What are the pressures upon biodiversity in Europe?
Biodiversity is declining rapidly.
The irreversible loss in diversity of life on Earth has been more
rapid in the past 50 years than ever before in human history. These
losses are caused by human actions such as pollution, land use
change, over-exploitation, climate change and invasive non-native
species. These factors – known as drivers – tend to interact and
amplify each other.
Exposure to one threat often makes
a species more likely to be at risk from another as its overall
resilience has been weakened. On land the main drivers of
biodiversity loss are land cover and habitat change due to
urbanisation and new infrastructure, conversion of forest to
agriculture (or vice versa), farming intensification, habitat
break-up and non-native invasive species. Over-exploitation of
natural resources to generate energy, material goods and food also
play a part as does pollution, particularly by overuse of
fertilisers. At sea, overfishing is the main driver.
Protection of nature and biodiversity provides more information
on EU policy initiatives and legislation
What legislation and policies are in place for European
EU biodiversity and nature
conservation policy consists of legally-binding directives and
non-legislative policy instruments.
Biodiversity policy at the
European level was given formal recognition at the
European Council in Gothenburg in 2001 where Member States
committed “to halt the decline of biodiversity in the EU by
2010”. An international commitment on a biodiversity
target for 2010 was confirmed at the Conference of Parties to the
UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)
in 2002. The 2002 commitment was slightly softer, calling for: “The
achievement by 2010 of a significant reduction in the current rate
of loss of biological diversity.”
Biodiversity Communication from 2006 describes how the EU 2010
Biodiversity Target should be met and an
Action Plan proposes more than 150 measures. From the 2008
mid-term assessment it became clear that the EU will fail to meet
its 2010 target. On a European level as well as under the CBD
a new post-2010 target has to set.
The European Community
Biodiversity Clearing House Mechanism website gives an overview
of the EU’s biodiversity policy as well as all relevant links to
documents and EU websites.
The main pieces of legislation to
conserve nature and biodiversity on an EU-wide scale are the:
Birds and Habitats Directives
The two Directives call on Member
States to designate sites as Special Protection Areas and Special
Areas of Conservation to create a coherent ecological network
within the EU, which is known as the Natura 2000 network.
Marine Strategy Framework Directive
The MSFD requires Member States to
have their waters at Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020.
Member States are required to agree on what constitutes GES at a
regional level and to create Marine Protected Areas.
Water Framework Directive
The Water Framework Directive
(WFD) focuses on protecting the quantity and quality of Community
waters and promoting sustainable water use. It also sets out to
protect and enhance aquatic ecosystems, wetlands and linked
ecosystems on land.
How does European biodiversity legislation become UK law?
There are two main types of EU
legislation, regulations and directives. EU biodiversity
legislation is based on directives. A directive is a legislative
act of the EU which requires Member States to achieve a particular
result without setting out how it should be done. Regulations are
self-executing and do not require any implementing measures.
Directives give Member States a
timetable for action towards the intended outcome. In general,
Member States are required to make changes to their laws - called
transposition - so that a Directive can be implemented correctly.
Community law has priority over national law.
In the UK, the provisions of the
Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive are implemented through
the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended),
Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as
amended), the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, the Nature
Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and
Conservation (Natural Habitats, &C.) (Northern Ireland)
Regulations 1995 (as amended).
The Water Framework Directive has
been transposed into UK law through the Water
Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales)
Regulations 2003 (Statutory Instrument 2003 No. 3242) for
England and Wales, the
Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 (WEWS
Act) and the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive)
Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 (Statutory Rule 2003 No. 544)
for Northern Ireland.
The MSFD’s requirements must be
transposed into UK law by 15 July 2010.