Europe depends on biodiversity for its prosperity and quality of life, but Europe’s ecosystems continue to be degraded at an alarming rate. The European Commission has published a first action plan to maintain and restore dry calcareous grasslands - one of the most species-rich and most threatened European habitat, of vital importance for wild bees, butterflies and moths. This action plan is part of Europe's efforts to stop biodiversity loss and to increase recognition of the multiple values of nature.
EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said: “European dry calcareous grasslands are the hub of Europe’s biodiversity and a vital source of livelihood for local communities. They provide essential services that our society depends on. With this first EU action plan for endangered habitats, we want to make sure that these valuable natural systems continue to sustain Europeans’ health and quality of life. The action plan is a key tool to support the efforts of authorities on all levels, non-governmental organisations, local communities and stakeholders in the conservation and management of this crucial habitat.”
Under the Action Plan for nature, people and the economy, the European Commission, in cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, had committed to develop and promote the implementation of EU Action Plans for two of the most threatened EU habitat types, dry chalky grasslands and European dry heaths, both protected under the EU Habitats Directive.
The action plan consists of six specific medium to long-term objectives and key actions to ensure the maintenance and restoration of these grasslands at favourable conservation status. It is intended to help develop the necessary instruments on EU and national level and to establish, promote and implement actions in the context of the agricultural policy, projects financed by the LIFE programme, and in the context of other environmental policies. It also provides a key reference for governmental and non-governmental organisations, local communities and stakeholders for designing and implementing conservation measures and a knowledge base for better understanding management of grasslands.
Dry calcareous grasslands - 17,000 km2 of calcium rich soil covered mostly by grass and herbs, occurring in almost all EU regions - are one of the most biodiverse habitats in Europe. With up to 80 plant species per m2, calcareous grasslands are also an important habitat for many rare and endangered species, including wild pollinators, birds, reptiles and mammals.
These grasslands provide vital benefits to society. They are extensively used for livestock grazing all over the EU, providing meat and dairy products, but also services such as pollination, soil erosion prevention, recreational and tourism opportunities. They also act as carbon ‘sinks’ and are therefore a vital asset in the effort to reduce levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This habitat is degraded all over Europe and is expected to continue deteriorating, mostly due to poor management (disappearance of grazing activity or overgrazing), nitrogen pollution, invasive alien species, land use changes and habitat fragmentation. Over half (57%) of the habitat surface is included in the EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas, in 4,437 sites that cover a total area of around 9,700 km2. The conservation status inside the network seems to be better than outside the Natura 2000 sites.
While many EU action plans have been drawn up for species listed in the Annexes of the Birds and the Habitats Directive, none had been prepared yet for protected habitat types. Management models have nevertheless been developed for 25 protected habitat types including for the dry calcareous grasslands to help site managers prepare their own site-specific management plans.