Bird distributions relative to remotely sensed habitats in Great Britain: towards a framework for national modelling

J Environ Manage. 2007 Sep;84(4):586-605. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2006.07.001. Epub 2006 Sep 26.


This paper develops a comprehensive and objective picture of bird distributions relative to habitats across Britain. Bird species presence/absence data from an extensive field survey and habitat data from the remotely sensed UK Land Cover Map 2000 were analysed in 36,920 tetrads (2 kmx2 km) across Britain (a 65% sample of Britain's c. 240,000 km2). Cluster analysis linked birds to generalised landscapes based on distinctive habitat assemblages. Maps of the clusters showed strong regional patterns associated with the habitat assemblages. Cluster centroid coordinates for each bird species and each habitat were combined across clusters to derive individualised bird-habitat preference indices and examine the importance of individual habitats for each bird species. Even rare species and scarce habitats showed successful linkages. Results were assessed against published accounts of bird-habitat relations. Objective corroboration strongly supported the associations. Relatively scarce coastal and wetland habitats proved particularly important for many birds. However, extensive arable farmland and woodland habitats were also favoured by many species, despite reported declines in bird numbers in these habitats. The fact that habitat-specialists do not or cannot move habitat is perhaps a reason for declining numbers where habitats have become unsuitable. This study showed that there are unifying principles determining bird-habitat relations which apply and can be quantified at the national scale, and which corroborate and complement the cumulative knowledge of many and varied surveys and ecological studies. This 'generality' suggests that we may be able, reliably and objectively, to integrate and scale up such disparate studies to the national scale, using this generalised framework. It also suggests the potential for a landscape ecology approach to bird-habitat analyses. Such developments will be important steps in building models to develop and test the sustainable management of landscapes for birds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Birds*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Population Density
  • United Kingdom