Roads, motorways, railways, intensive agriculture and urban developments are breaking up Europe’s landscapes into ever-smaller pieces, with potentially devastating consequences for flora and fauna across the continent, according to a new joint report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). The report demonstrates how areas of land are often unable to support high levels of biodiversity when they are split into smaller and smaller parcels.
The report “Landscape fragmentation in Europe” presents, for the first time, the extent of landscape fragmentation across an entire continent. It reveals the most relevant driving forces behind fragmentation, demonstrating that varying factors are relevant in different parts of Europe.
The brown hare in Switzerland is an example of a species which has been pushed to the brink of extinction by landscape fragmentation in combination with other human impacts such as intensive agriculture. Extinction of the Swiss brown hare may be impossible to avoid as the 'point of no-return' may have been crossed.
However, it is not all bad news - the report also presents some positive stories. For example, badgers in the Netherlands were in decline for many years, until a 'defragmentation policy' was established in 1984. The Dutch badger population has since increased slightly.
The report presents a mixed picture across Europe with high levels of fragmentation in the Benelux countries, Malta, Germany and France. Mediterranean countries have a medium level of landscape fragmentation overall, with greater fragmentation in many built-up coastal areas. Romania, on the other hand, has successfully avoided large-scale landscape fragmentation. The country’s numerous national parks and protected areas provide habitat for bears, wolves and lynx. In Scandinavia, low population densities, mountains and remote areas mean that the level of landscape fragmentation is very low.
Although the situation is critical, there are several proactive policies for more effective protection of remaining unfragmented areas, and wildlife corridors which could successfully reverse the trend of growing fragmentation.
Source: European Environment Agency EEA and Federal Office for the Environment FOEN