Government officials and agencies with principal responsibility for environmental protection are the Department of the Environment, the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, and the secretaries of state for Scotland and Wales. The National Trust (for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty), an organization of more than 1.3 million members, has acquired some 750 km (466 mi) of coastline in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. In addition, 127 km (79 mi) of coastline in Scotland are protected under agreement with the National Trust of Scotland. Two countryside commissions, one for England and Wales and one for Scotland, are charged with conserving the beauty and amenities of rural areas. By 1982, the former had designated 10 national parks, covering 13,600 sq km (5,250 sq mi), or 9% of the area of England and Wales. An additional 36 areas of outstanding beauty have been designated, covering 17,000 sq km (6,600 sq mi). Scotland has 40 national scenic areas, with more than 98% of all Scottish lands under the commission's jurisdiction. Northern Ireland has eight designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, seven country parks, and one regional park. There are also seven forest parks in Great Britain and nine in Northern Ireland. England and Wales have 600,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) of common land, much of which is open to the public. The Nature Conservancy Council manages 214 national nature reserves in Great Britain and 41 in Northern Ireland.
Air pollution is a significant environmental concern for the United Kingdom. In 1992 the nation had the world's eighth-highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 566.2 million metric tons, a per capita level of 9.78 metric tons. In 1996, the total dropped to 556.9 million metric tons. In addition, its sulphur contributes to the formation of acid rain in the surrounding countries of Western Europe. Air quality abatement has improved greatly in the United Kingdom as a result of the Control of Pollution Act of 1974 and other legislation. Between 1960 and 1986, total emissions and average concentration of smoke in the air fell by an estimated 85%; the average concentration of sulfur dioxide in urban areas has fallen by more than 40% since 1970, with a further reduction of 30% expected by the end of the 1990s. London is no longer densely smog-ridden, and winter sunlight has been increasing in various industrial cities.
Water pollution from agricultural sources is also a problem. The nation has 145 cubic km of water of which 2% is used for farming activity and 8% for industrial purposes. The United Kingdom's cities produce an average of 22 million tons of solid waste per year. Pollution of the Thames has been reduced to one quarter of its level in the 1950s, and more than 80% of the population is served by sewage treatment plants.
The Food and Environment Protection Act of 1985 introduced special controls over dumping and marine incineration in response to the problems of regulation of oil and gas development and of large-scale dumping at sea.
As of 2001, 20.4% of the United Kingdom's total land area is protected. Four of the nation's mammal species, two bird species, and 13 plant species are endangered. The European otter, Atlantic sturgeon, Atlantic ridley, eskimo curlew, and Spengler's freshwater mussel are classified as endangered. The great auk has become extinct.