New maps have been produced that show the large-scale changes to the environment of the UK that have arisen as a result of land use changes.
Researchers at the University of Leicester used state-of-the-art mapping techniques to create the CORINE land cover map 2012 documents, which have also been published online and cover the period between 2006 and 2012.
They visually display how much of the country is made up of artificial surfaces, agricultural areas, forest and semi-natural areas, wetlands and water bodies and show that more than 225,200 hectares experienced a change in land cover or use over the six-year period.
More than 7,000 hectares were converted from forest to artificial surfaces, while 14,000 hectares changed from agricultural areas to artificial surfaces.
Meanwhile, around 3,000 hectares of arable land and 2,000 hectares of pastures were converted to mineral extraction sites.
Leader of the study Professor Heiko Balzter said: "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."
Indeed, more than 1,000 hectares were converted from wetlands to artificial surfaces between 2006 and 2012, with the latter (mostly urban settlements) now representing eight per cent of the country.
"The maps show the need for a more detailed study of the state of our countryside, because of the technical limitations of the CORINE mapping approach at a coarse spatial scale," added Professor Balzter.
At the same time, various studies have shown alarming population declines for a number of our once-common birds and other animals, including sparrows and hedgehogs.
With so much of the habitat that birds and other wildlife rely on being given over to development, there has never been a more important time to ensure nature has a place in your garden or other green space.
You can supplement birds' diets with good quality bird foods such as those available from CJ Wildlife, while our range of nest boxes can provide essential shelter and breeding places for creatures who have found their former living spaces destroyed.