Europe is losing biodiversity — even in protected areas
The EEA calculates the 'ecological potential' of European landscape by combining various data sets available on protected areas (those designated at country level, the European Union's Natura 2000 sites and others). It is therefore possible to observe how land-cover change and fragmentation by road networks affect Europe's most valuable natural areas. Similar analyses can provide insight into the impact on Europe's biodiversity by other factors such as climate change.
What initial assessments say on Europe's biodiversity
Europe has selected more than 1 000 species and 216 habitats of 'European interest' defined as being important for the continent's biodiversity. Based on the 2007 country reports submitted to the European Commission, a first analysis of the state of conservation for these species and habitats paints a rather disappointing picture.
Only less than half of the protected species and habitats in Europe are considered to be in 'favourable conservation status'. For most of the remaining species and habitats, the conservation status is considered to be either inadequate or bad. Furthermore, for a significant number of species and habitats, the data at hand are simply insufficient to reach any assessment.
The data also confirm the previous findings with regard to land-cover change as set out in the report The European environment — State and Outlook 2005, namely that wetlands, dunes and grasslands are among the less well-preserved habitats. In some cases, this degradation is closely linked to local policies and land management in the surrounding areas.
The picture is nevertheless mixed. Terrestrial habitats in the Alpine and Mediterranean regions, the coastal and marine habitats in Macaronesia (Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands) and the Mediterranean appear to be enjoying the best conservation status.
More information on the state of biodiversity in different biogeographical zones across Europe and in each European country may be obtained from the EEA's Data service.
The biodiversity conservation debate is currently moving from increasing the number of protected sites to the effective management and evaluation of the sites. The fact that biodiversity is being lost even in protected areas means that Europe must work towards maintaining and restoring the 'ecological potential' of what is already under protection, while taking the developments in the wider countryside into account.
Additional efforts to identify gaps in the data and to assess the effectiveness of current policies are already underway. These gaps must be closed in order to develop the required tailor-made solutions responding to each region's specific problems and needs.
European countries are legally bound by international and European requirements, including the EU Habitats Directive, to regularly collect and share data on protected areas. Country information networks, including the EEA's Eionet, are instrumental for the collection of data, which are in turn necessary for European and global assessments.