Nature protection and biodiversity - Drivers and pressures (Germany)
- Nature and biodiversity
Agriculture and forestry and their special significance
Agricultural and forestry use are crucially important for the status of species, biotopes and ecosystems, and are therefore areas in which action is particularly needed to conserve biodiversity.
Around 53 % of the land in Germany is used for agriculture, the largest form of land use. Intensification, particularly in areas with good soil, is threatening conservation, but the discontinued use of farmland in the Central German Uplands (Mittelgebirge) and other areas with less good soils also represents a threat to biodiversity. Here some landscapes and sites of high conservation value are losing that value because agricultural use is not longer maintained. The main factor responsible for this has been the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has encouraged both intensification and land abandonment in recent decades. The agricultural reforms of 2003 and the CAP health check decisions have marked the first steps in giving a more nature-friendly structure. However, the key to conserving and developing biodiversity on the majority of the land in Germany is for the CAP to be given a new, even more nature-friendly direction after 2013. The use of agro-genetic technologies must continue to be subject to environmental sustainability checks in each individual case and must take stronger account of the precautionary principle.
Woods and forests currently cover around 30 % of Germany’s land area, with conifer forests of spruce and pine, as well as other species, accounting for approximately 60 % of the woodland. Some of management methods such as clear cutting, large-scale shelterwood felling have caused problems for conservation, fundamentally changing the woodland’s spatial mix and age structures. Many forestry services, particularly after experiencing storm damage on various occasions, have reacted by changing their approach and shifting to non-coniferuous mixed woodland and more natural management methods. Recently, however, these efforts have begun to falter for various reasons including the greater emphasis on profitability by the reformed forestry services and the increased demand for wood for bioenergy. Further progress must be made in pursuing these conservation efforts. Key elements here are the use of locally endemic and native tree species, an adequate proportions of old and dead wood, effective management of wild fauna and the designation of 5 % of woodland to remain unmanaged, as called for in the National Biodiversity Strategy (National Response).
Air pollution poses a major threat to ecosystems and biodiversity. In the 1970s the cross-border movement of acidifying pollutants – acid rain – demonstrated that international efforts were the only way to fight this. Throughout Europe eutrophication by atmospheric nitrogen discharges constitutes the greatest problem, alongside ozone damage and acidification.
Although the emission of eutrophying pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ammonia, has been significantly reduced, it is still too high when measured against what ecosystems can tolerate in the long term. The sulphur and nitrogen that have accumulated in the soil over past decades will pose a critical threat for years to come (see also ‘Air pollution in Germany’).
The discharge of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) to water bodies has far-reaching effects, such as eutrophication and nitrate pollution of groundwater, surface waters and oceans.
The main sources of water pollution are agriculture, municipal wastewater treatment plants, power stations, transport and industrial plants. However, water pollution caused by wastewater from municipal treatment plants and industry has been considerably reduced in recent years, in part because of changes to the Water Management Act (see also chapter on ‘Fresh water in Germany’).
Increase in settlement and transport area
The area of land used for human settlement and transport in Germany increased by 104 ha/day between 2005 and 2008, though the increase was slower than in the period 2004 to 2007 – 113 ha/day. Much of the land taken was previously farmland (see also the chapter on ‘Land use’).
The growing area taken for settlement and transport in Germany not only means that landscape is constantly being consumed and habitats destroyed, but there are also other indirect effects, such as habitats being fragmented and isolated. Fragmentation impedes and prevents exchanges between populations and, depending on the volume of traffic, can present an insuperable barrier for the species affected (see also the chapter on ‘Land use’).