According to a series of surveys carried out by WWF and its partners as part of the European Habitats Forum (EHF), the diversity of Europe's wildlife and habitats continues to be lost at a dramatic rate.

The case studies, presented in Brussels in the closing stages of the European Commission’s “Green Week”, assessed 19 different species and 8 habitats across Europe. They show that over 60 per cent of the species and habitats studied have a “bad” conservation status under EU criteria.

Another 22 per cent could not be classified due to lack of data. Among the species surveyed, the conservation status of the Eurasian lynx and the Brown bear (in Austria) was assessed as “bad” and the loggerhead turtle as “inadequate”.

The small population of bears in central Austria decreased by about 50 per cent in the last seven years. These new assessments confirm the European Environment Agency’s previous figures on biodiversity loss – 52 per cent of freshwater fish, 42 per cent of native mammals and 45 per cent of butterflies and reptiles are threatened in Europe. Populations of butterfly and bird species linked to different habitat types across Europe have declined by between 2 and 37 per cent over the past 30 years.

EHF experts blame direct human influences as the main reason for reported trends. These include the use of pesticides or fertilisers, urbanisa¬tion, soil pollution, drainage, modification of cultivation practices, development and infrastructure issues, agriculture and forestry practices, as well as trapping, poisoning and poaching.

WWF says this is an indication that the EU must take immediate action to meet its target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 set in Göteborg, Sweden, in 2001. “On this evidence, the European Heads of State and governments will miss their goal to save nature in Europe,” said Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office.

“WWF and its partners are revealing the appalling conservation status for many European species and habitats. Only political commitment to put the loss of nature on a par with climate change will be enough to turn these alarming trends around.”

EHF experts urge the EU Member States to properly implement the Birds and Habitats Directives – the cornerstones of European environmental legislation – by designating enough Natura 2000 sites, managing threatened species, and financing measures which are needed for the survival of species. The report shows that the successful and effective implementation of Natura 2000 is crucial to safeguard biodiversity in Europe.

“The EU has the necessary legislation to protect threatened species and habitats,” said Gerald Dick of WWF’s Global Species Programme. “But it must close the implementation gap. This means managing these special conservation sites in the right way. Member States must prepare their national financial plans to finance the 2010 target.”