Personal tools


Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Sound and independent information
on the environment

You are here: Home / Publications / Europe's Environment - The Dobris Assessment / 9. Nature and wildlife

9. Nature and wildlife

Page Last modified 13 Apr 2011, 06:53 PM


From the Atlantic plains to the steppes of the Caspian area and from the Lapland tundra to the Mediterranean maquis, Europe comprises diverse natural and semi-natural habitats. This diversity provides habitats suitable for a large number of animal and plant species some of which are endemic in certain regions. Map 9.1 illustrates how Europe would look without human intervention or environmental changes. Thus, 80 to 90 per cent of the land would be covered by forests. According to an analysis (Ellenberg, 1986), largely based on existing soils, topography and climate, Central and Western Europe would be dominated by deciduous trees, mainly beech (Fagus sylvatica), and oaks (Quercus spp).

Human intervention has resulted in a profound modification of the original landscape, through deforestation, agriculture, drainage of wetlands, coastline and river course modifications, mining, road construction, urbanisation, and so on (see Chapter 8). As a result, many animals and plants have had to find refuge in relatively small enclaves, sometimes only secure in legally designated protection areas. Lowland forests as well as wetlands such as peatlands and reed-swamps have disappeared in particular due to human landuse activities. Although a number of large pristine or quasi-natural areas persist in Nordic and Eastern European countries, human impacts can be felt everywhere to some degree.

In return, humans have created landscapes serving their own needs: grasslands, pastures and croplands, often intermixed with remaining woodlands and lined with hedges and waterways. Large mammals (such as bear, Ursus arctos; wolf, Canis lupus; lynx, Lynx lynx; and bison, Bison bison bonasus) have retreated to remote remnants of their original habitat; others (such as the tarpan, Equus caballus and the saiga, Saiga tatarica) have become extinct. Many species from distant biogeographic regions of Europe have become established in the newly created environment: singing-birds such as the lark (Alauda arvensis), or open-space species like the grey partridge (Perdix perdix) and the hare (Lepus europaeus), are directly associated with agricultural landscapes. Today, the invasion of species as a result of human activities is still continuing and can have negative impacts on native populations, for example, the increase of seagull (Larus spp) and black kite (Milvus migrans) near urban waste deposits, or the spread of exotic species such as Canadian pondweed (Elodea canadensis).

Up until the last century, biological diversity, in terms of habitat types as well as number of species had in general been on the increase in Europe (Kaule, 1986; Cox and Moore, 1973). Now, the trend is reversed: natural habitats are becoming smaller, more fragmented and less able to support wildlife. One crucial phenomenon is the isolation of small populations which are unable to maintain the biologically necessary links to larger gene-pools of the original ecosystem. Hence, the number of endangered species of flora and fauna has increased in many European regions.

This chapter first presents a review of the state of Europe's natural (or quasi-natural) ecosystems, their geographic distribution, trends in the habitats' ecological functions and the main threats. This is followed by an assessment of European fauna and flora as well as of existing and potential nature conservation measures and strategies. An important constraint on this assessment, however, has been the unsatisfactory availability and quality of data concerning the various ecological parameters. Improvement will require internationally harmonised inventories and new scientific approaches.

Download complete chapter in .zip/.htm format: Approx. 4141 Kb



9.1 - Introduction
9.2 - Ecosystems

9.2.1 - Representative sites - Selection criteria

9.2.2 - Information on representative sites
9.2.3 - Interpretation
9.2.4 - Geographic regions
9.2.5 - Forests - Introduction - Boreal region - Atlantic region - Mediterranean region - Central European region - Alluvial forests - Mountain forests - Functions and values - Habitat threats - Representative sites: forests - Criteria for site selection - Interpretation of the data - Conclusions

9.2.6 - Scrubs and grasslands - Introduction - Functions and values - Habitat threats - Represenative sites: scrub and grasslands - Criteria for site selection - Interpretation of the data - Conclusions

9.2.7 - Inland waters: rivers and lakes - Introduction - Ecological functions: rivers - Ecological functions: lakes - Habitat threats: rivers and lakes - Representative sites: rivers and lakes - Criteria for site selection - Interpretation of the data - Conclusions

9.2.8 - Bogs, fens and marshes - Introduction - Functions and values - Habitat threats - Representative sites: bogs, fens and marshes - Criteria for site selection - Interpretation of the data - Conclusions

9.2.9 - Coastal and marine ecosystems - Introduction - The coast - Rocky coasts - Sand dunes and mudflats - Delta areas - Estuaries - Lagoons - The marine environment - Functions and values - Habitat threats - Algal blooms and pollution of the seas - Overfishing - Saltmarshes: overgrazing - Estuaries and deltas: contamination - Representative sites: coastal and marine - Criteria for site selection - Interpretation of the data - Conclusions

9.2.10 - Mountains: rocks, screes, inland dunes and caves - Introduction - Habitat types - Habitat threats - Representative sites: mountains - Criteria for site selection - Interpretation of the data - Conclusions

9.2.11 - Deserts and tundras - Deserts - Functions and values - Habitat threats and representative sites - Tundras - Habitat threats and representative sites -Conclusions

9.2.12 - Agricultural and urban ecosystems
9.2.13 - Conclusions

9.3 - Fauna and Flora

9.3.1 - Introduction
9.3.2 - Mammmals - Terrestrial mammals - Aquatic mammals - Conclusions

9.3.3 - Birds - Habitat threats - Conclusions

9.3.4. - Amphibians and reptiles - Threats - Most endangered species - Conclusions

9.3.5 - Fish - Threats - Conclusions

9.3.6 - Invertebrates - Introduction - Functions and values - Status - Threats - Conclusions

9.3.7 - Higher plants - Introduction - Boreal and Arctic Europe - Central and Atlantic Europe - Southern Europe - Aquatic vegetation - Conclusions

9.3.8 - Introduced species
9.3.9 - Wildlife trade
9.3.10 - Conclusions

9.4 - Nature Conservation

9.4.1 - National action for nature conservation - The protection of species - The protection of sites

9.4.2 - International action for nature conservation - Global initiatives affecting Europe - The Ramsar Convention - The World Heritage Convention - CITES - The Bonn Convention - Biosphere Reserves - Convention on Biological Diversity - European initiatives - The Berne Convention - Biogenetic Reserves - The European Diploma - The Bird Directive - The Habitats Directive - Regional initiatives - Transfrontier parks

9.4.3 - New initiatives - Convention on biological diversity - Natura 2000 - European Ecological Network (EECONET) - IUCN Action Plan for Protected Areas - Integration of nature conservation into planning and other sectors

9.5 - Conclusions

Geographic coverage

Document Actions


European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100