UK Habitat Classifications


BackgroundMartime cliff habitat, near Lulworth, Dorset coast © JNCC


Classification is a prerequisite to structuring knowledge and developing our understanding of the natural world.


A strong and consistent base of classification also provides an important tool for nature conservation. It is vital to be able to identify and record species, ecological communities and habitat types of interest that are under threat so that they can be related to a legal framework to ensure their protection.


Classification also provides a language through which data can be communicated at a national and international level.


In the case of species, there is a long-established tradition of taxonomy, which provides a single, more or less complete, classification of higher organisms found in the UK. In contrast, the requirement for the classification of habitats has only been developed in detail in recent decades.


Upland river habitat, Allt Ionndrainn, Glen Roy © JNCCSeveral terrestrial and freshwater classifications have emerged as important standards for conservation in the UK (see below) and the JNCC plays an important role in maintaining these standards. 


Some have developed importance because they have been officially adopted to implement key aspects of national or international legislation. The central role of these classifications in the practice of nature conservation has been further increased by the fact that they are the main frameworks for gathering and storing habitat data.



Mainstream classifications and correspondences between them


Beech woodland habitat at Felbrigg Woods SSSI, Norfolk © JNCC

Currently there are a number of popular terrestrial and freshwater habitat/vegetation classifications in use. These include the:


These classification systems have been designed with somewhat different objectives in mind and use a range of different parameters for classification, which creates difficulties in comparing them. Nevertheless, the correspondences that have been ideintfied between them and certain other systems (e.g. EU Habitats Directive Annex I habitat types) are presented in an interactive spreadsheet, which can be downloaded via the following link: NBN dictionary habitat correspondances (see also the National Biodiversity Network Habitats Dictionary).