Biodiversity is under pressure throughout the world. The majority of the species dying out are under threat because of human activities
Throughout the entire globe, animal and plant species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. This means we are losing important ecosystems, destroying food chains, and we are running the risk of losing that very plant which holds the key to the most important medicine of the future. The Danish Government is working to put a stop to the decline in nature's diversity throughout the world. This work starts right here in Denmark.
Every day plant and animal species are disappearing from the face of the globe. We do not know how many, but we do know that species are becoming extinct between 100 to 1,000-times faster than is natural. We also know that up to one-quarter of the mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and butterflies in the EU are endangered. In Denmark, more than 340 species have become extinct since 1850, so there are serious challenges even here.
What is a species?
Species can, in simplified terms, be described as a group of individuals capable of reproducing and producing viable offspring. Science has named and classified approximately 2.16 million different species on Earth, but the actual number of species is believed to be many times greater.
Species adapt and change in constant interaction with the ecosystems they are a part of. Some species are found across large parts of the globe, while others are so specialized that they can only survive in limited areas where very specific conditions prevail.
Dispersal and Distribution
The distribution of individual species also depends on their ability to spread and their reproductive opportunities. Many species have today been spread beyond their original range, often with the assistance of humans. Therefore, the conservation of biodiversity is not only a matter of creating favorable conditions for as many habitat types and species as possible but also a question of which habitat types and species we should preserve.
In Denmark, there are approximately 35,000 native, introduced, or invasive species of plants and animals registered, excluding bacteria, single-celled algae, and certain lower animal groups. Many of these species are protected by legislation, primarily the Nature Conservation Act, the Hunting Act, and the Fisheries Act.
Additionally, several EU directives pertain to species protection, and these directives have been incorporated into Danish legislation. Denmark has also acceded to various international conventions that have implications for species protection. Furthermore, many species are indirectly protected because their habitats are safeguarded.
There are several levels of species protection, ranging from a complete prohibition on killing the species to restrictions on hunting and fishing seasons for the species.
Protected Species under EU's Nature Conservation Directives
Species listed in Annex IV and wild birds are protected under the EU's nature conservation directives, which include the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.
EU's nature conservation directives require EU member states to protect and preserve a range of species and habitat types that are rare, endangered, or characteristic of EU countries.
The Habitats Directive and Birds Directive have been implemented in Denmark, and the prohibitions are specified in various laws.
What is biodiversity?
The UN defines biodiversity as: "The variety of life on Earth, including the diversity of living organisms in all environments, both on land and in water, as well as the ecological interactions that organisms engage in. Biodiversity encompasses both the variation within and between species as well as the diversity of ecosystems." In other words, biodiversity includes all life on Earth, including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and other living organisms, both on land and in water.
Ecosystems, Species, and Genes
In more detail, biodiversity consists of the diversity of the world's ecosystems/habitats, the individual species within these ecosystems, and the genetic composition of these species. These three elements contribute to providing us with food and medicine, as well as clean air and water. Additionally, biodiversity can help mitigate natural disasters, counteract pests and diseases, and contribute to climate regulation. Biodiversity can also deliver ecosystem services that form the basis of our economy, such as the pollination of our crops. The deterioration and loss of biodiversity pose a threat to these services, and if we lose species and habitats, it will impact the well-being and jobs connected to nature.
Not least of all, it is biodiversity, the diversity of life, that gives nature its shapes, colors, variations, and adaptations, ensuring the functioning of ecosystems while making nature both surprising, beautiful, and incredibly instructive.
Ecosystems encompass the interactions between living organisms and their physical surroundings. Ecosystems can be delineated at various levels. Earth itself can be considered as one vast ecosystem. A natural habitat like a forest can also be viewed as an ecosystem, which may contain other ecosystems within it or parts of other ecosystems.
Within an ecosystem, all living organisms are in various ways influenced and dependent on other organisms, as well as the climate and soil of their surroundings.
Ecosystem Services Originate from Nature
Ecosystem services refer to the services and benefits that humans receive from nature. A well-functioning ecosystem can purify water and air, maintain soil quality, regulate the climate, recycle nutrients, and provide food. Additionally, ecosystem services supply raw materials and resources used for medicines and other products.
How is biodiversity measured?
Biodiversity in Denmark is under pressure from various factors, including nutrient pollution, restrictions on the free movement of water, intensive agriculture and forestry practices, as well as urban expansion and infrastructure development. Clearly, it is not feasible to measure the impact of all these factors on all approximately 35,000 species in Denmark. Therefore, indicators are used to provide an overview of the state and trends of nature.
