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Nature protection and biodiversity (Germany)

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German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

Worldwide there is a dramatic reduction in biological diversity, largely caused by human activity. To stop this, the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Article 6 of the CBD requires the Contracting Parties to develop national strategies, plans or programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity or to adapt existing ones. At the Rio + 10 follow-up conference 2002, heads of state decided that there must be a significant reduction in biodiversity loss worldwide by 2010.

Acting under its obligation under Article 6 of the CBD, the Federal Government adopted the National Biodiversity Strategy in 2007. This sets out a comprehensive, cross-sectoral action programme for the whole of society, covering all the issues that are relevant to biodiversity.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original


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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 key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

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).

Substance discharges

Airborne discharges

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’).

Water-borne discharges

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’).

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

National Strategy on Biological Diversity

The Federal Government adopted the National Strategy on Biological Diversity, a comprehensive strategy for the whole of society to implement the UN Biodiversity Convention, on 7 November 2007. The strategy has its roots in the National Sustainability Strategy and is linked to other EU and relevant national sectoral strategies. It sets out around 330 practical objectives and 430 measures encouraging various state and non-state stakeholders to take action. Many of the objectives are quantified and around a third of all the objectives are to be achieved by specific target dates between now and 2020, or in one case 2050. The strategy also contains a set of indicators.

Following a phase of publicising the strategy nationwide, a process of dialogue has now been launched with the stakeholders involved to form a basis for putting it into practice.

Selected objectives of the National Strategy on Biological Diversity

Protecting biodiversity

  • By 2010 the proportion of critical and endangered species should have fallen.

  • By 2020 species for which Germany has a particular conservation responsibility should have achieved viable population sizes. By 2020 the threat status of the majority of species on the Red List should have improved by one level.

  • By 2010 Germany should have a representative and functional ecological network covering 10 % of its territory. This should be capable of providing permanent protection for the habitats of wild species and should form an integral part of a European ecological network.

  • By 2020 nature should be able to develop undisturbed and according to its own laws across 2 % of Germany, and areas of wilderness should be developing.

  • By 2020 forests that have developed naturally should account for 5 % of woodlands.

  • By 2020 watercourses and their water meadows should be protected, so that their typical diversity as a natural area is guaranteed; river flood plains should be extended by at least 10 % by 2020.

  • By 2020, the water regime in intact peatlands should be protected and regenerable peatlands permanently restored.

Using biodiversity sustainably

  • By 2015 the proportion of land used for agro-biotopes valuable for conservation – high-grade grassland and orchard meadows – should have increased by at least 10 % compared with 2005. By 2010, semi-natural landscape elements – such as hedges, borders, field shrubs and small bodies of water – should account for at least 5 % of agricultural areas.

  • The production and use of renewable energies should not come at the expense of biodiversity.

  • By 2020 the additional land taken for human settlement and transport should be no more than 30 ha/day.

  • The current proportion of unfragmented low-traffic areas > 100 km2 should be maintained.

  • By 2020 existing transport routes should no longer cause major adverse effects for the network of linked biotopes. Fragmented areas should be ecologically passable.

  • No imports of illegally felled wood or wood products into Germany in compliance with WTO requirements, by 2010 at the latest.

Environmental influences on biodiversity

  • Reductions in surplus of nitrogen in the overall balance to 80 kg/ha by 2010; try to achieve a further reduction by 2015.

  • By 2020 cultivation-related discharges of substances into soils used in agriculture and forestry will be reduced.

Achieving these will require a wide range of measures. The following section therefore gives a short description of some of the basic instruments now being used.

Conservation areas

International conservation areas

Biosphere reserves:

UNESCO has recognised 15 biosphere reserves in Germany. The purpose of these is to promote and provide good examples of a balanced relationship between man and the biosphere.

Wetlands of international importance –Ramsar sites:

Germany currently has 34 Ramsar sites with a total area of around 870 000 ha. More than 80 % is tidal flats and open water areas along the North and Baltic Seas. On average 40 % of the total area is protected as nature conservation areas or national parks.

Special Protection Areas under Article 4 of the Birds Directive:

By 2009, 738 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) had been registered under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) by the Länder or in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by the federal authorities. Some 3.99 million ha, around 11.2 % of Germany’s land area, in addition to around 1.98 million ha of tidal flats and open water areas are designated as European SPAs for birds.

