Sunday

13th Jun 2021

Over 80% of Europe's habitats in poor or bad condition

  • 38-percent of fish species have a 'bad' conservation status, the report finds (Photo: Jason Taellious)

The majority of protected landscapes (81 percent) across the European Union have a poor or bad conservation status, and many of them continue to decline despite targets aimed at protecting them, a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) revealed on Monday (19 October).

In the 2013-2018 State of Nature in the EU report, grasslands, dunes, as well as bog, mire and fen habitats show notable deteriorating trends due to changes in land and sea use, over-exploitation and unsustainable management practices.

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Meanwhile, only a quarter of species have a 'good' conservation status - with forests, mammals, and birds being among the top beneficiaries of the conservation measures applied during the last decade.

Nearly half (47 percent) of the bird species in the EU have 'good' status, but this represents a decline of five percent since the previous 2008-2012 reporting period - with some bird groups, such as falcons and harriers, still facing many threats.

But fish are faring worst of all, with 38 percent of species in the 'bad' conservation status, and half of fish and amphibians deteriorating.

"[This] shows very clearly that we are still losing our vital life support system. We urgently need to deliver on the commitments in the new EU biodiversity strategy to reverse this decline for the benefit of nature, people, climate and the economy," said the commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius.

The EEA report indicates that the intensification and specialisation of the agricultural sector have increasingly contributed to a large-scale loss and destruction of nature - with the use of pesticides and fertilisers negatively impacting on many habitats and species.

As a result, 45 percent of agricultural habitats are deteriorating, while only eight percent are in a 'good' conservation status.

Agriculture is responsible for air, water and soil pollution, significantly affecting standing waters, rivers and marine habitats and their species.

Nevertheless, forestry management, pollution or urbanisation are also found to be the main drivers of biodiversity loss in the bloc.

2020 biodiversity goals missed

In 2011, the European Commission adopted a biodiversity strategy in a bid to halt the loss of species and the degradation of ecosystems in the EU - including targets, to be reached by 2020, which explicitly mention species and habitat conservation status.

However, member states' progress was not enough to achieve the strategy. None of the three groups assessed met their targets: habitats and birds lag far behind, while non-bird species nearly met their target.

Earlier this year, the EU Commission updated the strategy with new ambitious targets for the next decade, for instance, seeking to increase organic farming to more than 25 percent and to halve the overall use of and risk from pesticides.

However, the EEA report warns that "tremendous efforts are needed to put the cross-sectoral approach into practice, adapting the common agricultural [and] fisheries policies to be tools for protecting biodiversity".

Similarly, green groups are urging the alignment of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), proposed back in 2018, with the new ambitions set in the 2030 Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

"As it stands, the future of the CAP looks grim," said Jabier Ruiz from NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

"Neither council nor parliament appear to care about the climate and biodiversity crises as they strip away conditions for farm subsidies and push for greenwashing loopholes," he also said, adding that "policy-makers must hit the emergency brakes and change direction before it is too late".

EU agriculture ministers are meeting this week to try to reach a common position on the CAP reform, while MEPs will vote on key amendments this week.

Yet, some of the largest groups in the European Parliament - the European People's Party, Socialists & Democrats and Renew Europe - have already reached a consensus, lowering the environmental conditions attached to EU farm subsidies for farmers.

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