The EU Environment Agency published its "State of Nature" report, which confirms that the EU is falling far short of its own biodiversity restoration targets by 2020. A major driver of biodiversity loss in Europe is land use.
Causes according to the EU Commission
The data in the newly published report is clear: a U-turn in agricultural policy is urgently needed to preserve nature in Europe for future generations. The EU report identifies intensive agriculture as the clear main cause of biodiversity loss. This is because it is geared towards maximising yields, which is why there is often a lack of hedgerows, field margins and fallow land, the landscape water balance is heavily altered in many places, and pesticides and increased fertilisation rob many species groups of food and habitat.
According to the report, species-rich grassland is particularly endangered: Fertilisation, intensive grazing, and the loss of meadows and pastures are the most pressing problems here: as insect populations plummet, so does pollination, an ecosystem service on which large parts of agriculture depend.
State of nature in Germany:
As the 2019 State of Nature in Germany report shows (which has been incorporated into the current EU report), biodiversity is not in good shape in this country either. In some respects, Germany even performs worse than the EU average:
- Habitats, especially grassland habitats, which are important for pollinating insects, are in particularly bad shape. In Germany, almost 70 percent of the habitat types protected by the EU are in an unfavourable condition (37 percent poor, 32 percent insufficient).
- Germany is among the bottom performers in the EU in terms of the status of protected species under the Habitats Directive (plants and animals other than birds): only seven EU countries have more than 30 percent of them in poor conservation status. In Germany, the figure has even risen from 29 percent to 33 percent compared to the last report. In addition, another 30 percent have an inadequate conservation status, and only 25 percent have the favourable status required by EU law.
- A total of 25 out of 37 mammal species that require special protection under the Habitats Directive are in poor or inadequate conservation status. Only eight species can currently maintain their favourable status, including the pine marten, the water bat and the beaver (only in the continental region).
- Among bird species, population declines in Germany have accelerated considerably over the last twelve years. In Germany, the populations of about one third of all bird species are declining, for one third the populations are increasing somewhat and for another third the populations are relatively stable. The losers include above all the birds of the agricultural landscape, such as partridge and lapwing, which have lost around 90 percent of their populations since 1980.
Background: the ongoing EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020
At the global UN Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya in 2010, the EU states committed themselves to halting the loss of animals, plants and their habitats in Europe by 2020. One year later, in its own biodiversity strategy, the EU set concrete targets for restoring biodiversity: the proportion of habitats assessed as good or improving should double, and an increase of 50 percent was set for species. Despite many successful conservation projects at the local level, up to a fifth of the targeted improvements were still missing at the end of the last decade.
Specifically, the EU biodiversity targets for 2020 stipulated that...
- ...a favourable or at least improving status would be achieved for one third of all EU habitat types. This target was achieved for only 22 percent. At the same time, 32 percent of habitat types have deteriorated further in the last six years. Only 15 percent of all habitat types are in the "favourable conservation status" to be aimed for under the Habitats Directive. Grassland habitats show particularly poor ratings. Half of them are in poor conservation status, and of the grassland types important for pollinators, a disproportionately large number are in particularly poor status.
- ...a safe status (from extinction) or at least a significant improvement is achieved for 80 percent of all wild bird species. This has only been achieved for 60 percent of the species. Overall, however, the populations of more bird species continue to decline than increase. The proportion of species in a safe status fell from 52 percent to 47 percent in the last six years. The situation is dramatic for the bird species of the agricultural landscape: their 25-year trend (Agricultural Bird Index) shows a decline of 32 percent, without any sign of recovery.
- ...a favourable or improving status is achieved for 35 percent of all other animal and plant species protected by the EU. This target was missed by only two per cent, but this should not obscure the fact that at the same time the status of 31 per cent of all species surveyed deteriorated. Only a good quarter (27 per cent) of all species are in the targeted "favourable conservation status", while 21 per cent are in a poor and 42 per cent in an inadequate conservation status.
In view of the dramatic situation, NABU appeals(s) to the last to the responsible MEPs in the EU Parliament who will decide on the EU agricultural policy for the next few years: With their votes they can stop the loss of biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. In the vote on the future EU agricultural policy, all Members of the European Parliament have the great opportunity to vote for an ecological turnaround in the support system. For in these days the decision will be made whether the agricultural policy until 2027 and the destruction of nature and the economic misery of farms in the EU will continue to intensify or whether a turnaround will be initiated. At stake is the distribution of 55 billion euros of taxpayers' money.
Currently, farms that operate in harmony with nature and the climate are at an economic disadvantage. In line with the new EU report, NABU demands a ten percent share of non-productive areas and landscape elements in the agricultural landscape.
The agricultural ministers, however, have so far only agreed to five percent biodiversity areas. Moreover, these areas are to be allowed to continue to be farmed, which could lead to a further decline in pollinating insects and farmland birds. This Friday, the EU Parliament will hold its final vote on the EU's agricultural policy, threatening further deterioration for biodiversity and the climate.
Under the motto #VoteDownThisCAPdown, Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, NABU and many others are calling for a rejection of the decisions in order to bring about a new beginning in agricultural policy. According to NABU, the EU Commission must also insist on implementing the European Green Deal in agricultural policy as well and, if necessary, withdraw the Juncker Commission's 2018 proposal.