Protected areas under the Habitats Directive:

The list of Natura 2000 designated areas shows how many sites are protected as part of the implementation of the two EU conservation directives – the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. These sites serve to protect the types of habitat listed in Annexes I and II of the Habitats Directive and species of Community importance, as well as the species of birds listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive and other migratory species regularly found in the Member States. In Germany 91 Annex I habitats and 137 Annex II species under the Habitats Directive and around 100 Annex I species under the Birds Directive occur. 15.3 % of Germany’s territory has been designated as Natura 2000 sites. In the EEZ, ten sites covering 1 039 270 ha or 31.4 % have been designated. Thus, the designation of Natura 2000 sites has been completed in Germany.

National conservation areas

Protecting endangered sites that are worth conserving is one of Germany’s main nature conservation instruments. The Federal Nature Conservation Act (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz, BNatSchG) contains different categories of protected area, each with its own statutory requirements – nature conservation area (NCAs), national parks (NPs), national natural monuments, biosphere reserves, nature parks, landscape conservation areas and biotopes with statutory protection under Articles 23-30 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act, as well as Natura 2000 protected areas under Article 32 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act.

In NCAs and NPs strict rules apply to ensure the conservation and development of rare and threatened species and biotopes. NPs are large scale landscapes: their aim is to ensure that natural processes take place with as little disruption as possible.

The area of strictly protected sites (NPs and NCAs) grew from 1 129 225 ha in 2000 (3.2 % of the national territory) to 1 455 695 ha (4.1 %) in 2008. The increase has been largely down to national implementation of the Natura 2000 network. 15.3 % of Germany’s territory has been designated as Natura 2000 sites. These sites are successively coming under protection. In accordance to the relevant conservation objectives not all of them require strict protection as NCA or NP. However, given that the protection of Natura 2000 sites is still ongoing, the area of strictly protected sites is likely to increase.

Nature conservation areas:

At the end of 2008, Germany had 8 413 nature conservation areas covering 1 271 582 ha –3.6 % of national territory, excluding marine sites – and increase of 35 % since 1997.

National parks:

Germany currently has 14 NPs. The total area increased from 947 859 ha in 2002 to 962 051 ha in 2009, largely as a result of the designation of Eifel and Kellerwald-Edersee NPs in 2004 .The total area of NPs represents around 0.54 % of the national terrestrial area excluding the tidal flats and open waters of the North and Baltic Seas.

Biosphere reserves:

Most of Germany’s 16 biosphere reserves have been designated under the law of the Länder. Some, such as the Wadden Sea reserve, almost completely overlap NPs and are thus protected, others are protected as NCAs and landscape conservation areas (LCAs). Biosphere reserves cover 1 873 911 ha, or 3.4 % of land area, excluding the tidal flats and open waters of the North and Baltic Seas. Fifteen are UNESCO biosphere reserves and thus, as part of the world network, are involved in implementing the Man and the Biosphere programme.

Landscape conservation areas:

LCAs are legally designated areas where, under Article 26(1) of the Federal Nature Conservation Act, ‘special protection must be given to nature and landscape’. Compared with NCAs, these are usually extensive sites with less strict protection rules. At the end of 2008 there were 7 203 LCAs with an overall area of around 9.9 million ha, 28 % of Germany’s statistical territory.

Nature parks:

Nature parks both protect and conserve cultural landscapes with their biotope and species diversity and provide facilities for recreation, nature- and environmentally-friendly tourism and sustainable nature- and environmentally-friendly land use. According to information from the Länder in January 2010 there were 100 nature parks, with a total area of over 9.2 million ha, or 26.0 % of Germany’s land area. The area had increased by 2.3 million ha between 1998 and 2009. Around 60 % of their area is now classified as conservation area, thereof around 4.7 % as NCA.

Species conservation under the Federal Nature Conservation Act and the Federal Species Conservation Regulation

Special conservation rules for some of native species are being introduced at the national level on the basis of the Federal Nature Conservation Act. The species are listed in Annex 1 of the Federal Species Conservation Regulation, where they are classified as specially or strictly protected.

In principle all animals and plants enjoy general protection against unnecessary disturbance. Further-reaching instruments apply to specially protected species – bans on removal, access and disturbance; bans on owning and marketing; certification requirements proving lawful acquisition; restrictions on ownership; notification, record-keeping and marking requirements; confiscation and seizure procedures irrespective of fault.

In providing this protection the Federal Nature Conservation Act is also implementing requirements under the following EU directives and regional or international conventions:

– the Birds Directive (see below),

– the Habitats Directive (see below),

– the Seal Pups Directive (83/129/EEC),

– the Bern Convention,

– CITES Convention (see below).

Under the 2010 Federal Nature Conservation Act, special emphasis is also placed on prevention so that ecosystems, biotopes and species do not come under threat from invasive species. If invasive species arrive in Germany, they are to be prevented from becoming established or spreading through early detection and immediate intervention.

