The objective of 'managing natural resources more responsibly: to protect and restore habitats and natural systems and halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010' was first adopted by the EU in the EU Strategy for Sustainable Development (2001). As a consequence, the conservation of biodiversity is one of the four main issues to be tackled, together with climate change, environment and health and quality of life, and natural resources and waste, within the 6th environmental action programme 'Our Future, Our Choice', adopted in 2002.
In Europe, more than on any other continent, the influence of human activity has shaped biodiversity over time, with settled agriculture and animal husbandry spreading from the south-east to the north-west between 10 000 and 5 000 years ago. Landscapes in Europe were relatively stable until the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the past two centuries. Since then, and even more since the 1950s, dramatic changes in land use, intensification of agriculture, urbanisation, land abandonment and movement to towns and cities have led to the widespread collapse of the socio-economic systems that supported these diverse systems of land use.
While some species populations in Europe are increasing, many others are declining. The most vulnerable are the species at the top of food chains, such as large carnivores, endemic local species (species found only in one geographical area), species with chronically small populations, migratory species, and specialist species. However, several species that were considered threatened by extinction, such as the beaver, the otter, vultures and many raptors, are now showing stable or even positive trends in certain parts of their distribution, as a result of protection and restoration measures.
Land use in Europe continues to change, but not on the scale of recent decades. Land is becoming a scarcer resource: 800 000 ha of Europe's land cover was converted to artificial surfaces between 1990 and 2000, taking over agricultural and natural areas, in particular wetlands.
Responses in nature conservation policies are positive as the total area covered by nationallydesignated areas by European countries has increased during recent years. The Natura2000 site designations have contributed to a direct increase in the total area designated for in situ conservation in EU-15 countries. The level of sufficiency in designating Natura2000 sites under the habitats directive is high for almost all EU-15 countries, but there have been significant delays in putting the network in place.
The generally low rate of implementation of both the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the action plans in Member States was recognised in 2004. The 'final message from Malahide' presented 18 priority objectives for halting the loss of biodiversity, many of which express the need for sectoral considerations and the integration of biodiversity issues in other policies.
This report assesses farmland, forests, freshwater ecosystems, marine and coastal systems, wetlands of international importance and mountain ecosystems in order to provide evidence of progress — or lack of progress — towards the 2010 target of halting the loss of biodiversity.
Farmland: Progress towards the 2010 target is not apparent and the target is unlikely to be reached without additional integrated policy efforts. In need of specific attention are the targeting and prioritising actions aimed both at the conservation of high nature value farmland and at improving the biodiversity value of intensively-managed farmland.
The most alarming signs of lack of progress are the continuing expansion of intensively-farmed areas at the expense of natural and semi-natural habitats, the reported declining trend in farmland-related species of birds and butterflies, the increasing rates of water utilisation, farm specialisation and intensification of farming practices, the increased presence of invasive alien species in farmland, and the high risk of abandonment of farmland in several parts of Europe.
Forests: There are clear signs of progress in reducing threats to and enhancing the biological diversity of Europe's forests. In most countries, forests are growing older and thus more valuable for biodiversity conservation, and a slightly decreased effect of air pollution has been observed. Conserving biodiversity has been gaining ground within the objectives of forest management, as has certification of the products of sustainably-managed forests.
Several persisting issues of concern include conservation of threatened species that occur in forests, control of increasing invasive alien species, addressing forest fragmentation due to changes in land use, and more efficient control of forest fires.