Habitats report shows sorry state of EU biodiversity

| 14th July 2009
Lowland heather
Nine out of 10 of threatened UK habitats were found to be in poor condition, despite an EU directive for their protection
A report by the European Commission shows that habitat and wildlife protection targets across Europe will be missed, with nine out of 10 UK habitats found to be in 'unfavourable' condition

The European Union is likely to miss its target of preventing the loss of biodiversity by 2010, according to new research that also shows 91 per cent of threatened habitats in the UK in ‘unfavourable' condition.

The European Commission (EC) report on threatened habitats and species under the EU Habitats Directive looked at 216 habitats and 1,182 plant and animal species in 25 member states, and found northwestern Europe – including the UK – to be of particular concern.

The EU Habitats Directive obliges member states to take measures to protect Europe’s animals and plants, and their habitats. The EC report is the first to assess their condition since the adoption of the directive in 1992.

It makes for sobering reading: only six per cent of threatened habitats and 23 per cent of threatened species in the UK were found to be in ‘favourable’ condition, and only one of the 14 grassland and heathland habitats included on the directive. A fifth of the world’s lowland heathland is in the UK, though the area it covers is now only a quarter of its original size as a result of agriculture, urban sprawl, forestry work and abandonment.

Only 17 per cent of the EU’s most threatened habitats were found to be doing well, with coastal, wetland and farmland habitats most at risk. A mere seven per cent of agriculture-related habitats, such as grasslands, are in a favourable condition.

The report was compiled from information provided by member states, with Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Portugal rapped for classifying as ‘unknown’ the status of more than half their threatened species. Germany tops the list of countries in northwestern Europe with threatened habitats in ‘favourable’ condition, at 29 per cent, followed by Portugal (21 per cent), Denmark (19 per cent), the Netherlands (eight per cent), Ireland (six per cent), the UK (six per cent), Belgium (four per cent) and France (three per cent).

‘The statistic that more than nine out of 10 of threatened habitats in the UK are not in favourable condition is shocking and is a reminder that the Government has to abide by its duty under European law to improve the fortunes for our special and threatened wildlife,’ said the RSPB’s director of conservation, Mark Avery. He called for improvements to be made to the condition of existing habitat, site protection and positive management for the best sites, and for the rest to be recreated.

‘This report highlights the impact of traditional threats, such as agriculture, habitat destruction and development, but new threats, such as climate change, are emerging rapidly. From previous research, we know that the legal protection of nature at a European level works spectacularly well. By improving the situation now for threatened habitats and species we will help them to be more robust in the face of future threats.’

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