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Since 2002, there has been a steady increase in the cumulative area of the Natura 2000 network. Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) increased in coverage from 450 000 to 810 000 square kilometres and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) increased from approximately 180 000 to 670 000 square kilometres. Ten countries have designated more than 20% of their territory.
The total ecological footprint for the EU-28 countries increased rapidly during the 1960s and 70s, and has remained relatively constant since the 1980s. The region’s total biocapacity, however, has changed very little since 1961. The picture is similar for the EEA-33 countries.
The pan-European ecological footprint has been increasing almost constantly since 1961, while biocapacity (1) has decreased. This results in an ever larger deficit, with negative consequences for the environment within and outside Europe. (1) The capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to absorb waste materials generated by humans, using current management schemes and extraction technologies.
The main pathways for marine non-indigenous species (NIS) introduction in Europe´s seas are shipping (51%) and the Suez Canal (37%). These are followed by aquaculture related activities (17%) and, to a much lesser extent, aquarium trade (3%) and inland canals (2%). This is a pattern observed in all regional seas, except for the Eastern Mediterranean where introductions via the Suez Canal exceed those by shipping.
Trends in pathways show an increasing rate of introductions by shipping and corridors (in particular the Suez canal) since the 1990s, while aquaculture mediated introductions have been decreasing since the 2000s. This can be attributed to the adoption of effective EU regulation. Aquarium trade emerges as a lower but increasing pathway since the 2000s.
Available data shows that the seas around Europe currently harbor 1 416 non-indigenous species (NIS), almost 81% (1 143) of which have been introduced after 1950. These consist mostly of invertebrates (approx. 63%).
The rate of new introductions of NIS is continually increasing with 323 new species recorded since 2000 at pan-European level.
An increase in NIS introductions is observed for all regional seas. The most affected seas are in the Mediterranean, in particular in the Aegean-Levantine Sea. In this region over 160 new species have been recorded from 2000 to 2010.
Concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and ammonium have markedly decreased in European rivers in the period 1992 to 2012, mainly due to a general improvement in waste water treatment.
Similarly, concentrations of phosphate in European rivers more than halved over the period 1992 to 2012. The decrease in river orthophosphate is due to the measures introduced by national and European legislation, in particular the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, which involves the removal of nutrients. Also the change to the use of phosphate-free detergents has contributed to lower phosphorus concentrations.
River nitrate concentrations have declined steadily from 2.7 to 2.1 mg N/l over the period 1992 to 2012. Agriculture is the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution, and due to the EU Nitrate Directive and national measures, the nitrogen pollution from agriculture has been reduced and this is reflected in lower river nitrate concentrations.
More than half of the river and lake water bodies in Europe are reported to be in less than good ecological status or potential, and will need mitigation and/or restoration measures to meet the Water Framework Directive objective of all water bodies having good status by 2015.
Understanding and awareness of biodiversity have increased slightly since 2007. Citizens are also more aware of the threats and challenges facing biodiversity, but change in levels of awareness is slow. In 2013, more than two-thirds of EU citizens had heard of biodiversity, but only 44% know the meaning of the word. This is, however, 10% more than in 2007.
62% of EU citizens (against 58% in 2010) very much agree that it is important to halt biodiversity loss because our well-being and quality of life is based upon nature and biodiversity (TNS, 2013).
Since 2000, an overall increase of deadwood has been observed in several countries, a sign of more biodiversity-friendly management practices, but also of large disturbances such as storms.
The ratio of felling to increment is relatively stable and remains under 80% for most of the countries across Europe. This utilisation rate has allowed the forest stock to increase.
The total area of nationally-designated protected areas in Europe  has increased over time and amounted to over 1,1 million square kilometres in 39 European countries in 2014. With more than 95 000 sites, Europe still has more protected areas than any other region in the world.
The total area of nationally designated protected areas currently covers about 21% of terrestrial territory and inland waters, although further expansion of the marine network is required to meet targets.
 A “Nationally designated area” is an area designated by a national designation instrument based on national legislation. If a country has included the sites designated under the EU Birds and Habitats directive in its legislation, the Natura 2000 sites of this country are included in the figure.
Between 2000 and 2006 the highest absolute increase in ecosystem coverage occurred in transitional woodland, mostly at the expense of woodland and forest. A decrease was observed in vulnerable ecosystems such as wetlands, heathland and sparsely vegetated land. Agricultural land coverage also decreased, with the majority of changes caused by urbanisation and intensification of agriculture, affecting, particularly, grassland and agricultural mosaics. Urban areas continued to increase dramatically. Rivers, lakes and coastal areas increased to a minor extent.
Since 1990, common bird populations have decreased by around 12% in 27 European countries. The decline of common farmland birds was more pronounced at 30%, whereas common forest birds declined by 8%.
