Large-scale changes in environment revealed through land cover map of the UK

Large-scale changes to the environment of the United Kingdom, including an apparent loss of habitats and agricultural land, have been revealed through an updated national map of land cover launched by Leicester researchers together with consultancy company Specto Natura.

A map of Leicestershire’s land cover in 2012 has also been made available, showing artificial surfaces, agricultural areas, forest areas, wetlands and water bodies in the county.  

Professor Heiko Balzter, Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research at the University of Leicester and leader of the study, said: “Environmental information from satellites is hugely important to keep a check on the quality of life in the UK. The European land monitoring service turns satellite data into policy-relevant information. The CORINE map is the only consistent European information on land cover change that allows a comparison with our neighbours.”

The 2006-2012 land cover map reveals that an area of 225,200 hectares (over 2,250 km2) or 1% of the total area of the UK showed a change in land cover / use from 2006 to 2012. Altogether, 167 different types of change were seen from the satellite images.

The dominant change was clear-cutting of coniferous forest (over 100,000 hectares). Almost 50,000 hectares were regrowing or being replanted with coniferous forest, but clear-cutting far exceeded replanting of coniferous forest.

In addition to the new land cover map, the previous 2006 land cover map has also been corrected by the team and updated to make sure the change results more closely reflect reality.

The interpretation of satellite images took two years and was carried out with funding by the European Union, supported by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the European Environment Agency (EEA). Previous maps were produced for the years 1990, 2000 and 2006.