National-scale vegetation change across Britain; an analysis of sample-based surveillance data from the Countryside Surveys of 1990 and 1998

S.M. Smart, R.T. Clarke, H.M. van de Poll, E.J. Robertson, E.R. Shield, R.G.H. Bunce, L.C. Maskell

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Patterns of vegetation across Great Britain (GB) between 1990 and 1998 were quantified based on an analysis of plant species data from a total of 9596 fixed plots. Plots were established on a stratified random basis within 501 1 km sample squares located as part of the Countryside Survey of GB. Results are primarily conveyed in terms of a classification of national land-cover into 22 mutually exclusive Broad Habitat types. Each of the fixed vegetation plots could be assigned to the Broad Habitat in which they were located in either year. Two types of analysis are reported, both based on changes in plant species composition within monitoring plots. The first examined turnover and net change between Broad Habitat types. The second quantified more subtle changes that had occurred within each Broad Habitat using a series of condition measures that summarized multivariate plant species data as a single scalar value for each plot at each time. There are major difficulties in using uncontrolled, large-scale surveillance data to unravel causal linkages and no attempt was made to quantitatively partition variation among competing causes. However, it was clear that results were broadly consistent with environmental drivers known to have operated prior to and during the survey interval. Large-scale vegetation changes could be summarized in terms of shifts along gradients of substrate fertility and disturbance. Changes implied increased nutrient availability across upland and lowland ecosystems while, in lowland landscapes, linear features and small biotope fragments saw a marked shift to species compositions associated with greater shade and less disturbance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-254
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • indicator values
  • species richness
  • england
  • conservation
  • biodiversity
  • land
  • productivity
  • communities
  • ecosystems
  • landscapes

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