Assessing biodiversity in Europe — the 2010 report


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Executive summary

This report confirms the finding of the EEA's 2009 report 'Progress towards the European 2010 biodiversity target' (EEA, 2009a) that Europe will not achieve its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010.

The present report considers the status and trends of pan-European biodiversity, and the implications of these trends for biodiversity management policy and practice. It considers the key biodiversity policy instruments currently applied in Europe, the threats to biodiversity and their management implications across major habitat types. The implications for biodiversity of cross-cutting issues such as tourism and urban planning are also considered, along with the challenges that remain for conserving and sustainably using of Europe's biodiversity. The report makes use of the SEBI 2010 indicators and other relevant national and regional information sources. It does not consider the biodiversity of EU overseas territories and outermost regions.

As a result of human activity, most of Europe's biodiversity exists within a mosaic of heavily managed land and highly exploited seascapes. To a large degree, this is linked to agricultural, forestry and fishery practices across the region. In recent decades, growing public and political awareness of biodiversity decline has led to improved commitments, policies and practices for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity throughout much of Europe, and there are indications that some aspects of biodiversity are improving in some areas.

Almost two decades after the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into force, biodiversity loss now has a high political profile at the global, regional and national levels. Governments have made ambitious commitments to act. Under the Swedish Presidency in 2001, for example, the EU agreed its 2010 biodiversity target in Gothenburg. At the Fifth Environment for Europe (EfE) Ministerial Conference (Kiev, Ukraine) in 2003, governments across the pan-European region agreed the Kiev Resolution on biodiversity and endorsed the 2010 target.

Despite such efforts, biodiversity loss continues in many parts of Europe. Major threats include habitat destruction and fragmentation, the establishment and spread of invasive alien species, pollution from agricultural runoff in many countries, increasing water abstraction and use, over-exploitation, and the increasing impact of climatic change.

There are indications that, where implemented successfully, Europe's key policy instruments have had positive impacts, with the status of some targeted species and habitats improving in parts of the region. In particular, the Birds Directive (EC, 2009e), the Habitats Directive (EC, 1992) and the Water Framework Directive (EC, 2000) have had important positive impacts on biodiversity in the EU. Growth in protected areas across the pan‑European area has also been significant. Despite progress in enacting and implementing European policy, assessments at various scales show that a large proportion of habitats and species have an unfavourable conservation status. This highlights the urgent need to intensify conservation efforts.

Freshwater ecosystems are among the ecosystems facing most pressures in Europe, with the quantity and quality of habitats and abundance of many species declining. Natural wetlands (marshes and bogs) decreased by 5 % between 1990 and 2006 — the second largest proportional land cover change of all the major habitat classes — although inland surface water cover increased by nearly 4.4 %. Pollution, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and invasive species remain significant threats to freshwater ecosystems. However, legislation and investments, particularly in the EU, have improved the quality of freshwater ecosystems.

Mountain ecosystems in Europe are particularly diverse in habitats and species but are also especially vulnerable to impacts from changes in agricultural practices, tourism, infrastructural development and climate. International frameworks have been established to protect and manage mountain areas sustainably, for example the Alpine and Carpathian Conventions. However, the value of mountain ecosystems and their services to lowland economies, including water supply and regulation, is not widely recognised.

Forest ecosystems in Europe have endured dramatic historical declines, although in the last 20 years deforestation has largely been reversed. Decline is now limited to only a few regions and in some areas significant forest expansion has occurred. Around 3 % of European forests are protected for biodiversity conservation, 25 % of EU forests are excluded from wood harvesting, and forest certification schemes and sustainable forest management are increasingly common. The loss of forest biodiversity in Europe continues, however, with declining forest bird and mammal populations in some parts. Fragmentation and forest fires are major threats, although smaller woodlands and wood pastures are important for biodiversity in a mosaic landscape. Institutional changes, including privatisation in many former centrally planned economies, have led to intensified commercial forestry in unprotected areas, increasing pressures on biodiversity.

Coastal and marine ecosystems have lost considerable biodiversity in recent decades, mainly due to erosion of coastal and estuarine wetlands and dune systems, overexploitation of marine fisheries, and pollution. Some 45 % of assessed European fish stocks are outside safe biological limits. Invasive alien species remain a threat and are increasing rapidly in Europe's marine ecosystems. The reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy calls for better stewardship. Meanwhile, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, adopted in 2008, applies an ecosystem-based approach to managing the seas around Member States.

Agricultural ecosystems dominate much of Europe's landscape and biodiversity has fallen significantly in agricultural areas. For example populations of farmland birds have fallen 50 % since 1980. However, examples of positive changes can be seen across Europe. These include reduced nitrogen surpluses due to more careful application of fertilisers and wider uptake of environmentally‑friendly management, such as organic farming and agri-environment schemes, which can support agricultural biodiversity. Recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy have encouraged these new approaches. However, there remains considerable potential to improve management of agricultural areas, to safeguard ecosystem services and integrate biodiversity into agricultural management practices.

Grassland ecosystems in Europe are experiencing a major decline in their biodiversity, such as butterflies. This is mainly caused by habitat loss and degradation due to intensified farming or abandonment of agricultural land. Climate change, air pollution and invasive alien species are also significant threats. Upland grasslands are declining in extent and are in poor condition, with their characteristic biodiversity showing significant and serious decline since 1990. The dry grasslands of Europe, in the Mediterranean and the steppes of eastern Europe are also under threat, mainly from desertification related to unsustainable management practices, exacerbated by climate change. Abandonment of sustainable grazing and traditional hay-making practices are particular problems for these areas.

Urban ecosystems are seldom well integrated into wider biodiversity considerations. Moreover, urbanisation and urban sprawl are significant factors affecting biodiversity in Europe through land-use change. The concept of 'green infrastructure' is gaining recognition in Europe and could strengthen sustainable management of urban and peri-urban natural areas, increasing people's contact with nature, reducing urban stress and helping climate change adaptation.

Successful conservation actions across the region could be expanded and scaled up to address major gaps. However, conservation activities alone are insufficient to address biodiversity loss in the region. One reason is that many of the direct drivers — and all of the indirect drivers — of biodiversity loss emanate from sectors beyond the control of conservation interventions alone.

In recent years, governments have taken steps to increase policy integration and coherence, for example with respect to EU fisheries and agriculture policies. However, these have not been sufficient to stem biodiversity loss. Continuing and deepening the mainstreaming of biodiversity in public and private sector decisions and policies (such as concerning trade, planning, transport, tourism and finance) would help address many of the underlying threats to biodiversity. Recent work to ascribe economic values to biodiversity and ecosystem services in and beyond these sectors can play a vital role in supporting such mainstreaming.

A more integrated approach to biodiversity management across sectors, and across administrative boundaries, at landscape and seascape scales would be an important step forward. This effectively amounts to wider application of the ecosystem-based approach. Efforts to link protected areas to the wider landscape, including through ecological networks and connectivity areas, need to continue with the aim of achieving multifunctional land-use planning at a regional scale.

Communication and education must continue to raise public awareness about biodiversity's importance, its links to livelihoods via ecosystem services, and its ongoing loss. These actions can encourage both individual action to conserve biodiversity and public support for changes in policy and practice.

Key gaps in knowledge remain across Europe, for example regarding the status of specific taxa and habitats (especially in eastern Europe) and interdisciplinary knowledge of the links between biodiversity change, ecosystem services and human well-being. Filling such gaps through further monitoring, research and assessment would enable better decision-making and policies on European biodiversity in the 21st century.

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