The State of Nature report: “Illegal killing and hunting are biggest pressures”

state of nature report, EU
The famous Mulberry Tree painting by Van Gogh depicts some trees native to the EU © Edwardgerges

At EU Green Week, biodiversity is high on the agenda as The State of Nature report is set to be discussed by a panel of experts – but what did the data tell us?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced the EU to reschedule plans for a huge Biodiversity event to 2021. With the addition of budget negotiations and Brexit deals, it could be possible to lose focus from the climate situation. While there is necessary discussion about the connection between air pollution, poverty and COVID, The State of Nature in the European Union report reflects solely on the situation of conservation.
This report draws on data from 2013-2018 under the Birds and Habitats Directives, making it a crucial reference point for leaders who want a pragmatic climate plan for 2030.

Who wrote the report?

A coalition of authors across the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity, BirdLife International and European Environment Agency analysed data to produce this comprehensive assessment of how Europe is handling conservation and biodiversity.
Some of the work was done in tandem with The Natura 2000 network –  a framework of key sites for rare, under threat species. The system maps all 27 EU countries, both land and sea. The Birds and Habitats directive uses this network to try and conserve environments that could make all the difference in ensuring that biodiversity survives in the EU.

Is biodiversity working in the EU?

Unfortunately, the report finds that biodiversity in the EU is still declining. The authors say that “sea use, overexploitation and unsustainble management practices” are key reasons for why Europe faces a significant deterioration – even though Member States executed policies and put in “significant effort” to change things.
Further obstacles to the necessary dream of biodiversity are water regime modification, pollution, invasive alien species and the much-discussed phenomenon of climate change. The news is not all dark – some species and habitats have enjoyed small successes. Sadly, the overall levels of change are not enough to comply with the ambitions of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020.
A new Strategy is coming into place for 2030, which brings with it the highly-ambitious target of stopping biodiversity loss. The authors say that policies cannot exist without “greater implementation” or there will be no significant change.

What is the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030?

Here are 3 key policy-points that are proposed for the next decade:
  1. A larger EU-wide network of protected areas: This would exist on land and at sea, building upon existing Natura 2000 areas e.g. protect at least 30% of the land and
    30% of the sea in the EU;
  2. An EU Nature Restoration Plan: a series of concrete commitments and actions to restore degraded ecosystems across the EU by 2030, and manage them sustainably
    e.g. by more effectively protecting marine habitats and restoring at least 25,000 km of rivers to free-flowing rivers by 2030;
  3. The necessary transformative change: re-thinking and pushing a new, strengthened governance framework to ensure better implementation and track progress, improving knowledge, financing and business decision-making.
  4. Agricultural pressures: increase organic farming to more than 25 %; reduce the overall use of and risk from pesticides by 50% by 2030; provide space for wild animals, plants, pollinators and natural pest regulators; and recover atleast 10% of agricultural area as high-diversity landscape features.

Key observations from The State of Nature report?

The good news is that a number of specifies and habitats saw conservation improvement. This includes forests, mammals and several birds of prey.

However, again, none of the 2020 biodiversity goals were reached. In the end, a 12% gap remained for habitats to achieve their target, whilst bird species experienced a 20% gap and non-bird species came the closest with only a 2% gap to successful implementation of the goals. Unsurprisingly, habitats included in the Natura 2000 network (even incompletely, at around 75% of coverage) showed improvement and less deterioration than habitats with less than that percentage of coverage.
When it comes to animals, terrestial reptiles were mostly protected, but there were policy-gaps in protecting other reptile species. With 463 bird species assessed, it was found that 47% have a good population status and 39% have a poor conservation status – that’s an increase of 7% on the birds having a bad time. However, wetland and marine birds are enjoying an overall improvement out of all of them. Illegal killing and hunting of birds was stated as a continuing issue, with calls for more intensive policy-making and implementation to discourage the act. With grouse-hunting recently making headlines in the UK as an acceptable lockdown activity, bird-hunting remains a cultural touchstone that needs to be re-written.
The most urgent recreation work appears to be in the biogeographical locations of the Boreal, Mediterranean, Continental and Alpine regions, where there is significant deterioration.

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