About half of wild birds have a “secure status” as EU programmes to protect endangered species have boosted numbers. But some of their habitats are cause for major concern, largely because of intensive farming, an EU report found on Wednesday (20 May).
The State of Nature in the European Union report for the years 2007-2012 found 17% of species, including some birds of prey, are threatened. Another 15% are near threatened, or are in decline. These include once common birds, such as the skylark.
Researchers from the European Environment Agency found in their most extensive six-year assessment yet that the state of natural habitats was even more worrying, and most have an unfavourable conservation status.
Grasslands, wetlands and dune habitats were of particular concern, the report found, adding that the main threats were agricultural practices, such as over-grazing, fertilisation and pesticides.
Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said the research showed that efforts to improve vulnerable ecosystems can be very effective, but it “underlines the scale of the challenges that remain”.
“Targeted conservation actions have brought successes, but a much greater effort is required for the situation to improve significantly,” the European Commission said in a statement accompanying the report.
Among the birds to have benefited from targeted EU conservation efforts were bearded vultures and white-headed ducks, whose numbers have improved substantially, the report found.
Campaign groups said that the report showed the need for vigorous EU law to protect the environment, and that policymakers should not be distracted by Eurosceptic arguments against Brussels interference.
“A thriving natural world is crucial for everybody’s health and wellbeing, so the EU would be foolish to undermine nature protections in the name of cutting red tape,” said Friends of the Earth’s Robbie Blake.
Announced Tuesday (20 May), the Commission’s “Better Regulation” strategy is facing claims that it will be used to drive down environmental standards. That was denied by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
Campaigners hope that the report will “strongly contribute” to the current assessment of EU Birds and Habitats Directives carried out by the Commission, in order to decide whether they are fit for purpose.