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IMG_0825On July 2nd 2011 the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) was launched in London causing a flurry of debate and interest. Findings from this report have already informed a government White Paper (policy) for the environment – the first in 20 years: The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature online at the defra.gov.uk website here [accessed: 19.07.11]

The NEA is a comprehensive review of the state and condition of UK ecosystems and the first of its kind. More than 500 scientists took over 2 years researching the benefits provided by habitats, plants and animals to the people of the UK. These benefits, known as “ecosystem services”, flow from habitats such as farmland, woodlands, mountains and moorlands, rivers, lakes and seas, and our urban habitats. They include food, fibre and medicines, climate regulation, water purification and flood prevention, pollination of crops, and fundamental processes such as photosynthesis and soil formation, plus the physical and mental health benefits that we derive from countryside recreation and appreciation of our landscapes and seas.

Threats to biodiversity in Wales. Source: (BAP Reporting Round 2008, Wales Biodiversity Partnership).click here for full size figure

Threats to biodiversity in Wales. Source: (BAP Reporting Round 2008, Wales Biodiversity Partnership). Click for full size figure

The Coordinating Lead Author for the Wales synthesis chapter was Dr Shaun Russell, of the Wales Environment Research Hub (WERH). Members of the C3W team were part of this expert author team, including C3W Outreach Officer Saskia Pagella and Aberystwyth University’s Mike Christie. The NEA expert panel of 27 includes Bridget Emmett, Director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Bangor who has close links with WERH and C3W.

The study, which looked back over the past century, has found a mixed picture with regard to species and habitats in Wales, and the services that human society derives from them. Some habitats have changed markedly over that time period, while others have remained relatively stable. The same is true for individual species, some of which have increased in number while others have declined due to human pressures. The report also includes information on carbon storage, air, soil and water quality, diseases and pests, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and the links to landscape of tourism, education, tradition and language.

Dr Shaun Russell said on the day of the launch: “This is the first time that such a breadth of information has been drawn together in a single reference source, and the Report is expected to provide evidence for policy decisions on land-use and environmental management in Wales for many years to come. Dr Russell stressed that the study: “has shown up lots of gaps in our knowledge, including how close we might be to “critical thresholds” with some of our ecosystem services”. He gave the example of insects that pollinate plants of our moorlands, fields and gardens, some of which, like honey bees, have shown alarming declines in Wales.
The Wales country chapter highlights important information for Wales, key messages are:

  • Sand dunes in Wales are under threat from development although they contribute over £53 million to sea defence, over half the Natura 2000 protected marine and coastal ecosystems are in continued or accelerated decline
  • Whilst freshwater ecosystems in Wales are recovering from historical industrial pollution, catchments are threatened by climate change and there will be more pressure to increase dammed reserves
  • Woodland in Wales has tripled in area since 1900, now covering 14% of the total land area, providing approximately £430 million income and 8,900 jobs although some forests planted during the mid 20th Century were poorly designed and planned
  • Seabirds have prospered over the last 30 years whilst honey bees, butterflies and wild plants have suffered decline with over half the Welsh SSSIs judged to be in unfavourable condition due to land management, atmospheric pollution and climate change
  • Wales is currently regarded as a net sink for carbon dioxide in the land use and forestry sectors, with soils representing a significant store of carbon, particularly in the peat deposits which occupy 3% of the land area of Wales. There is a threat of a potential shift from carbon sink to carbon source in the uplands if these areas are not carefully managed for their carbon stores.

Information

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provided the most comprehensive assessment of the state of the global environment to date; it classified ecosystem services as follows:

★ Supporting services
★ Provisioning services
★ Regulating services
★ Cultural services

The Welsh component of the UK NEA is entitled: “Status and changes in the UK’s ecosystems and their services to society: a synthesis for Wales” and has been collated by Dr Shaun Russell (s.russell@bangor.ac.uk) of the Wales Environment Research Hub in Bangor (www.werh.org) with the help of many other scientists in Wales, including:

The Team:

Tim Blackstock, Mike Christie, Michelle Clarke, Keith Davies, Catherine Duigan, Isabelle Durance, Russell Elliot, Hugh Evans, Charlie Falzon, Peter Frost, Sue Ginley, Neal Hockley, Shelagh Hourahane, Barbara Jones, Laurence Jones, Julia Korn, Peter Ogden, Saskia Pagella, Tim Pagella, Brian Pawson, Brian Reynolds, David Robinson, Bill Sanderson, Jan Sherry, James Skates, Emma Small, Barbara Spence, Clive Thomas.

The synthesis is at the UKNEA website here