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  • Alarming decline in the EU natural heritage

    January 19, 2012
    by Daniele Bargellini

    (Copyright Joanne Singfield)

    According to new research published today, Europe’s natural heritage is showing an alarming decline.

    The European Red List, a part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, assessed a considerable portion of Europe’s native fauna and flora, finding that a large proportion of molluscs, freshwater fish and vascular plants now fall into the threatened category.

    Freshwater molluscs are the most threatened group assessed so far. Spengler’s freshwater mussel (Margaritifera auricularia), once widespread, is now restricted to a handful of rivers in France and Spain.

    The species is one of two for which a european-level action plan was designed, and there are ongoing conservation programmes which allow hope for its future.

    Freshwater fish are also highly threatened, especially as a result of pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the introduction of alien species.

    Sturgeon are particularly at risk, with all but one of the eight European species now critically endangered.

    Included in the vascular plant category are the wild relatives of crop plants which are vital for food security yet are often neglected in terms of conservation.

    Crop plants that show concerning levels of threat are sugar beet, wheat, oat and lettuce which are economically important crops in Europe.

    But there is some positive news, and the assessment highlights the success of well-designed conservation measures.

    Many species protected under the EU Habitats Directive and included in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas now have an improved chance of survival.

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