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Sound and independent information
on the environment


SOER Country

Nature protection and biodiversity (Liechtenstein)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


a) Why should we care about this theme?


Biodiversity is of vital importance for Liechtenstein in several respects. For example, forests protect settlements at the foot of steep slopes from avalanches and landslides. Agricultural production is directly dependent on the condition of the soil, which is influenced by soil organisms. And ecosystem services, such as the provision of drinking water, are indispensable for the population’s well-being. However, Liechtenstein also benefits, in terms of landscape, from the wide variety of habitats that come together in an extremely small area. Proximity to scenic recreation areas is an important location factor for Liechtenstein as a business location. Biological diversity is today endangered by the concomitant effects of the successful economic development of the country, and there is a need for action.



The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011


b) What are the state (S) and impacts (I) related to this theme, including impacts on the natural environment and human health/human well-being, both at national level as well as in transboundary terms?

Despite having a surface area of only 160 km2, Liechtenstein boasts a wide variety of fauna and flora (Table 1). This is largely due to its geological structure and varied topography. The Red Lists show that the diversity of species present is highly endangered. Thus, 25 % of plant species, 40 % of bird species, 71 % of fish species and 67 % of reptile and amphibian species are listed in the various categories of the Red Lists. The development of individual species is closely linked to how habitats develop. In Liechtenstein, largely in the Rhine Valley plain, developments similar to those in the surrounding regions can be seen, owing to the loss, fragmentation and isolation of suitable habitats.


In recent years, various measures have been taken to enhance habitats (e.g. revitalisation of watercourses, ecological offsetting areas in agriculture). In spite of these, the situation can be seen to have deteriorated for endangered species and species with special habitat needs. Habitat enhancement tends to favour species that are not endangered.

Table 1. Species numbers of selected plant and animal groups in Liechtenstein compared with Switzerland (Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, 2009a).

Species group






1 500

2 700











Breeding birds





















Conservation measures include protection areas, which in the form of legally protected nature reserves and protected forests make up 2 045 ha or 13 % of the country’s land (Figure 1). The greater part of this is occupied by the protected forests, which cover 1 879 ha. They include forest protection areas without management of any kind and special forest areas where specific nature-conservation measures are being taken. In addition, measures are also being taken outside the protection areas to preserve animal and plant habitats. One example is the preservation of species-rich rough pasture – dry meadows and moist sites – for the cultivation of which contributions are paid. The species-rich dry sites are a relic of formerly extensive agricultural exploitation. Of approximately 125 ha included in the relevant inventory, 105 ha or 84 % are covered by agreements for biotope-appropriate use (as of 2009).

At the level of genetic diversity, the focus is on conserving the genetic diversity of cultivated plants. The aim of ensuring the continued existence of varieties is served by variety-specific nurseries and seed cultivation for the purpose of conservation.


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Fig. 1. Distribution of protection areas. Forest protection areas (dark green) are mainly in the mountains, nature protection areas (red) in the Rhine Valley plain (forest (light green), settlements (black); illustration by H. Schmuck, data: AWNL).


The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


c) What are the related key drivers (D) and pressures (P) at national level?


In terms of the landscape, changes can be seen owing to the increase in settlement areas and infrastructure and to increasingly intensive use of the landscape for leisure and recreation. Thus, the settled area increased by 18 ha per year between 1984 and 2002 (Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, 2009b). The challenges faced are directly related to the growth of the population, which has more than doubled since 1960, and the increase in prosperity.

Even land that is not built on is used predominantly by people. The largest areas of the country’s land are taken up by forests (43 %) and agriculture (35 %). Whilst FSC certification has turned all of the forests over to sustainable use, in agriculture the problem remains of segregation of utilisation owing to intensified use in favourable agricultural locations and abandonment of use in less productive areas.

