Nature protection and biodiversity - State and impacts (Germany)

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SOER Common environmental theme from Germany
Nature and biodiversity Nature and biodiversity
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German Federal Environment Agency
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German Federal Environment Agency
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23 Nov 2010
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German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

Germany has around 48 000 species of animals and 24 000 species of plants and fungi and has special global responsibility for endemic species, those of which a large proportion of the world population are found in Germany, or which are globally endangered. This applies, for instance, to 259 (6.3 %) of the fern and flowering plants species and to 18 (21 %) mammals.

Germany’s Red Lists assess the threat level according to the size of the population and how it is changing. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (Bundesamt für Naturschutz) is to produce up-to-date figures for these Red Lists by 2011. Volume 1 (vertebrates) was published at the end of 2009.

Threatened species

The 1998 German Red List covers all vertebrates and selected groups of invertebrates, assessing the threat level to more than 16 000 of the 48 000 or so native animal species.

The updated Red Lists for vertebrates, published in 2009, looks at less than 1 % of the species in Germany. These thus represent just a small section of Germany’s biodiversity, but they tend to be the ones that are the subject of special conservation measures – hunting bans, nest monitoring, bat roosting boxes in houses, amphibian tunnels, etc. A comparison of short- and long-term trends shows that the populations of many species have stabilised or in some cases increased, which may be the result of successful conservation. However, urgent action is still needed for the many species are still in steady decline.

Reptiles are the most highly endangered group of vertebrates, with > 60% of species and subspecies under threat. In all the other vertebrate groups fewer than 40 % of taxa are endangered (Categories 1, 2, 3 and G).

Among ferns and flowering plants, of the 3 000 or so species surveyed 1996 26.8 % were endangered and 1.6% extinct, while among mosses 34.5 % of the 1 100 or so species were endangered and 4.8 % extinct. New figures will be available in 2011 with the updated Red Lists for plants and fungi.

Invasive species

In Germany 264 non-native species of animals and 609 non-native species of plants are currently classified as established. Around 5 % are invasive, threatening biological diversity by competing for habitat or resources, transferring diseases or altering the gene pool through hybridisation – examples include herbaceous knotweeds. With climate change non-native species are expected to spread further and this, together with the introduction of new species, means that there will be an even greater threat from invasive species.

 Threatened biotope types

The Red List of endangered biotope types documents the threat status and change in Germany, with a particular view to biotope conservation and site-specific planning. According to current figures there were 690 biotopes in Germany in 2006, excluding purely technical ones such as roads, buildings and landfill sites. Of these 72.5 % are classified as endangered (Categories 0-3), and two have already been completely destroyed.

Figure 1. Endangered biotopes, 2006

The proportion of immediately threatened biotope types (Categories 1 and 1-2) has fallen from 15.0% in 1994 to 13.8 %, a clear sign that the conservation measures are beginning to work. However, heavily endangered and endangered habitats have increased proportionately – Categories 2 and 2-3: from 32.7 % to 34.6 %; Category 3: from 20.8 % to 23.8 %. This means that certain biotopes classified as not threatened in 1994 are now under threat.

Sustainability indicator for species diversity

The sustainability indicator for species diversity, made up of six sub-indicators for farmland, forests, settlements, inland waters, coast/sea and Alps, is a useful source of information on the status of and changes to nature and the landscape in Germany (Figure 4).

In 1990 the species diversity indicator value was well below osethose reconstructed for 1970 and 1975. Since 1990, however, the indicator value has barely changed, and between 1999 and 2008 it has remained flat. In 2008 it stood at around 69 % of the target value for 2015. If this trend continues the target will not be achieved without considerable efforts from central government, the Länder and local authorities in as many areas of policy as possible.

The main causes of the decline in biodiversity are the intensification of agricultural and forest use, landscape fragmentation and urban sprawl, the sealing of land and discharges such as acidifying substances and fertilisers (see Chapter 3). In settlements the loss of near-natural areas and village structures as a result of construction is having a negative impact. Threats to coastal habitats include disruption caused by greater leisure use and the building of such structures as coastal defences. In forests, on the other hand, the promotion of semi-natural management is having a positive effect on population trends.

Figure 2. Sustainability indicator for species diversity (Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, 2010)

Conservation status of habitat types and species under the Habitats Directive in Germany

In December 2007 the national report under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive was officially forwarded to the European Commission. This had been prepared by the federal and Länder authorities working closely together, and, for the first time, provided a comprehensive overview of the conservation status of the 91 German habitat types and 230 species listed under the Habitats Directive.

Figure 3. Biogeographical regions in Germany (Source: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation)

The results show that the status of around a quarter of the species and habitat types covered by the Habitats Directive is favourable, confirming that the national implementation of EU’s conservation policy is beginning to bear fruit. However, the status of the majority of many habitats and species is also still poor.

Figure 4. Conservation status of habitat types and species covered by the Habitats Directive in Germany’s three biogeographical regions

Biological water quality of watercourses

Clean watercourses are enormously important for conserving biodiversity. Rivers and streams contain many species and habitats that are very sensitive to pollution and changes in water quality.

Biological water quality describes the levels of biodegradable pollutants in watercourses. The main basis for determining this is the standardised measurement of the occurrence and frequency of certain indicator organisms that break down substances ­ (bacteria, fungi, entomostracans and insect larvae).

The biological water quality has improved steadily – the proportion of watercourse sections with a water quality of Grade II or above increased from 47 % in the period up to 1995 to 65 % up to 2000 and to 74 % up to 2006. The main reason has been the improvement in wastewater treatment by municipal plants and industry since the 1970s. In particular the proportion of critically, heavily, very heavily or excessively polluted watercourse sections has fallen. However, the water quality of watercourses continues to be adversely affected by diffuse discharges especially in areas with intensive arable and livestock farming.

Impact of climate change

As well as causing economic and social problems, climate change is also going to have a serious impact on biodiversity. The first effects on flora and fauna can already be seen in Germany where, since the late 1980s, spring phenology, marked by the onset of apple blossom, has begun noticeably earlier.

The direct impact of climate change has also long been evident in bird migration. For instance, the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), like many other short- and medium-range migrants, has been returning to its breeding grounds several days earlier over the last three decades.

In autumn, however, there is no clear trend of the phenology phases becoming later.

The effects of the shifts in phenology phases on animal and plant populations have only just begun to be understood. While some bird species breed more successfully as a result of shorter winters, for example, the change in timing can have a negative impact on populations of plant species and their pollinators or predators and on predator-prey relationships.


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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