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New maps show farmland loss and less tree cover over past decade

by on July 9, 2015

Large tracts of agricultural land have been lost as part of large-scale changes to the environment this century, researchers have found.

Some 225,200 hectares of land – the equivalent of one per cent of the total area of the UK – showed a change in land cover or use from 2006 to 2012, including a net loss of more than 7,000 hectares of agricultural land.

While nearly 2,000 hectares reverted back to pasture after being used for mineral extraction projects, another 5,000 hectares of farmland was given over for mineral extraction and at least another 4,000 hectares was lost to construction sites.

Researchers at Leicester University and consultancy company Specto Natura studied satellite images to identify the changes which have now been published in map form. Their work contributes to the EU-wide Coordination of Information on the Environment (CORINE) land cover mapping project. They found that semi-natural and wetland habitats were in decline nationally.

According to their analysis urban expansion has led to the loss of more than 7,000 hectares of forest, with over 1,000 hectares of wetlands given over to artificial surfaces like concrete and tarmac.

The biggest change was the clearing of coniferous forest – over 100,000 hectares – with nearly 3,000 hectares cleared for industrial development, although almost half of the total area of conifers cut down was being replanted.

Study leader professor Heiko Balzter, director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research at Leicester University, said the data would be useful for informing policy.

He added: “At the scale of change mapping of five hectares or larger, there appears to be a loss of semi-natural habitats and agricultural land. The apparent decline in wetlands is particularly concerning.”

View the press release

Roger Milne

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