The water situation is an example of how success has been achieved but challenges remain. The drainage of the Rhine Valley plain in the first half of the 20th century was one of the greatest ecological changes in the country. On top of this came the pollution during the 1960s and 1970s by settlement wastewater and nutrients from agriculture. The predominantly very high chemical quality of the water today demonstrates the effect of the measures taken to treat wastewater and to prevent the entry of nutrients from agriculture. On the other hand, deficits in the water morphology remain. 52 % of the water stretches of the Rhine Valley plain are, in terms of water morphology, heavily impacted to non-natural. Thus, successes in protecting the environment through technology are confronted by as yet unresolved questions on securing the spatial requirements of the waters.


The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


d) What is the 2020 outlook (date flexible) for the topic in question and how will this affect possible impacts on the natural environment and human health/well-being?


Human activities will exert a defining influence on biological diversity in the future too. Forecasts of population and economic development in Liechtenstein assume continued, if slower, growth (Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, 2009b). An increase in jobs will bring with it rising numbers of commuters, which will lead to a higher volume of traffic and possibly the expansion of transport infrastructure. Overall, there is no likelihood of change in trend for the increase in settlement areas and infrastructure or expanded recreational use. Owing to the cramped space, it is to be expected that the pressure on the remaining natural assets, in particular in the Rhine Valley, will increase.

With regard to changes in climatic conditions, Liechtenstein takes its bearings from the forecasts for the Swiss Northern Alpine region. A rise in average annual temperatures is predicted, which will lead to adaptation by the vegetation. Thus, it is to be expected that, with average temperatures increasing, the area occupied by deciduous trees will expand. Alongside changes in temperature, changes in rainfall are expected. Mild, rainy winters and dry summers could significantly alter the water discharge regime (Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, 2010).


Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


e) Which responses (R) have been put in place or are planned at national level for the theme in question?


Liechtenstein is a Contracting Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and has set itself the goal of stopping the loss of biodiversity by 2010. Liechtenstein has also signed other conventions relating to biodiversity such as the Ramsar Convention, the Bonn Convention and the Bern Convention. The process of developing a biodiversity strategy has begun, with the Fourth National Report on Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity serving as the basis.

Efforts to promote conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity have been significantly intensified since 1990. On the basis of the laws already in force, numerous instruments are being employed in the sectors relevant for biodiversity, including inventories and Red Lists, as well as strategic planning instruments (e.g. the Nature and Landscape Protection Concept for Liechtenstein’s Forests, the Development Concept for Nature and Agriculture). At a practical level, Liechtenstein is offering financial incentives. Thus, ordinances are used to create or expand the preconditions for paying financial compensation for services relating to the protection or sustainable use of biological resources, e.g. payments for ecological services in agriculture, which promote sustainable management via the criteria of the Proof of Ecological Performance (PEP) and organic farming. The PEP is the precondition for entitlement to direct agricultural payments and requires inter alia a balance of nutrients, regular crop rotations and compliance with water protection requirements. The goal of having all farms throughout the entire territory operating in accordance with the PEP has already very nearly been achieved, with the PEP having been actually implemented on 98 % of farmland. The number of organic farms increased dramatically in the 1990s. Today, 28 % of farms meet the criteria not only of the PEP but also of organic farming.

Near-natural management of the forests is established by law. The conservation and promotion of biodiversity in the forest rest on the three pillars of near-natural silviculture, forest reserves and small habitats worthy of protection. An important element of near-natural silviculture is the natural regeneration with local tree species appropriate to the location. 48 % of young stands and thickets have arisen from natural regeneration. 15 % are planted. 29 % are a mix of natural regeneration and planting.


The revitalisation of numerous stretches of watercourses demonstrates the efforts made to restore near-natural habitats. Liechtenstein has, in accordance with the Water Protection Act and the EU Water Framework Directive, undertaken to transform surface water into a state that is as near-natural as possible. Action plans still outstanding in respect of individual inland waters in Liechtenstein are to be drawn up in the near future as part of the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.



  • Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein (2009a). 4th National Report on Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein (2009b). Spatial Planning Report 2008: Report on Spatial Development in the Principality of Liechtenstein.
  • Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein (2010). Liechtenstein’s Fifth National Communication under the UNFCCC and under the Kyoto Protocol


Unless otherwise indicated, the source for all data is the 4th National Report on Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity –





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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