EU "State of Nature" study finds little progress on the environment

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 20 May 2015 13:20, Last updated: 2015-05-20
EU nature report reveals the threats facing the environment
EU nature report reveals the threats facing the environment

The latest report on the state of nature across Europe reveals little improvement on the environment.

The findings show that the majority of birds have a secure status, and some species and habitats are doing better. Targeted conservation actions have brought successes, but a much greater effort is required for the situation to improve significantly.

Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said: “This report is significant and timely. While it shows a mixed picture overall, it clearly demonstrates that efforts to improve vulnerable ecosystems can be highly effective.

“It also underlines the scale of the challenges that remain. We have to rise to those challenges, as the health of our nature is linked to the health of Europe's people, and to our economy.”

Today’s report is the first assessment to cover both the Birds and Habitats Directives, and it results from the largest collaborative data-collection and assessment of nature ever undertaken across the Member States in the period 2007-2017.

Looking at birds, the report concludes that more than half of all wild bird species assessed (52 %) have a secure status. However, around 17 % of the species are still threatened and another 15 % are near threatened, declining or depleted. This includes once common farmland species like the Skylark, Alauda arvensis and the Black Tailed Godwit Limosa limosa.

Looking at other species protected under the Habitats Directive, almost a quarter (23 %) have a favourable assessment. However, over half (60 %) are still in an unfavourable status (with 42 % considered to be unfavourable-inadequate and 18 % unfavourable-bad). Grasslands, wetlands and dune habitats are of particular concern.

Habitat types, on the whole, show a worse conservation status and trend than species, as only 16 % of habitat-assessments are favourable. The overwhelming majority of habitats have an unfavourable status, with 47 % of the assessments being unfavourable-inadequate and 30 % being unfavourable-bad.

The main threats to habitats identified are certain agricultural practices (including modification of cultivation practices, over-grazing, abandonment of pastoral systems, fertilisation and pesticides), and human-induced “modifications of natural conditions” (mostly relating to hydrological changes).

The report also presents success stories of targeted conservation action led by the EU. The Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus and the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala both have EU Species Action Plans, and benefitted from the EU LIFE Fund, and their numbers have seen substantial improvements.

This is the second conservation status assessment under the Habitats Directive, enabling the first comparative EU level assessment to be made. An added advantage is that significant improvements have been made in the knowledge on the status of and trends for protected species and habitats since the last reporting period.

Moreover, there has been a similar reporting exercise under the Birds Directive, enabling a comprehensive status and trends assessment of all species covered by EU nature legislation to be made for the first time.

The report concluded: “Some species and habitats covered by the legislation are showing signs of recovery, as illustrated by success stories in different parts of Europe. There are clear indications that the Natura 2000 network is playing a major role in stabilising habitats and species with an unfavourable status, especially where the necessary conservation measures have been implemented on an adequate scale.

“However, the overall status of species and habitats in the EU has not changed significantly in the period 2007-2017, with many habitats and species showing an unfavourable status and a significant proportion of them deteriorating still further. Much stronger conservation efforts are therefore needed to achieve the EU 2020 biodiversity Target 1.

“Some species groups, such as freshwater fish and habitats such as grasslands or wetlands, are of particular concern.

“Significant pressures and threats from changes in agricultural practices and continuing changes in hydrological conditions, as well as over-exploitation and pollution of the marine environment, need to be tackled to reverse these trends.

“The effective management and restoration of the Natura 2000 areas is central to achieving the objectives of the directives. Despite progress in establishing the network, insufficient progress has been made in introducing conservation objectives and measures that fully respond to the needs of the protected habitats and species.

“Only 50 % of sites were reported as having comprehensive management plans by end 2017. EU funding instruments, which provide opportunities to support the management and restoration of Natura 2000, were not sufficiently used.”

In the framework of REFIT (the Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme), the Commission recently initiated a ‘fitness check’ of the nature directives to assess whether these directives are fit for purpose. The fitness check will look at a wide range of issues related to the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and EU added value of the legislation.

This State of Nature report will provide important input to the fitness check, especially as regards the effectiveness of the legislation. The results will also feed into the mid-term review of the Biodiversity Strategy.”

Commenting on today’s report, Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said: “Europe’s wildlife and natural environment are under huge pressure.

“We cannot afford to ignore the growing impact of threats, such as intensive farming, on our birds, bees and butterflies.

“The European Commission must abandon plans to weaken its nature directives. This report confirms that European laws play a crucial role in defending our most precious habitats and wildlife, and must be enforced across the EU.

“A thriving natural environment and our own wellbeing go hand in hand: if we don’t heed the warnings in this report, the consequences will be costly for us all.”

The EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which is 18% of the EU’s land area and is the largest network of protected areas in the world, has also had an important positive influence on the conservation status of species and habitat types.

Every six years, Member States report on the conservation status of species and habitat types protected under the EU Directives. The report covers all wild bird species (about 240), 231 habitat types and more than 1200 other species of EU interest.



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