Europe’s nature is filled with forests, mountains, vast plains, long rivers, deep blue seas and refreshing lakes. But it also is under threat. Unsustainable farming and forestry practices, pollution, climate change and invasive species are stressing and destabilising all natural systems in Europe. The result is a biodiversity crisis. The EU is taking steps to protect and restore nature.

Europe’s nature is under threat. Humans have been altering Europe’s natural landscapes and impacting the life dependent on these ecosystems for thousands of years. Our assessments show that many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and species are at risk of irreversible damage or, in some cases, extinction. Europe is consuming more than its nature can provide.

To protect nature in Europe and in the world, we need to transform the way we produce food, move around, produce energy, manufacture goods, use chemicals, and what we consume.

Agriculture provides us with the food we need to survive. But at the same time, its reliance on artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides causes contamination of our soils, air, rivers, lakes and seas and causes harm to plants, animals and soil biodiversity. Overexploitation of many commercial fish stocks threatens the marine ecosystem.

Cities have been growing at the expense of natural areas, farms, and forests. In addition, our roads and railways have been fragmenting the landscape, limiting many species’ ability to move and migrate. Air pollution from agriculture, transport or industry impacts many ecosystems.

Climate change affects rainfall and average temperatures, impacting many plants’ and animals’ ability to survive in new climatic conditions. It also impacts seasonality and causes destructive extreme weather events, including long-lasting droughts.

Through a series of policies and legislation, Europe has made some progress toward protecting its nature. For example, a growing share of its land and marine areas are designed as protected areas.

Still, much more must be done to protect and restore nature and allow it to help us cope with climate change. The European Green Deal, with its policy packages on biodiversity, climate change, pollution and circular economy, offers a wider and more effective transition towards a sustainable Europe. Healthy ecosystems not only provide us food and shelter, but also improve public health as well.

Despite a significant effort by EU Member States and some improvements, biodiversity in the EU continues to decline. Although some species and habitats show improvement, there has not been enough progress in meeting EU biodiversity targets.

  • Europe's ecological footprint shows that the region’s total demand for ecological goods and services greatly exceeds the capacity of its ecosystems to produce useful biological products and absorb carbon emissions. Such a large ecological deficit impacts the environment within and outside Europe.
  • Climate change is a rising threat, especially with changes in rainfall patterns, increasing mean temperatures, heatwaves and more drought events.
  • Agricultural activities, including both intensification, overexploitation and land abandonment, urbanisation and pollution put significant pressure on habitats and species.
  • Only 14% of habitat assessments and 27% of non-bird species have ‘good’ conservation status. Wetlands appear to be most impacted by poor conservation status.
  • By the end of 2021, protected areas covered 26% of EU land, with 18.6% designated as Natura 2000 sites and 7.4% having other national designations.
  • Further expansion of terrestrial protected areas will be needed to achieve the target of legally protecting a minimum of 30% of EU land, as set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
  • Forests and other wooded land cover around 40% of the European land surface.
  • 70% of forests and other wooded land are available for public recreation — offering a green oasis for Europeans.

Under the wider umbrella of the European Green Deal, the EU is taking action through a series of targeted policies and legislations to protect and restore nature:

  • The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to ensure that ecosystems are healthy, resilient to climate change, rich in biodiversity and able to deliver essential ecosystem services.
  • The EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives, known as the nature directives, ensure that many species and habitats are protected across the EU. The Natura 2000 network of protected areas is a crucial component of the EU’s efforts in this domain.
  • The EU Pollinators Initiative sets strategic objectives and actions to be taken by the EU and its Member States to address the decline of pollinators in the EU and contribute to global conservation efforts. 

To take nature protection and restoration one step further, the European Union has adopted in June 2024 a Nature Restoration Law, calling on Member States to develop national plans to restore at least 20% of EU land and sea by 2030 and all ecosystems that need restoration by 2050.

At the global level, the EU contributes to the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to halt and reverse global biodiversity loss.

These policies are supported by others, including the zero pollution action plan, EU chemicals strategy and EU climate law.

The EEA informs about nature protection efforts through regular assessments of the state of nature in the EU based on the data reported by Member States as well as specific assessments, like those on protected areas or Europe’s seas. The EEA will also play a key role in informing EU policy makers under the Nature Restoration Law.

Editorial — Caring for the environment is caring for ourselves

Nature is the foundation of our health and well-being. It gives us clean air, water, food, materials and space for recreation. Spending time in nature is good for our mental health. And if we do not take care of the planet, its climate and ecosystems, we undermine how our societies function, worsen our lives and, perhaps most directly, harm our own well-being.  

Leena Ylä-Mononen

EEA Executive Director

Toxic substances found in shellfish

In the marine environment, hazardous substances accumulate in fish and shellfish, which are a food source for other marine animals and humans alike. Between 2010 and 2021, nine hazardous substances were monitored in marine organisims, all exceeding safe limit values.

High levels were observed for benzo[a]pyrene, DDE (a breakdown product of DDT), and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). Few time trends show more decreasing concentrations (improvements) than increasing ones, except for mercury.

The contaminants are toxic for marine biota, and consuming contaminated seafoods may generate detrimental effects on human health, such as structural damage or failure of organs and increased cancer risk. Reducing concentrations of these substances helps achieve the 'good environmental status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Zero Pollution Action Plan targets.

Picture showing part of a hand holding a plastic cap from which a hermit crab appears.

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Birds: an indicator of environmental health

Birds are sensitive to environmental pressures and their populations can reflect changes in the health of the environment.

Long-term trends show that between 1990 and 2021, the index of 168 common birds decreased by 12% in the EU. The decline was much stronger in common farmland birds, at 36%, while the common forest bird index decreased by 5%.

At present, it seems unlikely that the decline in populations of common birds can be reversed by 2030.

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