Nature and people

The region covering Europe, North and Central Asia, comprising the overseas entities of European Union countries, is rich in natural and cultural heritage. It hosts a diverse range of landscapes and habitats, and a wealth of flora and fauna. Eight of the world's Biodiversity Hotspots (as identified by Conservation International - see here) are covered or partially covered by the region: Mediterranean Basin, Irano-Anatolian, Caucasus, Mountains of Central Asia, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands, New Caledonia, Polynesia-Micronesia and Caribbean Islands. The environmental and biodiversity conditions and issues vary greatly across this vast region.

Biodiversity on European mainland* includes 488 species of birds, 260 species of mammals, 151 species of reptiles, 85 species of amphibians, 546 species of freshwater fishes and about 1,100 marine fishes, 20-25,000 species of vascular plants and well over 100,000 species of invertebrates.

Besides the great diversity of flora and fauna, a large proportion of European* animals and plants are unique to the region: about 27%of terrestrial mammal species are endemic as well as 77% of amphibians, 52% of reptiles, 33% of butterflies, 13% of dragonflies, 81% of freshwater fishes, 88% freshwater molluscs and 16% aquatic plants.

Possibly more than anywhere else in the world, landscapes have been changed by human activities in this region; for centuries most of Europe’s land has been used by humans to produce food, timber and fuel and providing living space, so that now the continent is covered with a mosaic of natural and semi-natural habitats surrounding urbanized areas.

Consequently, European species are to a large extent dependent upon these semi-natural habitats maintained by human activity, particularly, traditional, non-intensive forms of land management. These habitats modifications have placed great pressures on our wildlife and natural areas.

Habitat loss and degradation as a result of land use changes are the major causes of species declines in terrestrial environments. In European rivers and wetlands, major threats include dam construction, water abstraction, introduced species and pollution. In the marine areas, over-harvesting is reducing fishery stocks to below their recovery limits, and factors such as bycatch and pollution are threatening marine mammals.

Similar patterns can now be found in the countries of North and Central Asia where human development has had a negative impact on nature.

Beyond mainland, Europe’s overseas entities host more endemic animal and plant species than are found on the whole of continental Europe making this region a crucial area for conservation. New Caledonia alone has about as many endemic species as the entire European continent, and French Guiana includes an area of Amazon rainforest the size of Portugal. The biodiversity of these entities is highly vulnerable to human induced impacts such as habitat destruction, alien invasive species, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and increasingly the impacts of climate change. Find out more about this here.

Although considerable efforts have been made to protect and conserve habitats and species in the region and its overseas entities, biodiversity decline and the associated loss of vital ecosystem services continues to be a major concern.

Threatened Europe*

59% of freshwater molluscs
40% of freshwater fishes
23% of amphibians
22% of terrestrial molluscs (based on a selection of species)
20% of reptiles
17% of mammals
16% of dragonflies
16% of crop wild relatives (based on a selection of species)
15% of saproxylic beetles (based on a selection of species)
13% of birds
9% of butterflies
8% of aquatic plants


* Data are from the European Red List. Geographical scope is continent wide, extending from Iceland in the west to the Urals in the east, and from Franz Josef Land in the north to the Canary Islands in the south. The Caucasus region is not included. More information here.