Save the environment
Many of Europe’s most vulnerable species and habitats under threat
The Commission has published a report on the conservation status of over 1150 species and 200 habitat types protected under EU law. Only a small proportion of these vulnerable habitats and species have achieved good conservation status and Member States will need to strengthen their efforts if this situation is to improve. The report, which covers 2001-2006 and is the most comprehensive survey of EU biodiversity ever undertaken, provides an invaluable reference point for measuring future trends. Grasslands, wetlands and coastal habitats face the greatest threats, mainly due to the decline of traditional patterns of agriculture, tourist development and climate change. The picture is not uniformly gloomy, however, and some larger, emblematic species such as the wolf, Eurasian lynx, beaver and otter are beginning to re-colonize parts of their traditional range. Many Member States invested heavily to carry out the detailed monitoring, and despite a number of gaps, the reporting has been a great success.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “We are committed to halting the loss of biodiversity in Europe and today’s report leaves no room for complacency. Bringing vulnerable habitats and species back to a good status takes time and considerable effort. EU nature legislation and the Natura 2000 network are the key elements in achieving our objectives for biodiversity protection in the EU. Now that the terrestrial part of the network is nearly complete, we can expect significant improvements over the next 10 to 20 years.”
“Europe’s biodiversity is still under serious pressure and faces grave risks. Although we will miss the target of halting the biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010, some progress is being made. As the Commissioner said recently in Athens, the post-2010 target should be ambitious, measurable and clear. It should maintain the emphasis given to the intrinsic value of biodiversity while also recognising the value of healthy and resilient ecosystems and the services they provide”, sa id Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency.
Some important yet limited successes
The report covers 216 types of habitats, and contains information about some 1182 species. Although the overall message is that many species and habitat types have not achieved good conservation status, there are indications that protection measures are having an impact and that some habitat types and species are starting to recover. Species such as the brown bear, the wolf and the beaver are recovering and re-establishing themselves in many areas. This means that the right habitats are available, and that negative pressures such as hunting and pollution have been reduced.
Grasslands, wetlands and coasts particularly at risk
The overall status of grassland, wetland and coastal habitat types is particularly poor. Grasslands are mainly associated with traditional patterns of agriculture, which are disappearing throughout the EU, and the conservation status of all habitat types associated with agriculture is significantly worse than other types of habitat: only 7% of such assessments are favourable, compared to 21% for ‘non-agricultural’ habitats This is due to shifts towards more intensive agriculture, abandonment of the land and poor land management. Wetlands are being converted to other uses, and are also suffering the effects of climate change, as are habitats associated with mountain glaciers. Coastal habitats are under increasing pressure from tourism.
Overall, some 13% of regional habitat assessments and 27% of regional species assessments were reported as ‘unknown’. The number of ‘unknown’ classifications was particularly high for species found in southern Europe, with Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Portugal indicating ‘unknown’ for more than 50% of the species reported in their territories.
The marine environment poses a particular problem, with 57% of the marine species assessments and about 40% of the marine habitats assessments classed as ‘unknown’.
Background: The Article 17 report
Article 17 of the Habitats Directive obliges Member States to submit information on implementation every six years. For the 2001-2006 reporting period, the reports, for the first time, contained assessments of the status of the species and habitats covered by the Directive and found within the territory of each country. The European Environment Agency used the reports to produce an integrated assessment for each geographic region, habitat type and species. The Commission then drew on those assessments for a composite report as required under the Directive.
The Habitats Directive
Europe’s nature is protected by two key pieces of legislation, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. The latter obliges Member States to maintain a number of designated habitat types and species at favourable status at selected sites agreed with the Commission. Together with sites from the Birds Directive, these sites then become part of Natura 2000, the biggest ecological network in the world. Nearly 22 000 sites are designated under the Habitats Directive, covering some 13.3 % of EU territory. In total, the Natura 2000 network contains over 25 000 sites (Birds and Habitats Directives combined) and covers around 17 % of EU territory.
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