Half EU species are in poor shape

Posted: 30 August 2009

Europe risks a rising wave of wildlife extinctions as it continues to massively under-resource and under-enforce nature and wildlife protection, conservation experts say. Their comments follow the release of a report by the European Commission showing 65 per cent of European habitats and more than half its remaining species are under threat.

"Our neglect of the health of our natural systems is setting ourselves up for the negative economic effects of an environment less diverse and thus less resilient to climate change," said Andreas Baumüller, Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF's European Policy Office.

The first assessment of the outcomes of the EU Habitats Directive, originally adopted 17 years ago, shows that with 65 per cent of habitats and 52 per cent of species considered in bad or unfavourable conservation status, Europe will miss its commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

Of particular concern is the state of wildlife in north-west Europe - known as the Atlantic biogeographical region - including the UK.

Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
The European Commission conclusions match well with evidence collected by BirdLife International about the decline of many farmland birds like the Northern Lapwing. Photo © Jodie Randall (rspb-images.com)
For the UK, only six per cent of threatened habitats and only 23 per cent of threatened species were reportedly in 'favourable condition'. As only three per cent of threatened habitats in the UK were not assessed, 91 per cent of threatened habitats in the UK are in unfavourable condition and therefore not supporting the range of wildlife they should.

The report said that the habitats associated with farming are in particularly poor condition compared to others (seven per cent compared to 21 per cent being in favourable status respectively), with grasslands suffering most from intensification or abandonment.

Last chance

"It is mainly the fault of national governments and their Agricultural Ministers that attempts to improve the situation have largely failed in the past" added Konstantin Kreiser, BirdLife International's EU Policy manager. "Under heavy lobby pressure they refuse to provide nature-friendly farmers with the required financial support, instead they promote agricultural intensification and the expansion of biofuels. However, the debate on a radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has now started, and this is a great, but maybe our last chance to stabilise our rural environment." [4]

Commenting on the overall findings of the report, the RSPB and BirdLife see it as "scandalous" that 17 years after adoption of the EU Habitats Directive a number of Member States still claim not to know the status of their most important animal and plant species. On this, the Commission report especially blames Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Portugal who indicated "unknown" for more than half of their species. BirdLife urges the Commission to take firm action so that these and other governments invest more in monitoring of nature and wildlife.

Of the nine countries with territory within the Atlantic biogeographical region, Germany with 29 per cent has the largest extent of threatened habitats in favourable condition. Germany is followed by Portugal (21 per cent); Denmark (19 per cent); Netherlands (eight per cent); Ireland (six per cent); UK (six per cent); Belgium (four per cent) and France (three per cent). No comparative data exists for Spain, which didn't report all of its statistics

Falling investment

The analysis shows that over the last decade the European Union has reduced its direct investments in nature protection to a tiny 0.1 per cent of the EU budget.

"Each European citizen pays every year about 300 euro to the European Union, but just 30 cents are used to safeguard our natural heritage," Baumüller said. "The bad status of our environment is just the inevitable consequence of decades of wrong political decisions."

Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill
Conservation success: Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia. Photo © BirdLife
The report shows that in areas dependant on agriculture, almost 80 per cent of habitats are in trouble and almost 90 per cent of commercial fish stocks are overfished, with a third at risk of being beyond recovery.

WWF says the assessment is probably optimistic, with massive under-reporting by some States on the conservation status of threatened habitats and wildlife.

There is praise, however, for the initiative introduced in 2001, when Heads of States made a commitment to "halt the decline of biodiversity by 2010".

The key result was the creation of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas that now includes 17 per cent of European territory and is to be extended to cover marine areas.

"Essentially however, our politicians still don't understand that it is not a matter of protecting a bunch of rare plants and animals from extinction," Baumüller said. "Nature guarantees a healthy and functioning environment for our life and that of all other living species."

The conservation agency is calling on the European Union to maintain an ambitious target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020, urging European governments to set up a real "European Recovery Plan for Biodiversity" in order to increase "eco friendly" investments, protect and manage Natura 2000 terrestrial and marine sites, develop renewables and green infrastructures and introduce farming and fishing practices that do not harm our ecosystems.

Source: WWF and RSPB