Unsustainable farming and forestry, urban sprawl and pollution are the top pressures to blame for a drastic decline in Europe’s biodiversity, threatening the survival of thousands of animal species and habitats. Moreover, European Union (EU) nature directives and other environmental laws still lack implementation by Member States. Most protected habitats and species are not in good conservation status and much more must be done to reverse the situation, according to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) ‘State of nature in the EU’ report.
“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. 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”, says Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director.
The EEA report shows positive developments in conservation efforts. Both the number and area of sites protected under the Natura 2000 network have increased over the last 6 years and the EU met the global targets with around 18 % of its land area and nearly 10 % of marine area protected. However, the overall progress is not enough to achieve the aims of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. Most protected habitats and species have either a poor or a bad conservation status and many of them continue to decline, according to the EEA assessment. Of the three main groups studied, habitats and birds lag particularly far behind while the group of non-bird species nearly met its target.
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “This State of Nature assessment is the most comprehensive health check of nature ever undertaken in the EU. It shows very clearly that we are still losing our vital life support system. As much as 81 % of habitats at EU level are in poor condition, with peatlands, grasslands and dune habitats deteriorating the most. 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”.
Top threats to nature
Intensive agriculture, urban sprawl and unsustainable forestry activities are the top reported pressures to habitats and species, the EEA report says. Pollution of air, water and soil also impacts habitats, as does 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. Abandonment of agricultural land contributes to the continued decline of semi-natural habitats, like grasslands, and their species, like butterflies and farmland birds.
Source: European Environment Agency (EEA)