Comprehensive instruments and approaches

Status and implementation of landscape planning

Landscape planning is the key precautionary instrument for conservation and landscape management in Germany. Its role is to identify, define and establish conservation and landscape management objectives, nationwide needs and measures at various planning and landscape levels in landscape programmes, framework landscape plans and landscape plans. It is thus the main instrument for bringing together and coordinating nature and landscape conservation concerns geared towards the conservation, management and development of nature and the landscape, such as linked biotopes, Natura 2000, the relinking of habitats or precautionary planning for recreation sites.

Landscape planning also provides basic conservation principles and standards for the site-specific management of sustainable land use and for assessing the environmental friendliness. It is thus also an important instrument for influencing plans, decisions and uses in other areas of policy and ensures that biodiversity concerns are integrated in other sectors.

Status and implementation of the Impact Mitigation Regulation

The purpose of the Impact Mitigation Regulation nationwide is to prioritise the prevention of major damage to natural balance, landscape and biodiversity. Where this is not possible, priority must be given to natural mitigation and replacement measures to offset the damage. In national terms the Impact Mitigation Regulation has been applied successfully for more than 30 years as an instrument of nature conservation.

Maintenance and defragmentation of habitat networks – the German Defragmentation Programme

One of the most important threats caused by the transport network is the fragmentation of the existing habitat network. An integrative (geographical) information system of habitat networks (biotope systems of forest, wet, and dry biotopes) and a network for silvicolous larger mammals (Federal mammal network) was developed in order to mitigate further threats caused by the planning of new roads. Based on these data the most important conflict areas in the legal planning process of new roads can be indentified and mitigated.

Because of a lack of legal frameworks to defragment the existing road network build in the last century, priority sites for measures to overcome road-related barriers were identified in a rule based manner by using the integrative (geographical) information system of habitat networks and Federal mammal network. Founded on these results the German Defragmentation Program was developed. It is intended to implement this program in 2010.

Ecological networks

Biodiversity cannot be conserved just by protecting individual habitats, it also requires the protection and (re-)establishment of ecological networks. This requires implementation at all planning levels – international, national, Land, regional, local. Elements of regional ecological networks and locally interlinked habitats must support and supplement the system of ecological networks at national and international level and in the Länder. Implementation is primarily the responsibility of the Länder.

The development of an overarching ecological network across all Länder is an important issue in the National Biodiversity Strategy. On the basis of the provisions of the Federal Nature Conservation Act on the ecological network and technical criteria for identifying nationally important elements of the ecological network developed by a working group of the agencies for nature conservation of the Länder together with the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, existing sites have been identified in forests, open country and watercourses. In addition nationally and internationally important corridors in Germany and the development sites needed to guarantee a functional ecological network are currently being identified at a national level.

Federal Government support instruments

With chance.natur, the programme of aid for nationally representative large-scale nature conservation projects, the Federal Government has been making an important contribution to protecting Germany’s natural heritage since 1979 and is also helping to implement international conventions on nature conservation. Up to now more than 70 projects have received aid of more than € 390 million and currently around € 14 million per year is available for this programme.

Innovative, practical and widely usable nature conservation concepts can be tested as part of trial and development (T+D) projects. The Federal Government provide scientific back-up for these projects, which should ensure that they produce sound recommendations and successful approaches that are widely transferable. Since the start in 1987 around € 120 million has been provided for more than 90 projects and currently the T+D programme has an annual budget of around € 3 million.

(Selected) Sources:

Binot, M., Bless, R., Boye, P., Gruttke, H. & Pretscher, P. (eds.): Rote Liste gefährdeter Tiere Deutschlands. - Bonn-Bad Godesberg (Federal Agency for Nature Conservation), Schriftenreihe für Landschaftspflege und Naturschutz 55: 434 pp.

Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (ed.) (2008): Daten zur Natur 2008 - Bonn-Bad Godesberg: 368 pp.

Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (ed.) (2009): Rote Liste gefährdeter Tiere, Pflanzen und Pilze Deutschlands. Band 1: Wirbeltiere. - Bonn-Bad Godesberg (Federal Agency for Nature Conservation), Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt 70 (1): 386 pp.

Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety (BMU) (ed.) (2009): Bericht der Bundesregierung zur Lage der Natur in der 16. Legislaturperiode – Bonn: 72 pp.

Riecken, U., Finck, P., Raths, U., Schröder, E. & Ssymank, A. (2006): Rote Liste der gefährdeten Biotoptypen Deutschlands. Zweite fortgeschrittene Fassung 2006 – Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt 34, Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), Bonn-Bad Godesberg


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