Researchers from the Forest Science Centre of Catalonia (CTFC), CREAF and CSIC have analysed the distribution of European funds for biodiversity conservation. After confirming that many threatened species are being left out, they propose more strategic planning, focused on most endangered species. They also recommend greater flexibility in setting priorities to achieve conservation objectives set at European level.

The study, recently published in Conservation Letters journal, reveals European spending on conservation needs to be planned in an orderly way, considering those species who need it most. This would assist biodiversity conservation and achieve goals set in environmental policies of the European Union (EU). Authors propose a strategic investment plan, periodically reviewable, indicating species based on their degree of threat and the attention they received in past investments.

To reach such conclusions, the article’s authors collected information on the investment made between 1993 and 2013 within the Life-Nature program, the main funding instrument of the European Union to ensure species and habitats conservation. The study analysed the distribution of € 3,000 million invested in nearly 1,500 projects, ranking them according to the project’s target species and the European region in which it was developed.

To assess whether the investment was relevant or if it related to conservation needs, they drew on assessments about the biodiversity conservation state in the EU made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which provide in a standardized manner the status of species, determining the threat level of each.

The study noted that 75% of the Life-Nature funds have been invested in species that are not threatened, while many of the most endangered species received little attention. These imbalances also moved to the geographical area. While central and northern Europe received a disproportionate share of funds in relation to the number of threatened species they have, many regions of southern Europe managed very little budget for Life-Nature, despite hosting large numbers of threatened species.

“Being limited funds, you have to plan and prioritize to maximize the benefits”

To explain this mismatch, authors argue two main lines. On the one hand, not all European regions have the same capacity to undertake conservation projects. Furthermore, there is no plan to distribute funds according to most urgent needs of conservation. In addition, lists of priority species set out in Habitats and Birds European Directives (regulations regarding wildlife and conservation of resources) more than two decades ago do not reflect the real level of threat of European biodiversity. Seventy-two % of the species present in these lists are not threatened, while they do not contain many species threatened with extinction (and therefore not a priority for funding under the LIFE program).

Therefore, authors propose to establish mechanisms for regularly reviewing these lists, to adapt them to new conservation emerging needs. They also emphasize the need to join efforts to achieve protection in a continental and global level.

“All the money invested in conservation is useful, but being limited funds, you have to plan and prioritize to maximize the benefits concerning the achievement of the objectives set by EU regulations”, said Virgilio Hermoso, lead author of the article, who adds “otherwise, it will be difficult to meet the conservation commitment of the European Union, focusing on preventing biodiversity loss”.

Results of this analysis show that the distribution of efforts does not seem to focus on the needs, so they may fail to achieve the objectives set out in the Directives and other international agreements signed by the EU. However, the study also lists examples where Life-Nature proved to be an effective conservation tool. This is the case of the recent reclassification of the Iberian lynx, which went from the highest category of threat (Critically Endangered) to an associated lower risk of extinction (Endangered).

More information:

Virgilio Hermoso, Miguel Clavero, Dani Villero, Lluís Brotons (2016) EU’s conservation efforts need more strategic investment to meet continental conservation needsConservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12248