Grassland butterflies have also declined dramatically (50%) since 1990 in 19 European countries and this reduction shows no sign of levelling off.
Europe has considerable areas of High Nature Value (HNV) farmland, which provide habitats for a wide range of species. Such areas are under threat, however, from both the intensification of farming and land abandonment. The mere presence of HNV farmland is not proof of sustainable management but promoting conservation and sustainable farming practices in these areas is crucial for biodiversity.
Organic farming has developed rapidly since the beginning of the 1990s and continues to do so. Between 2002 and 2011, the total area under organic agriculture in the EU-27 increased by 6% per year and in 2011 amounted to an estimated 5.4% of the utilised agricultural area (UAA) (EC, 2013).
Climate change is affecting the interaction of species that depend on each other for food or other reasons. It can disrupt established interactions but also generate novel ones.
Negative effects on single species are often amplified by changes in interactions with other species, in particular for specialist species.
Land take by the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in the coverage of urban land at the European level. Agricultural zones and, to a lesser extent, forests and semi-natural and natural areas, are disappearing in favour of the development of artificial surfaces. This affects biodiversity since it decreases habitats, the living space of a number of species, and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them. The annual land take in European countries assessed by 2006 Corine land cover project (EEA39 except Greece) was approximately 108 000 ha/year in 2000-2006. In 21 countries covered by both periods (1990-2000 and 2000-2006) the annual land take decreased by 9 % in the later period. The composition of land taken areas changed, too. More arable land and permanent crops and less pastures and mosaic farmland were taken by artificial development then in 1990-2000. Identified trends are expected to change little when next assessment for 2006-2012 becomes available in 2014.
The area covered by forests and other wooded land in Europe (39 EEA countries) has increased for many decades.
Forest biomass in the EEA region is also growing, and the average growth rate has increased from 1990 to 2010.
In some central and western areas of Europe, forest growth has been reduced in the last 10 years due to storms, pests and diseases.
Future climate change and increasing CO 2 concentrations are expected to affect site suitability, productivity, species composition and biodiversity, and thus have an impact on the goods and services that the forests provide. In general, forest growth is projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe.
Fire risk depends on many factors, including climatic conditions, vegetation (e.g. fuel load and condition), forest management practices and other socio-economic factors.
The number of fires in the Mediterranean region has increased over the period from 1980 to 2000; it has decreased thereafter.
In a warmer climate, more severe fire weather and an expansion of the fire-prone area and longer fire seasons, as a consequence, are projected, but with considerable regional variation.
The impact of fire events is particularly strong in southern Europe on already degraded ecosystems.
Observed climate change is having significant impacts on European fauna. These impacts include range shifts as well as local and regional extinctions of species.
There is a clear poleward trend of butterfly distributions from 1990 to 2007 in Europe. Nevertheless, the migration of many species is lagging behind the changes in climate, suggesting that they are unable to keep pace with the speed of climate change.
Distribution changes are projected to continue. Suitable climatic conditions for Europe’s breeding birds are projected to shift nearly 550 km north-east by the end of the 21st century under a scenario of 3 °C warming, with the average range size shrinking by 20 %.
Habitat use and fragmentation and other obstacles are impeding the migration of many animal species. The difference between required and actual migration rate may lead to a progressive decline in European biodiversity.
Several European plant species have shifted their distribution northward and uphill. These changes have been linked to observed climate change, in particular to milder winters.
Mountain ecosystems in many parts of Europe are changing as plant species expand uphill and cold-adapted species are projected to lose climatically suitable areas.
By the late 21st century, distributions of European plant species are projected to have shifted several hundred kilometres to the north, forests are likely to have contracted in the south and expanded in the north, and about half of the mountain plant species may face extinction.
The rate of climate change is expected to exceed the ability of many plant species to migrate, especially as landscape fragmentation may restrict movement.
Many animal groups have advanced their life-cycles in recent decades, including frogs spawning, birds nesting and the arrival of migrant birds and butterflies. This advancement is attributed primarily to a warming climate.
The breeding season of many thermophilic insects (such as butterflies, dragonflies and bark beetles) has been lengthening, allowing more generations to be produced per year.
The observed trends are expected to continue in the future but quantitative projections are rather uncertain.
The timing of seasonal events in plants is changing across Europe, mainly due to changes in climate conditions. Seventy-eight per cent of leaf unfolding and flowering records show advancing trends in recent decades whereas only 3 % show a significant delay. Between 1971 and 2000, the average advance of spring and summer was between 2.5 and 4 days per decade.
As a consequence of climate-induced changes in plant phenology, the pollen season starts on average 10 days earlier and is longer than it was 50 years ago.
Trends in seasonal events are projected to advance further as climate warming proceeds.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
PDF generated on 10 Oct 2015, 05:15 PM
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