Long-term vegetation monitoring in Great Britain – the Countryside Survey 1978–2007 and beyond
- 1Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre, Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4AP, UK
- 2Estonian University of Life Sciences, Kreuzwaldi 5, 51014 Tartu, Estonia
Abstract. The Countryside Survey (CS) of Great Britain provides a globally unique series of datasets, consisting of an extensive set of repeated ecological measurements at a national scale, covering a time span of 29 years. CS was first undertaken in 1978 to monitor ecological and land use change in Britain using standardised procedures for recording ecological data from representative 1 km squares throughout the country. The same sites, with some additional squares, were used for subsequent surveys of vegetation undertaken in 1990, 1998 and 2007, with the intention of future surveys. Other data records include soils, freshwater habitats and invertebrates, and land cover and landscape feature diversity and extents. These data have been recorded in the same locations on analogous dates. However, the present paper describes only the details of the vegetation surveys.
The survey design is a series of gridded, stratified, randomly selected 1 km squares taken as representative of classes derived from a statistical environmental classification of Britain. In the 1978 survey, 256 one-kilometre sample squares were recorded, increasing to 506 in 1990, 569 in 1998 and 591 in 2007. Initially each square contained up to 11 dispersed vegetation plots but additional plots were later placed in different features so that eventually up to 36 additional sampling plots were recorded, all of which can be relocated where possible (unless the plot has been lost, for example as a consequence of building work), providing a total of 16 992 plots by 2007. Plots are estimated to have a precise relocation accuracy of 85 %. A range of plots located in different land cover types and landscape features (for example, field boundaries) are included.
Although a range of analyses have already been carried out, with changes in the vegetation being related to a range of drivers at local and national scales, there is major potential for further analyses, for example in relation to climate change. Although the precise locations of the plots are restricted, largely for reasons of landowner confidentiality, sample sites are intended to be representative of larger areas, and many potential opportunities for further analyses remain.
Data from each of the survey years (1978, 1990, 1998, 2007) are available via the following DOIs: Countryside Survey 1978 vegetation plot data (https://doi.org/10.5285/67bbfabb-d981-4ced-b7e7-225205de9c96), Countryside Survey 1990 vegetation plot data (https://doi.org/10.5285/26e79792-5ffc-4116-9ac7-72193dd7f191), Countryside Survey 1998 vegetation plot data (https://doi.org/10.5285/07896bb2-7078-468c-b56d-fb8b41d47065), Countryside Survey 2007 vegetation plot data (https://doi.org/10.5285/57f97915-8ff1-473b-8c77-2564cbd747bc).