Chapter 3.11 Changes and loss of biodervisity - Environment in EU at the turn of the century

The overall threat and changes in biodiversity at all scales (genes, species, ecosystems and habitats) are expected to remain high in the EU to 2010 and beyond. The pressure comes from many interconnected sources, principally land use change, pollution and the introduction of alien species. The area available for natural and semi-natural habitats and indigenous species is foreseen to decrease (e.g. the ongoing relentless spread of urban development and transport infrastructure) and the threats are foreseen to continue to increase. But ongoing and some new recoveries are also foreseen for several habitats and species. The robust and generalist species as well as the invasive species are foreseen to continue to be favoured and spread, while rare, endemic and specialist species will continue to decline.

Biodiversity is changed and can be lost by the way the land is used, which results in fragmentation of semi-natural and natural habitats, often threatening the viability of species and function of ecosystems in a complex process. Agricultural intensification has the most heavy impact. The effects of the other extreme – abandonment of land and agriculture – will lead to adverse effects in extensively or old-type farmed areas, whereas it can have some positive effects in formerly intensively managed areas. Forest practices, relying on monospecific plantations and even-aged stands of exotic species, have not been conducive to biological diversity. The forest area is foreseen to increase slowly, while old-growth forests and forests of local tree species still will decrease in many areas. Careful planning will be needed to avoid further loss if more forest is to be planted to function as carbon sinks in response to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

The impact of climate change is more subtle and difficult to predict, although some results may already be seen in changes in growing and activity seasons for some plants and animals. For example, one analysis proposes a climate-induced shift in distribution of terrestrial plant species composition of some 50% in south-western Europe between 1990 and 2050 owing to changes in local climate and water availability.

Pollution impacts are somewhat easier to identify. Over the next decade the impacts of acidification and eutrophication are foreseen to show reductions and biodiversity to show some recovery. A full return to pre-pollution conditions cannot take place, even after 2010, because of changes in competition and distribution of species. The introduction – whether voluntary or accidental – of species alien to European ecosystems or to other regions of Europe represents an increasing risk, favoured by globalisation of trade, exchange and transports. Genetic transfer between non-native species, or possibly even genetically modified organisms, and indigenous species, genetic erosion and isolation of species populations are likely to intensify over the next decade. The NATURA 2000 Network for protection of habitats and species is expected to become operational over the next decade, with upwards of 10% of the EU territory designated for nature conservation purposes and with provisions for protecting species populations.

The European Community Biodiversity Strategy addresses the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity concerning the European Community. The Strategy which aims to complement the biodiversity initiatives of Member States, provides for a series of action plans designed to integrate biodiversity within policies and programmes for which there is a Community competence. But also other more general and widespread, important instruments aim at integrating biodiversity into other sectors. EU Agenda 2000 represents possibilities to consider new interrelationships between rural areas and biodiversity : agri-environmental measures, structural funds, Less Favoured Areas, afforestation measures. The work towards a European Forestry Strategy targets more sustainable forest practices. Several EU initiatives relate to conservation of genetic resources.

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