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Changes in the Welsh countryside over the last 30 years: Results published


The results of the most comprehensive survey of the Welsh countryside and its natural resources are published today in a report by the Countryside Survey partnership.

The report identifies some positive changes including an increase in the area of broadleaved woodland, an improvement in the physical condition of streams, an increased number of ponds, and a reduction in soil acidity in line with reduced emissions of sulphur.  However, there is evidence that these changes have taken place against a general backdrop of decreasing plant species richness that is at odds with the aim of halting biodiversity loss.  The survey also found that topsoil carbon stocks have remained stable over recent decades.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Defra commissioned the UK wide survey on behalf of a partnership of governments, and their departments and agencies. The research in Wales was carried out by NERC’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government, Defra and Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).  Additional funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and CCW allowed extra sampling in Wales to be carried out to produce the first ever country-level report for Wales.

Countryside Survey is an independent survey which covers habitats across Wales. The Countryside Survey records changes in land use, vegetation, soils and waters in an integrated way and examines how different components of the countryside are inter-dependent providing many functions such as clean water, food and recreation.

Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones said:

“The Countryside Survey provides a valuable and scientifically reliable insight into many aspects of the Welsh countryside, including the state and condition of our habitats, landscape features such as hedgerows, water systems and our soils.  Evidence from the survey will have an important role in predicting the likely outcome of different policies and pressures such as agri-environment schemes and climate change.”

Professor Bridget Emmett, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bangor research site, said:

“Countryside Survey generates a unique database providing clear evidence to assess the success of policies developed to deliver the Environment Strategy for Wales. We know that the changing ecology of the Welsh countryside is of growing scientific and political importance. Countryside Survey allows us to make those difficult decisions regarding conflicting needs in the countryside, such as trade-offs between food production and carbon storage.”

A team of specially trained scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology carried out the survey of around 600 different one-kilometre square sites across Great Britain with 107 located in Wales during the summer of 2007. Squares were selected using a rigorous statistical approach to ensure all major aspects of the Welsh countryside were effectively surveyed.

The scientists measured and recorded many different components within each one-kilometre square including land cover; length and condition of hedgerows, walls, river banks and road verges; plant diversity; topsoil condition; and water quality of rivers, streams and ponds. Satellite data for the UK is being processed and will form the next remotely-sensed Land Cover Map due for release in early 2010.

Dr Simon Smart, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, lead author of the Countryside Survey Wales 2007 report, said:

“Countryside Survey is an extremely complex and detailed survey which allows us to identify where changes in land use or management, pollution or disturbance have interacted to affect the Welsh countryside. We found both positive and negative changes in the areas we monitored and are continuing to analyse the large dataset to understand why these changes are happening.”

Dr David Allen, Countryside Council for Wales, said:

“The expanded Countryside Survey of 2007 has, for the first time, enabled publication of a separate set of results for Wales.  This is an important contribution to the evidence base that underpins our understanding of the changing state of the Welsh countryside.”

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