The National Monitoring Program for Aquatic Environment and Nature (NOVANA)
The National Monitoring Program for Aquatic Environment and Nature (NOVANA) monitors the condition of the aquatic environment and nature within areas prioritized according to politically established economic frameworks.
The purpose of NOVANA is to provide data that can be used to assess the impact, condition, and development of nature and the environment in Denmark. NOVANA monitors seas and fjords, lakes and rivers, terrestrial ecosystems, groundwater, and the air. Data collected includes information about the current environmental conditions as well as data related to the discharge of nutrients and environmentally hazardous pollutants.
The Danish Red List
The Danish Red List is a compilation of Danish plant, animal, and fungal species that have been assessed as being at risk of extinction. The Red List provides an overview of how threatened a species is and whether the population and habitats of the species are stable, declining, or increasing.
A comparison of the Danish Red Lists from 2010 and 2019 shows that many wild animals, plants, and fungi in Denmark are at risk of extinction. 41.6 percent of all Red List-assessed species are categorized as extinct, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, or lacking sufficient data for assessment. This overall picture has remained unchanged since 2010. The comparison also reveals that species, in general, have become more endangered, with more species declining than increasing.
The assessment of species on the Danish Red List is conducted based on guidelines developed by the international conservation organization, IUCN. To red-list a species means to assess the risk of extinction for plant, animal, and fungal species.
During the 2019 update of the Red List, a total of 13,277 species of fungi, animals, and plants were assessed. This corresponds to 37 percent of all known species in Denmark's nature as reported on allearter.dk in 2019.
National red lists are prepared in different countries, as well as global lists. In Denmark, the Danish Red List for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency is compiled by DCE, Aarhus University.
On the Red List's website, you can learn more about changes from the previous Red List, the threats affecting species, and search for specific species.
Threats to biodiversity
Biodiversity, which is crucial for the survival of ecosystems, is under pressure, and a significant portion has already disappeared. The changing land use, driven by factors such as agricultural intensification, urbanization, construction projects in natural areas, overexploitation, pollution, climate change, and the introduction of species that compete with native flora and fauna, all harm natural ecosystems. The various causes of biodiversity decline often reinforce each other.
Nature lacks space
The lack of space and the destruction of habitats are the most significant reasons for the decline in biodiversity. Many species' habitats have disappeared, become smaller, or are disturbed due to changes in land use, such as cultivation and development. When the remaining habitats become smaller and fragmented, they become highly vulnerable to other threats. Once they are destroyed, it is often expensive and sometimes impossible to restore them.
How do we preserve biodiversity?
All wild mammals and birds are protected unless the Hunting Act allows for hunting them, or they are covered by the Wildlife Damage Regulation, which provides the possibility to apply for permission to control harmful wildlife. Protected animals and plants cannot be collected or killed, and according to the Species Preservation Regulation ("Artsfredningsbekendtgørelsen"), plants cannot be removed from the location where they grow. Additionally, all reptiles and amphibians are protected by special regulations, and these species cannot be killed, captured, transported, or handled. Species preservation also extends to some threatened plant species, including all orchids.
Prohibition on introduction of Animals
The introduction of animal species that do not naturally exist in Denmark or have been absent for an extended period can have a negative impact on native species and ecosystem services.
According to Section 31, Paragraph 1, of the Danish Nature Protection Act, there is a prohibition on the introduction of animals that are not naturally wild in Denmark. These animals may not be released into nature without prior authorization. This applies both to terrestrial areas, territorial waters, and fishing waters.
In the context of introducing animal species that are not naturally wild in Denmark today, it is essential to ensure that the introduced species does not have an undesirable impact on the environment and nature. This also applies to the reintroduction of wildlife species that were previously native.
Whether strict containment measures (physical and/or biological) are necessary will depend on a specific assessment. The assessment will be based on available knowledge about the species and the purpose of the application.
Together for a WILDER Denmark
Nature is in crisis in Denmark and worldwide, and countless animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the near future. That's why the Ministry of the Environment initiated the campaign 'Together for a WILDER Denmark' in 2021, aimed at motivating and inspiring Danes in the fight for more wild nature. All 98 municipalities in the country competed to become Denmark's WILDEST! On February 5, 2021, the Minister of the Environment invited all 98 municipalities in the country to participate in the competition to become Denmark's WILDEST municipality. The competition revolved around municipalities developing the best biodiversity projects, with only imagination setting the limits. The competition has been the starting point for us to collectively make Denmark wilder, to better protect our butterflies and wildflowers, and to pass on a more vibrant, buzzing, and living nature to our grandchildren. Even though the competition is over, you can still be inspired by the municipalities' excellent nature projects and read about the competition below. All the municipalities' experiences from the competition were compiled in a White Paper for inspiration for municipalities and other interested parties.