Habitats

Background

Precious habitats such as woods, flower-rich grasslands, dunes, estuaries, shores and seas play a vital part in human well-being. Their soils are undisturbed and help to protect us from floods by storing and filtering water and holding it back after heavy rains. Habitats allow pollinating insects to thrive, which is essential to so many crops while much of our healthiest food comes from the sea. And the plants and animals which depend on habitats contribute to the complexity of life on Earth and to our long-term evolutionary and ecological survival.

 

Habitat classifications

How should conservation priorities be identified in the most efficient, consistent and evidence-based way? The answer for habitats is a robust, widely accepted and affordable method of classification. It should be:

  • Detailed enough to capture key differences and link them to site management and history
  • Comprehensive enough to evaluate and compare sites in different places and as they change

 

Habitat classification is an international science, which allows conservationists from different countries to work together. It is based on data about the species that make up a habitat and/or its structural or chemical properties. In Europe, habitat classification usually follows the European Union’s Eunis classification.

 

Habitat management for conservation

Some of the most important areas for biodiversity around the world are not altered or managed by humans - they are sometimes termed wilderness. Conservation of these areas usually relies on maintaining and protecting their integrity and minimising interference, although some need periodic disturbance (for example, wildfires or high water).

 

However, in many land areas, including the UK and much of western Europe, there are few or none of these untouched areas. There vitally important biodiversity has adapted to semi-natural habitats, such as wood-pasture, fens and heaths.

 

Semi-natural habitats usually need care from land managers to keep their biodiversity interest, but they can be damaged by the wrong sort of management. For example, limestone grassland needs to be grazed at some times of the year, but can be damaged by year-round grazing or use of fertilisers. Habitat Management on the Web provides a searchable information source about how best to manage habitats in the UK.