Europe’s rich array of biodiversity, habitats and species are under threat due to human activities and climate change. This degradation affects our well-being and economy. The EU is taking action to restore and protect the vital systems that support life on our planet.

The European continent is home to a wealth of habitats and species — both land-based and marine. Centuries of human activities, however, have taken a toll on Europe’s biodiversity. Our nature has been transformed and heavily impacted, with most of Europe’s species and habitats facing an uncertain future unless urgent and more ambitious action is taken.

Despite some progress, most protected habitats and species have either poor or bad conservation status. Destruction of habitats, overexploitation of resources, pollution, climate change, the introduction of invasive species, urban sprawl and landscape fragmentation are only some of the reasons behind this decline, which affects terrestrial and aquatic species, their habitats and ecosystem services.

The good news is that there are signs of recovery in some areas thanks to ongoing efforts to reduce certain impacts, such as those caused by contaminants, eutrophication and overfishing in marine ecosystems.

Awareness of the importance of biodiversity is also growing and many initiatives and policies are already in motion. Both the number and area of protected sites under the EU’s Natura 2000 network have increased. With new policy proposals like the EU Restoration Law, Europe wants to strengthen its efforts not only to preserve and protect but also to restore Europe’s nature.

Two-thirds of the species protected under the Habitats Directive in the EU have poor or bad conservation status. Land and sea changes, overexploitation, and unsustainable management practices threaten Europe’s protected species. Air, water and soil pollution also contribute.

Our report 'State of Europe's Nature 2020' shows that:

  • Whilst 47% of 463 bird species in the EU are in good conservation status, 39% are in poor and bad conservation status.  
  • Three-fourths of habitats assessed have poor or bad conservation status.
  • Half of the dunes, bogs, mires and fens have bad conservation status.
  • Protected areas require further conservation measures: 215,000 km2 (approximately 5%) of EU-27 habitats must be improved.
  • Birds and other species are receiving increased protection through Natura 2000, a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species in the EU.

The use of Europe's seas — both in the past and today — is also taking its toll on the overall condition of marine ecosystems. This puts expectations for their future use at odds with the long‑term policy vision for clean, healthy and productive seas.

Starting with the key nature directives (Habitats and Birds Directives), EU Member States have been conserving habitats and species for decades. Progress has been made, but current trends show that Europe needs a more comprehensive and ambitious approach.

To this end, the EU adopted the biodiversity strategy for 2030 – one of the key components of the European Green Deal. This long-term plan aims to protect and restore nature and reverse ecosystem degradation. The strategy also aims to put Europe's biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 to benefit people, the climate and the planet. To achieve this, the strategy presents the steps needed for this transformative change.

Goals set in the 2030 biodiversity strategy include:

  • Increasing organic farming by 25%;
  • Restoring at least 25,000 km of rivers to a free-flowing river;
  • Protecting at least 30% of the EU’s land and 30% of its sea;
  • Incorporating biodiversity reporting into businesses and guiding investments toward greener options;
  • Making the EU the global leader in restoring biodiversity and pushing for the EU 2030 targets to be incorporated at the global level – which already happened at the UN Biodiversity conference COP15 in Montréal, Canada (see Box underneath).

Other policy initiatives include the Farm to Fork strategy, the circular economy action plan and the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which are all core elements of the European Green Deal.

Recently, the European Commission proposed the Nature Restoration Law, which aims at intensifying and accelerating the efforts to improve the conservation status of the habitats targeted under the Habitats and Birds Directives. It also sets targets for the restoration of additional habitats and ecosystems outside the Natura 2000 network.

Picture of a large number of birds flying in a clear sky at dusk over a field with trees visible in the background.

Europe's nature under pressure

Europe’s biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate, with most protected species and habitats confronting poor conservation status. Much more effort is needed to reverse current trends and to ensure resilient and healthy nature.

The pressures on biodiversity may vary depending on the habitat, region or species. Our assessments show that many agricultural activities, intensifying land management practices, and the abandonment of extensive management are the most common overall pressures.

Urbanisation and leisure activities are the second largest pressure and it particularly affects habitats such as dunes and coastal and rocky habitats. Forestry activities are the main source of pressure on arthropods, mammals and non-vascular plants. The pollution of air, water and soil from agriculture in particular, affects most habitats, especially in the European Union’s Atlantic and continental regions.

What causes biodiversity loss in Europe?

Alt text: Infographic showing eight different sources of biodiversity loss in Europe. Long description: The infographic provides information on the sources of biodiversity loss in Europe. Eight causes, each represented by a circle containing a simple graphical representation of the cause, are themselves arranged in a circle in the center of the figure. The corresponding text for each cause is placed next to its corresponding graphical circle. From the top, and in a clockwise manner, the causes and their associated text are as follows: 1. The text reads, “Urbanization and leisure activities account for 13% of all reported pressures, representing 48% of all marine pressures.” The accompanying graphic depicts a pair of high-rises. 2. The text reads, “The modification on water regimes, physical alterations of water bodies, and removal of sediments predominantly affect freshwater habitats and fish.” The accompanying graphic depicts a flowing river. 3. The text reads, “13% of all pressures for birds stem from the exploitation of species, mainly relating to illegal killing and hunting. In Europe, the annual hunting bag amounts to at least 52 million birds.” The accompanying graphic depicts a hunter holding a rifle to his shoulder. 4 The text reads, “Almost 50% of all pressures related to pollution can be attributed to air, water, and soil pollution caused by agriculture.” The accompanying graphic depicts a heavy tractor in a barren field. 5. The text reads, “Climate change is reported as a rising threat, particularly due to ongoing changes in the temperature and the decrease of precipitation.” The accompanying graphic depicts two birds flying over the tops of the trees under a blazing sun. 6. The text reads, “Forestry activities represent 11% of all pressures, particularly affecting forest habitats and woodland species.” The accompanying graphic depicts a stack of cut lumber in a forest. 7. The text reads, “Invasive alien species, such as the false indigo bush, particularly affect dunes and sclerophyllous scrubs as well as species such as breeding seabirds.” The accompanying graphic depicts the leaves of the false indigo bush. 8. The text reads, “with 21%, agriculture is the most frequently reported pressure for habitats and species. Abandonment of grasslands and intensification is particularly impacting pollinator species, farmland birds, and semi-natural habitats.

Source: EEA State of Nature report

How does pollution impact ecosystems?

One of the major drivers of biodiversity loss and decline in Europe and worldwide is pollution. Pollution puts pressure on freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the functions they maintain and the services they provide.

The types of pollutants that affect ecosystems are wide-ranging — from human-made chemical products, nutrients (e.g. nitrogen) and microplastics to ambient sources such as noise and light.

One of the sections of our zero pollution monitoring assessment examines available knowledge and trends in pollution and associated impacts on ecosystems.

Picture of a fisherman in yellow waterproof boots holding a catch of fish and standing before a greyish river with a long bridge visible under a cloudy blue sky.

BISE: Biodiversity information system for Europe

Global biodiversity protection requires global action

At the UN Biodiversity conference COP15 in Montréal, Canada, the EU joined 195 countries in the historic Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. This framework contains global goals and targets aiming to protect and restore nature for current and future generations, ensure its sustainable use as well as spur investments for a green global economy. Together with the Paris Agreement on climate, it paves the way towards a climate-neutral, nature-positive and resilient world by 2050.

The European Union is a leading player in global biodiversity efforts and negotiations, including COP15.

Picture of a red kite owl with open wings flying in a blurred background image.

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