The South West region has a rich and varied coastline supporting a range of different habitats. From the coastal heaths of Cornwall to the dramatic landslips on the undercliff at Lyme Regis it is a region of spectacular landforms and unique wildlife. Over 80% of the coastline is designated for its wildlife and landscape interests. The South West has the highest number of European designated coastal and marine sites in the UK, with 49 Special Areas of Conservation designated for specific habitats and species and 59 Special Protection Areas safeguarded for birds. We also have one of the few Biosphere reserves in England at Braunton Burrows on the north Devon coast.
Once every five year phase the Programme maps the coastal and terrestrial habitats along our coast. This mapping is done using aerial photography interpretation - our high resolution images are interpreted by a team of ecologists, who map the habitats captured in the images to create a GIS map of their type and extent. The habitats are classified using the Integrated Habitat System (IHS): This is a national classification that allows us to make direct comparisons with habitats in other parts of the UK and Europe. The Programme includes field surveys to confirm the interpretation and classify any unusual habitat types.
Our habitat mapping can be used in the following ways:
- To show changes to the location and extent of habitats is the South West and rates of loss of vulnerable habitats such as saltmarsh, saline lagoons, mudflats and sand dunes.
- To identify habitats and sites that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
- To identify sites where managed realignment may be a suitable option for coastal defence.
- To assess what habitats could / should be created as part of an adaptation plan.
- To place proposed habitat creation sites in the context of wider coastal and ecosystem processes.
- To inform and influence policies in Regional Spatial Strategies, Local Development Frameworks and Shoreline Management Plans and to provide information for UK Biodiversity Action Plans.