Public awareness of biodiversity in Europe

Between 2015 and 2018, recognition and understanding of the term ‘biodiversity’ increased in the EU, with 71% of those interviewed in 2018 having heard the word and 41% knowing what it means. At least 8 out of 10 consider biodiversity loss a serious problem and agree that halting it is important. The biggest perceived threats are air, soil and water pollution, human-induced disasters and climate change. Although less than a third of respondents have heard of the Natura 2000 network, most agree that protected areas are important and are not willing to trade them for economic development.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The European Commission’s Special Eurobarometer surveys on biodiversity are designed to gauge Europeans’ awareness of and attitudes towards biodiversity and protecting nature .

The results from the latest survey (carried out in 2018) show that awareness of the term ‘biodiversity’ has increased, to 71%, since the 2015 survey. The percentage of respondents who understand the term has also increased, by 11 percentage points, to 41%. This may be a result of the European Commission’s efforts to raise awareness of the concept of biodiversity.

Respondents perceive pollution (67%) and human-induced disasters (63%) to be the biggest threats, followed by climate change (58%). Half of respondents think that biodiversity is ‘very much’ threatened by intensive farming, intensive forestry and over-fishing. Slightly lower proportions see the conversion of natural areas to other land uses (47%) and the modification or fragmentation of natural areas due to transport, water and energy infrastructure projects (43%) as major threats; 32% of respondents consider biodiversity ‘very much’ under threat from non-native invasive plants or animals. Each of these percentages has increased since 2015.

Most respondents think that halting biodiversity loss is important because we have a responsibility to look after nature (96%), it is essential to tackling climate change (95%) and it is important for human health and well-being (93%). Increasingly, respondents ‘totally agree’ that halting biodiversity loss is important for long-term economic development (62%) and the production of goods, such as food, materials and medicines (61%).

Respondents also identified key actions for the EU to take to protect biodiversity, for instance:

  • restoring nature and biodiversity (48%);
  • better informing citizens about the importance of biodiversity (48%);
  • expanding protected areas (43%);
  • strengthening (41%) and improving the implementation (40%) of nature and biodiversity conservation rules.

Ensuring that biodiversity is taken into account when planning new infrastructure is also considered important (41%), in line with the finding that most respondents are not willing to trade nature for economic development, with only 6% thinking that economic development should take precedence.

As in 2015, respondents to the 2018 survey regarded nature protection areas to be key for protecting endangered animals and plants (96%), preventing the destruction of valuable nature areas on land and at sea (95%), and safeguarding nature’s role in providing food, clean air and water (94%). The majority of respondents also stated that promoting nature-friendly land use (93%), increasing the quality of life of local people (89%) and stimulating local socio-economic development (83%) are important roles for nature protection areas.

Despite appreciating the importance of protected areas, 70% of respondents (73% in 2015) had not heard of the Natura 2000 network, established to protect valuable species and habitats through the designation of protected sites under the Birds and Habitats Directives. Awareness of Natura 2000 varies considerably by country, ranging from 76% in Bulgaria and Finland to 4% in the United Kingdom. Around two thirds of those who have heard of Natura 2000 do not know what it is, as in 2015. This suggests that more information on what the EU is doing to protect biodiversity is needed.

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