26.10.2020 |

New report reveals drastic decline in Europe’s biodiversity

Grey Partridge
Grey Partridge (Photo: CC0)

Most protected habitats and species in Europe have either a poor or a bad conservation status. Unsustainable farming and forestry, urban sprawl and pollution are the top pressures to blame for a drastic decline in biodiversity, warns the European Environment Agency (EEA) in a new report published on October 19. It describes the state of nature in the EU during the period from 2013 to 2018, based on Member States’ reporting under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, which coordinate conservation efforts for more than 2,000 species and habitats across the EU with the aim of maintaining them at or restoring them to a favourable conservation status. Although the report shows some positive developments in conservation efforts, the main message is unambiguous: The survival of thousands of animal species and habitats in the EU is at threat and much more needs to be done to reverse this trend. “This State of Nature assessment is the most comprehensive health check of nature ever undertaken in the EU,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries. “It shows very clearly that we are still losing our vital life support system. (…) We urgently need to deliver on the commitments in the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to reverse this decline for the benefit of nature, people, climate and the economy.”

The reporting under the Birds Directive includes population statuses and trends for 463 bird species that naturally occur in the EU. Around half (47%) of those bird species have a good status, which is 5% less than during the last reporting period (2008-2012). However, the proportion of birds with poor or bad status totals 39%, up by 7% from 2008-2012. 14% of all bird species have an unknown status due to the lack of information about their population size and trends. Short-term trends for breeding birds are mixed: 23% of breeding birds have increasing populations whereas 30% have decreasing trends. Breeding birds, such as the Crane and the Red Kite, have the highest share of reports showing improving population trends. The majority of all bird species with improving trends are wetland and marine birds, such as the Ruddy Shelduck or the Black Guillemot. The authors say that this is due to the implementation of habitat protection or restoration, and improvements in knowledge, better monitoring and awareness. Short-term population trends for farmland birds reveal that 54% are deteriorating. Breeding bird populations showing decreasing short-term trends in almost 50% of all Member States include the Grey Partridge, the Red-backed Shrike and the Corncrake.

The data reported by Member States under the Habitats Directive covers 233 habitats and 1,389 species. “A majority of EU wide protected species, such as the Saker Falcon and the Danube Salmon, and habitats from grasslands to dunes across Europe, face an uncertain future unless more is urgently done to reverse the situation,” says the EEA in a press release. As much as 81% of habitats at EU level are in poor (45%) or bad (36%) condition. Compared with the previous reporting period, the share of habitats with bad conservation status has increased by 6%. Only 15% of habitats have a good conservation status and for 4% the status is unknown. Looking at habitat trends, only 9% of all habitat assessments with poor or bad conservation status show improvement, while 36% continue to deteriorate. Grasslands, dunes, and bog, mire and fen habitats show strong deteriorating trends, while forests have the most improving trends. Around a quarter (27%) of species have a good conservation status at EU level, which is an increase of 4%, compared with the previous reporting period. Nonetheless, over 60% of the assessments report a poor or bad status (42% and 21% respectively). Reptiles such as the Italian Wall Lizard and the Horseshoe Whip Snake and vascular plants, such as the Hairy Agrimony or the Great Yellow Gentian, have the highest proportion of good conservation status (35%), while fish have the highest proportion of bad conservation status (38%). Marine mammals are among the species with the highest proportion of unknown status.

Unsustainable farming and forestry are the top pressures to blame for a drastic decline in Europe’s biodiversity. “Although the drivers of habitat degradation and species decline are diverse, agricultural activities such as abandoning extensive management and intensifying management practices are the most common pressure overall,” the authors write. Fertilisers and the use of pesticides are reported to have a considerable impact on many habitats and species. The report says this holds especially true for plant protection chemicals and their effects on amphibians, insects, mammals – mainly bats but also small mammals such as the European Ground Squirrel or the European Hamster – and birds. Urbanisation is the second largest pressure on nature. Other drivers of biodiversity decline are pollution of air, water and soil, as well as continued over-exploitation of animals through illegal harvesting and untenable hunting and fishing. These threats are compounded by alterations to rivers and lakes, such as dams and water abstraction, invasive alien species, and climate change. “Our assessment shows that safeguarding the health and resilience of Europe’s nature, and people’s well-being, requires fundamental changes to the way we produce and consume food, manage and use forests, and build cities,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director. “These efforts need to be coupled with better implementation and enforcement of conservation policies, a focus on nature restoration, as well as increasingly ambitious climate action, especially in the transport and energy sector,” he added. (ab)

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