high water as the boundary between the at-sea and on-land measures.  The indicator was expanded in 2014 to include wider countryside designations, sites designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites), and new marine protected areas.  In 2015, National Nature Reserves were added to the indicator.  As at the end of July 2015 (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 14.7 million hectares of UK seas, both within the 12 nautical mile limit and offshore, have also been designated representing 16.6 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 31 July 2015, for all site types included in the indicator.

 

On-land

At-sea

 

Million ha

Percentage

Million ha

Percentage

England

3.389

26.0

4.016

17.5

Scotland

2.328

29.5

10.018

16.2

Wales

0.612

29.4

0.583

18.9

Northern Ireland

0.402

28.4

0.065

9.5

United Kingdom

6.731

27.6

14.683

16.6

 

For comparison, the same figures for the A/SSSI, MCZ, NCMPA, NNR, Ramsar, SAC and SPA site designations are given in Table C1ii.  The boundary 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.

 

Table C1ii.  Area and percentage cover of protected areas by country, as at 31 July 2015 for A/SSSI, SAC, MCZ, NCMPA, NNR, Ramsar, SAC and SPA site designations.

 

On-land

At-sea

 

Million ha

Percentage

Million ha

Percentage

England

0.834

6.4

4.010

17.4

Scotland

1.400

17.8

9.744

15.7

Wales

0.221

10.6

0.581

18.9

Northern Ireland

0.139

9.8

0.062

9.1

United Kingdom

2.594

10.6

14.396

16.2

 

The on-land and at-sea extent indicators both show an increase in 1980, reflecting the designation of 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland.  Terrestrial changes since 1995 mainly reflect the establishment of SACs and SPAs, plus the designation of two large National Parks in Scotland in 2002/03.  There has been a large increase in the extent of marine protected areas since 1995, but especially since 2010.  In 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. 

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

 

Condition

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 underpinning legislation for A/SSSIs extends to low water, so the condition part of the indicator is, effectively, a terrestrial measure. 

The first collation of results (to March 2005) was published by JNCC in 2006.  The cut-off date is 31 March each year unless otherwise stated.  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.  Both recovering and favourable assessments are shown in the graph, as 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 the sum of favourable and recovering condition.  A three-year average from the baseline, using the three earliest consecutive years for which data are available is calculated and compared to the latest year.  The background section includes information for protected areas designated under the EU 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 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 (net) area of:

  • nationally designated National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in England, Scotland and Wales, and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in Northern Ireland;
  • Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) in English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters, and Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPA) in Scottish waters;
  • internationally designated Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC, including candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Importance) under the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives respectively, and sites designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar); 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; for example many sites are designated as A/SSSI, SAC and SPA.  Almost all Ramsar sites are underpinned by the A/SSSI designation, and most are also SPAs.  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 C1iii).  Further information about individual site types can be found by using the weblinks given below. 

 

Figure C1iii.  Map of UK terrestrial and marine protected areas, as at 31 July 2015.

Figure C1iii. Map of UK terrestrial and marine protected areas, as at 31 July 2015

Note: Includes the following site designations: Areas of Special Scientific Interest, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, Marine Conservation Zones, Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas, Ramsar Sites, Special Areas of Conservation (including candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Importance), Special Protection Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Scenic Areas, National Parks. 

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.

 

 

Condition

The UK-wide Common Standards Monitoring programme is undertaken by the statutory nature conservation bodies 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.

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 C1iv and C1v provide analogous information to that in Figure C1ii, but for features protected on sites designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives respectively (SACs and SPAs). 

 

Figure C1iv.  Cumulative proportion of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) in ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable-recovering’ condition, 2005 to 2015.

Figure C1iv. Cumulative proportion of SACs in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable-recovering' condition, 2005 to 2015

Notes:

  1. England figures based on area; Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features.
  2. Based on data to end of calendar month shown.  Data were not collated in 2007.
  3. 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.
  4. Includes candidate Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Community Importance.  Includes coastal but not offshore sites.

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

 

Figure C1v.  Cumulative proportion of Special Protection Areas (SPA) in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable-recovering' condition, 2005 to 2015.

Figure C1v. Cumulative proportion of SPAs in 'favourable' or 'unfavourable-recovering' condition, 2005 to 2015

Notes:

  1. England figures based on area; Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland figures based on number of features.
  2. Based on data to end of calendar month shown.  Data were not collated in 2007.
  3. 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.
  4. Includes coastal but not offshore sites.

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

 

The proportion of European sites in favourable or recovering condition increased from 58 per cent in 2005 to 86 per cent in 2015 for SACs, and from 73 per cent in 2005 to 83 per cent in 2015 for SPAs.  The proportion in favourable condition has slightly decreased since 2005 for SPAs.  The proportion in recovering condition has increased from 17 per cent in 2005 to 41 per cent in 2015 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

Strategic Goal B. Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.

Aichi icon 5Target 5: By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.

Aichi icon 6 Target 6: By 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

Aichi icon 8Target 8: By 2020, pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.

 

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

Aichi icon 12Target 12: By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

 

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

https://www.doeni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-environmental-statistics-report-2015

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.landscapesforlife.org.uk/

National Scenic Areas

Purpose & Links

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

Ramsar Convention

Site Information

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1369

 

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=161

Marine Conservation Zones

Site Information

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-
and-sustainably-using-the-marine-environment/
supporting-pages/marine-protected-areas

 

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-4525

Nature Protection Marine Protected Areas

Site Information

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-5269

 

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

 

 

Download Datasheet

Download Technical background document

 

Last updated: December 2015

Latest data available: 31 July 2015 (extent data); 31 March 2015 (condition data)