European Biodiversity Shrinking

By Susanna Jacona Salafia

ROME, Italy, January 19, 1999 (ENS) - The diversity of living creatures is in grave danger in Europe, a situation revealed by the latest report of the European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC) an independent Dutch organization working in the field of nature conservation to link policy makers and scientists.


Brown bear
European biodiversity takes in roughly 230,000 species and more than 10,000 different habitats. In total, Europe's animals and plants encompass 514 birds, 250 mammals, 230 fish, 200 reptiles, 70 amphibians, 200,000 species of invertebrates and 12,500 higher plants.

"Facts & Figures on Europe's Biodiversity: State and Trends 1998-1999," issued by the Dutch group, collects and complements official reporting initiatives by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

"Thirty-eight percent of Europe's 514 bird species are of European conservation concern, the ECNC report warns. "They are in need of conservation measures for their populations to survive." According to a list compiled by BirdLife International and reported by the ECNC, 24 species of birds are of global conservation concern. They are classified in Category 1 meaning the most highly dangered species. These most endangered birds include the Dalmatian pelican, the White-headed duck and the Spanish imperial eagle.

Among the assessed factors threatening these bird species are the agricultural intensification of their habitats, hunting and persecution, wetland drainage and land-claims.

30 percent of Europe's amphibians and 45 percent of its reptiles are also threatened according to the internationally recognized IUCN categories. The Southern parts of Europe contain the highest proportion of threatened amphibians and reptiles because a great many species are native only to this region.

"Among the most likely causes are habitat destruction and alteration, use of pesticides and herbicides, tourism, the introduction of non-native species, diseases, and an increasing ultraviolet radiation due to atmospheric ozone depletion," says Ben Delbaere of Belgium, ECNC senior information and network services officer and coordinator of the "Facts & Figures on European Biodiversity" report.

Only two percent of Europe's forests can be regarded as natural according to the report. In the last few decades 30 hectares of dunes and beaches are being destroyed every day. Many cultural and natural landscapes suffer from increase of scale of agriculture. Also historic estates and historic landscapes are victim to deterioration.

"Again it is mainly in the Mediterranean region that the loss of dune habitats is continuing, the main cause being the construction of tourist facilities and other infrastructure," adds Delbaere.


The ECNC Board, composed of university experts designated by European States and representatives of international institutions active in European nature conservation (Photo courtesy ECNC)
As regards landscapes there is a general trend to convert small-scale landscapes - small parcels, lots of small landscape elements such as hedgerows, ponds, forest - into large scale ones, for the sake of industrial agriculture.

This has been the case in northwestern Europe where most traditional small-scale landscapes have been destroyed. It is spreading and continuing in the Alps, the Iberian peninsula of Spain in Dehesa, in the Tuscan region of Italy, and in Central and Eastern Europe.

Some trends that enhance the survival of diverse species are reported as well.

Populations of large carnivores - brown bears, wolves, lynx - are again increasing and expanding their ranges.

The total forest coverage is increasing in Europe, and species reintroduction as well as habitat restoration programmes have been successful.


Lammergeier vulture
Some examples of siccessful species reintroduction in Europe are the Yellow Lady's slipper orchid in England, the beaver in the Netherlands, the lammergeier vulture in the Alps, the brown bear in Austria, the raven in the Netherlands, the lynx in Germany, and the osprey in Scotland.