State of nature in the EU: biodiversity still being eroded, but some local improvements observed

News Published 20 May 2015 Last modified 23 Nov 2020
4 min read
Photo: © Nuno Alves, Environment & Me/EEA
The majority of habitats and species in Europe have an unfavourable conservation status despite significant improvements for many species in recent years, according to a new technical report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today. The report presents the most comprehensive European overview on the conservation status and trends of the habitats and species covered by the European Union’s (EU) two nature directives. Building on the reports submitted by EU member states, the report contributes to policy discussions in the context of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.

The results are mixed but clear. When implemented well, conservation measures work and improve the status of habitats and species on the ground. Such improvements remain limited and patchy, and unfortunately Europe’s biodiversity is still being eroded overall and the pressures continue. 

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

The two nature directives, namely the Birds and Habitats directives, play a central role in the EU’s biodiversity and nature conservation policies. Under the directives, EU Member States are required to assess and report every six years on the status and trends of certain species and habitats. The EEA technical report State of Nature in the EU: Results from reporting under the nature directives 2007-2012 draws on the assessments submitted by Member States under both directives and provides a comprehensive overview of the state of nature in Europe at European, country and biogeographic level. The report also looks into main pressures and threats behind the trends observed.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said, ‘This unique assessment is a first of its kind, building on extensive observation networks of experts and citizens alike. Despite some information gaps, it provides the most complete picture of Europe’s biodiversity to date.’ Bruyninckx added, ‘The results are mixed but clear. When implemented well, conservation measures work and improve the status of habitats and species on the ground. Such improvements remain limited and patchy, and unfortunately Europe’s biodiversity is still being eroded overall and the pressures continue. We also need to understand that when dealing with maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, it takes time for our actions to make a difference on a large scale. Therefore, we need to reinforce our effort and actions.’

Moreover, the EEA’s report informs on progress towards Targets 1 and 3 of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. These findings will serve as an input to the European Commission’s upcoming Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

Key findings:

  • Over half of the bird species in the EU are considered to be ‘secure’, i.e. with no foreseeable risk of extinction.
  • Many bird species, for which the Birds Directive requires Member States to set up special protection areas (species listed in Annex I), have recorded increases in their populations, although often these species are not considered secure. Other bird species, including many that may be hunted (species listed in Annex II), show declining populations.
  • Under the Habitats Directive, only 16% of habitats and 23% of species assessments are ‘favourable’, while 77% of habitats and 60% of species assessments are ‘unfavourable’.
  • The status of many species, e.g. birds of prey and many large carnivores, has shown significant improvements in some areas, but these improvements are currently limited to local or regional level, and have not yet scaled up to European level.
  • The Natura 2000 network (created by the Habitats Directive) covers 18% of the EU’s land surface and 4% of its seas. Natura 2000 appears to be an effective conservation measure, which also benefits non-target species.
  • In relation to Target 1 (halting the deterioration in the status of all species and habitats and achieving significant improvements) of the Biodiversity Strategy, only 21% of habitat and 28% of species assessments are favourable or improving. Moreover, a significant share of previously unfavourable assessments have deteriorated further (30% for habitats and 22% for species).
  • In relation to Target 3 (increasing the contribution of agriculture and forestry to maintaining and enhancing biodiversity), species and habitats depending on agricultural ecosystems are doing worse than general assessments, while species and habitats depending on forest ecosystems have a similar and worrying conservation status to other species and habitats in general.
  • Member States reported on pressures and threats for each habitat and species. Agricultural activities, artificialisation of rivers and lakes and water abstraction were the most frequently reported pressures that have high negative impacts on the state of nature.

Complementary information and data on individual species and habitats, as well as country data and summaries can be found at EEA biodiversity data centre and European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity website.

Background information

The reporting under the Birds Directive covers all species of naturally occurring wild birds in Europe, while the reports under the Habitats Directive only cover a selection of habitats and species that are considered rare and/or endangered. Given this difference, the species reports under the Habitats Directive have a higher proportion of ‘unfavourable’ status than the reports under the Birds Directive.

Under the Birds Directive, the bird population status can be ‘secure’, ‘near threatened, declining or depleted’, ‘threatened’ or ‘unknown’ where data is not sufficient to allow an assessment.

Under the Habitats Directive, the conservation status can be ‘favourable’, ‘unfavourable-inadequate’, ‘unfavourable-bad’, or ‘unknown’. For ‘unfavourable’ assessments, the trend was also classified as ‘unfavourable-improving’, ‘unfavourable-stable’, ‘unfavourable-declining’ and ‘unfavourable-unknown’.

Several hundreds of experts across the EU were involved in collecting, processing and reporting the data and the information, which formed the basis of the country reports and this EEA report. A large number of citizens also took part in monitoring many species. However, despite this extensive effort, there are still information gaps and Member States have to invest more in monitoring species and habitats.

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