Policy and Planning

Field surveyors

Countryside Survey is a unique scientific study aimed at detecting both long and short-term changes in the countryside. The findings of the Survey are used to inform Government policy relating to:

Countryside Survey is a complex project, which focuses on both the need of policymakers to understand change in the countryside and on developing scientific understandings of that change. It provides the scientific evidence base needed to help form policies that influence management of the countryside, both now and in the future.

What does the Survey do?

  • Records and reports on the stock, condition and extent of Broad and Priority Habitats, landscape features, vegetation, land cover, soils and freshwaters in the countryside of the UK, England, Scotland and Wales. A related survey is also carried out in Northern Ireland.
  • Assesses changes in the countryside and improves our understanding of the causes and processes of change, by comparison with data from earlier surveys.
  • Collects, stores and analyses data in ways that optimise the integration of Countryside Survey data over time, and extracts added value from other data sources.
  • Provides access to data and interprets results that underpin a range of policy and science needs for major environmental zones and landscape types in the UK and the four separate countries.
  • Contributes to the development of an integrated assessment of the drivers and pressures of change; aiding better understanding of their effects on the UK countryside and their implications for ecosystem goods and services*.
  • Provides baseline data for assessment of, and adaptation to, climate change impacts.

More detail:

The outputs of the 2007 Survey are being used to underpin policy work in the following areas:


Countryside Survey provides evidence on the extent, condition and change of terrestrial Broad Habitats and some widespread Priority Habitats, at both UK and individual country level. This allows the assessment of status and trends, the identification of major threats, also the cumulative outcomes of policy interventions. Results also contribute to assessments of achievement of the 2010 biodiversity target, by updating indicators on plant diversity, extent of habitat features and habitat fragmentation. The Land Cover Map supports more effective targeting of conservation effort and habitat creation within broad-scale ecological networks.

Landscape image

Natural Environment

Countryside Survey helps to provide better measurement and understanding of the dynamics and spatial distribution of Natural Capital at national and regional scales. Results from the Survey have been used to support the development of ecosystem-based approaches such as the National Ecosytem Assessment for natural environment policy, also frameworks for considering natural capital and ecosystem services.

Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Stewardship

Countryside Survey provides national estimates of environmental change in the farmed countryside. This includes:

  • vegetation associated with changes in the extent and distribution of major crop types
  • consequences of conversion between agricultural uses, for example on soil carbon
  • extent and condition of farmland habitats (eg. hedgerows, uncultivated semi-natural land, small woods and set-aside) and landscape features (eg. hedgerows, dry stone walls, veteran trees)
  • impacts on of aquatic habitats (headwater streams and ponds)
  • changes in soil characteristics

Waterfall image

Water Resources

Countryside Survey provides contextual and baseline information to the Environment Agency to inform development of plans for meeting the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive. It also provides status and change information on headwater stream and pond Priority Habitats to Natural England.


Sustainable Forestry

Countryside Survey is designed to be complementary to the second National Inventory of Woodlands and Trees. Results from the Survey provide additional information on:

  • trends in plant diversity within woodlands
  • habitat conversion to and from woodland
  • soil quality within woodlands

Soil Protection

Countryside Survey measures and investigates long-term change in physical, chemical and biological soil quality at national and regional scales. It also helps to identify the major drivers of change. The Survey contributes to country-level programmes, as well as commitments to establish a national programme for soil quality monitoring and evaluation.

Urban Development

Countryside Survey is not designed to assess built-up areas or the impacts of urbanisation, but the data can provide national estimates of habitat types lost to urban development. The Land Cover Map provides a nationally consistent database of built-up land, and also shows the pattern of developed land and other habitats. This information can contribute to the planning of green infrastructure in urban areas.

Air Quality

Countryside Survey provides assessments of the impacts of air pollution (acid and nitrogen deposition, and heavy metals) on the condition/quality of terrestrial habitats, soils and headwater streams. It also provides an evaluation of long-term change in air quality.

Climate Change

Countryside Survey is the main source of information for the land cover/land use change component of the National Inventory of Greenhouse Gases. Countryside Survey provides national estimates of land cover change, from which carbon emissions are currently calculated. The Survey tracks long-term change in the types and distribution of vegetation communities which are expected to respond to future climate change. The baseline data will permit assessment of, and adaptation to, the impacts of climate change.

*Relevant ecosystem services include: carbon sequestration, soil nutrient cycling, maintaining water quality, landscape character, recreation, etc.