Nature in the EU: ‘Could do better’
The latest State of Nature in the EU report reveals the conservation status of plants, animals and habitats across the European Union. It looks at the impact of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, and whether the EU is on track to meet its target to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services by 2020.
Every six years, Member States report to the European Commission on the conservation status of over 2000 species and habitats covered by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. The data is pooled to see how well nature is faring across the EU.
Karmenu Vella, Environment Commissioner.
Findings from the latest reporting period, 2007-2012, have now been published in two separate reports by the Commission and the European Environment Agency. They provide an insight into whether the EU’s principal nature protection legislation – the Birds and Habitats Directives – are effective. They also serve as an early warning as to whether the EU is on track to meet its commitment to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020.
“The results of this assessment provide vital knowledge that will inform and improve our capacity to act,” said Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.
The data on wild bird species reveal that just over half are faring well, enjoying a ‘secure’ status.
Less good is the news that more than three in ten species are threatened, near-threatened, declining or depleted. These include the once common farmland species like the skylark, Alauda arvensis and the black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa.
Among bird species that are not secure but are increasing, several have been the focus of targeted conservation measures. The bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus, and the white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala, for example, have benefited from substantial support for their conservation under the EU LIFE fund.
The outlook for species protected under the Habitats Directive, and for the habitats themselves, is causing concern – more than half (60 %) of species have an unfavourable conservation status, while 23 % enjoy a favourable status.
The future looks brighter for several that were struggling, however. The otter, Lutra lutra, has made a steady recovery in the Atlantic region over the last 20 years, thanks to protection from hunting and better water quality. Likewise, the status of the Large Copper butterfly, Lycaena dispar, is improving across the Continental region, thanks to targeted conservation measures.
- The Birds Directive covers all wild bird species – around 450 species –naturally present in the EU.
- The Habitats Directive protects over 1200 other rare, threatened or endemic species of wild animals and plants, often referred to as “species of European importance”. It also protects around 230 natural and semi-natural habitat types.
- The Natura 2000 network – the largest network of protected areas in the world – comprises over 27 000 sites, covering almost a fifth of the EU’s land area and a large area of its seas.
- The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy aims to halt the loss of biodiversity and improve the state of Europe’s species, habitats and ecosystems by 2020. The Strategy sets specific goals for improved status of habitats and species at EU level.
When it comes to habitats, the overwhelming majority (77 %) are assessed as either inadequate or bad. Among all the habitat groups, dunes, wetlands and grasslands are doing very badly, while rocky habitats are faring best.
Impact of Natura 2000
The State of Nature report attempts to gauge the influence of the EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas on the conservation status of species and habitat types.
The network continues to have a major role to play. Covering almost a fifth of the EU’s land area and a significant part of its marine waters, the effective management and restoration of Natura 2000 sites is central to achieving the objectives set out in the Directives.
As expected, there is a positive correlation between the level of Natura 2000 coverage and conservation status trends for habitats and species with an unfavourable status.
However, to have any real impact, the Natura 2000 network needs to be effectively managed. Only 50 % of the sites were reported as having comprehensive management plans. The uptake of funds for conservation has also been relatively limited. Greater efforts will be needed for significant improvements to be achieved.
Looking to the future
The State of Nature report provides an important snapshot of the current situation for species and habitat types protected under the EU nature Directives. It reveals that, while there is still a long way to go to reach the 2020 target, the Directives are managing to “hold the line” across a significant part of Europe’s biodiversity. Some of the species and habitats protected by the Directives are beginning to show modest signs of improvement.
However, the overall EU status of species and habitats has not changed significantly over the last six years, with many maintaining their unfavourable status and a significant number continuing to decline.