The number of civil partnerships entered into by gay and lesbian couples has continued to fall since a peak when they were legalised in 2005.

Figures released today by the National Office of Statistics showed an 18 per cent drop in the number of ceremonies held in England since last year.

Between 2006 and 2007, the drop was much higher at 46 per cent, suggesting that numbers may be levelling off.

In the UK, 7,169 civil partnerships (3,824 male and 3,345 female) were held last year, in the UK in 2008, bringing the total number of partnerships formed since the Civil Partnership Act came into force until the end of 2008 to 33,956.

As in 2007, the London Borough of Westminster and Brighton and Hove Unitary Authority had the highest number of gay partnerships.

There were 180 civil partnership dissolutions granted in the UK in 2008, with almost twice as many being granted to female couples (116) than male couples (64).

Eleven per cent of men and 21 per cent of women forming a civil partnership in the UK in 2008 had been in a previous marriage or civil partnership.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said a “natural stabilising” in the rate of civil partnerships was unsurprising.

He commented: “Stonewall lobbied for civil partnerships to offer same-sex couples the same legal protections that marriage offers.

“Civil partnerships were initially far more popular than the government predicted – there was clearly a pent-up demand for thousands of same-sex couples to finally legalise their relationship. A natural stabilising of this initial boom is no surprise.”