State of nature in the EU: more action needed

Six years have passed already since the last state of nature report of the European Environment Agency. Thus, the agency recently published the report for the period of 2013 to 2018. It summarizes the reporting results of the Habitats and Birds Directive of the EU Member States. The collected data serves to identify successes and shortcomings in nature conservation, key pressures and threats, and the restoration needed to further improve the conservation status of targeted habitats and species. Additionally, it investigates how the Natura 2000 network contributes to achieve favorable conservation statuses.

The report’s findings in summary: Despite significant efforts by Member States and some improvements, biodiversity in the EU continues to decline and faces deteriorating trends.

The overall categories of the EU population status of birds and EU conservation status of habitats and species range from unknown to bad to poor to good. Around half of the bird species in the EU have been categorized as good, which is slightly less than during the last reporting period. The proportion of species with poor and bad status, however, has increased by 7 % in the last six years to reach a total of 39 %.

In contrast, only 15 % of habitat assessments have a good conservation status. Overall, 81 % having poor or bad conservation status at EU level. The current habitat trends do not promise a brighter future either. Only 9 % of all habitat assessments with poor or bad conservation status show improvement, while 36 % continue to deteriorate. These trends are especially prevalent in grasslands, dunes, bog, mire and fen habitats, while forests have the most improving trends. In contrast to habitats, the majority of terrestrial species assessments show higher shares of good than bad conservation statuses.

Radosław_Ślusarczyk_Bialowieza_DSCN3442 (Unicode Encoding Conflict).JPG – © European Wilderness Society CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Main threats to the state of nature

The drivers of habitat degradation and species decline are diverse. Agricultural activities such as abandoning extensive management and intensifying management practices, however, are the most common pressure overall. Urbanization is the second largest pressure, while forestry activities are the main pressure on species. Furthermore, pollution of air, water and soil from different origins affects most habitats, particularly in the Atlantic and Continental regions.

Member States have been applying conservation measures to respond to these threats. The good news is, they work! For most habitats and species, there is a positive link between measures taken and a good conservation status. Especially proactive restoration measures have been successful. Thus, these findings highlight the importance of implementing measures that have not yet been taken or scaling up and monitoring those currently being implemented.

The contribution of Natura 2000

The Natura 2000 network plays a key role in achieving a good conservation status for birds, habitats and species. It represents the largest coordinated network of nature conservation areas in the world, covering almost one fifth of the EU′s terrestrial land area and approximately 10 % of its seas. Despite some positive impacts, however, the potential effectiveness of the network has not been achieved. The report concludes that realizing the network′s potential requires an increase:

  • In the adaptive capacity of and functional connectivity between sites
  • Of the level of protection beyond sites
  • In the effectiveness of management and monitoring inside and outside the network

Finally, although some species and habitats show improvements, progress has not been sufficient to meet the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. The new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 strives to be more successful. Its ambitious targets address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, but they need to be accompanied by greater implementation action to be effective. One crucial part is the implementation of effective management, which has been lacking up to date in Natura 2000 sites. The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 includes a specific commitment to “Effectively manage all protected areas, defining clear conservation objectives and measures, and monitoring them appropriately”. We will cover this in detail in the next article about this topic.

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