Biological diversity in the Nordic Countries
The ongoing loss of biodiversity is not as apparent to us in our everyday lives as for instance climate change, whose impacts are much more apparent. Even so, it is a remarkable environmental problem. Hardly anyone will notice if a small insect disappears – indeed we might not even have known that it ever existed. But every creature plays its own specific role in its environment. The importance of biodiversity for Earth and for man needs to be better publicised to make everyone aware of the potential losses we face.
The Nordic Countries are committed to the 2010 target which aims to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010. The target was initiated by the European Union in 2003. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) launched the 2010 campaign aimed to reach the 2010 target. This target is also incorporated in the Nordic Environmental Action Plan for 2005-2008.
Species numbers and threatened species in the Nordic Countries
There are an estimated 60,000 species in the Nordic countries. According to the IUCN criteria, species classified as critically endangered (CR), endangered (EN) and vulnerable (VU) are considered to be threatened. According to these criteria, many of the species found in the Nordic Countries are threatened, as can be seen in the table below. In Finland the most threatened species are species found in forests and cultural habitats.
Species numbers in the Nordic Countries according to species group and country
Habitats and threats
The greatest threat to biodiversity in the Nordic Countries is land use. Ecosystems and landscapes are being fragmented and homogenised by forms of land use that prioritise economic interests. The strongest effects are related to building and intensive agriculture and forestry. Only small patches of natural habitat are conserved in the midst of increasing infrastructural development and large cultivated areas. Waters are widely polluted, and fish stocks are overexploited. Habitats and species are put under so much pressure that they can eventually vanish.
The most threatened habitats are cultural habitats that are not threatened by overexploitation or disturbance, but by abandonment and overgrowth. The Nordic Countries have established many large protected areas, but they are for the most part in the north of Finland and Sweden, and in Greenland and Svalbard so they do not represent Nordic nature evenly.
Protected areas have been established in the Nordic Countries since the beginning of the 20th century. Sweden was a forerunner in environmental legislation, enacting the first nature conservation laws in 1909. At that time the first national parks were also established in Sweden. In the 1970s the environmental movement became stronger and environmental administrations were developed in many countries.
It was realised that nature also needs to be conserved outside protected areas. Environment ministries were founded, and the Nordic Countries' environmental legislation can now be described as world class. The Nordic Countries are committed to several international agreements on environmental protection and nature conservation. Protected areas and species are categorised according to the criteria of The World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Notes:In Norway (incl. Svalbard) the classes Ia and Ib are not separated. In the graph Ia represents Norway's combined class I. In Finland only a few protected areas are classified according to the IUCN categories, and the unclassified areas are here included in "other". Greenland has about 982,550 sq km of protected areas, mostly of class II, which are not included in the graph.
Sources: The Finnish register of protected Areas 2006, UN List of Protected areas 2003, Direktoratet for naturforvaltning 2007, Environmental and Food Agency of Iceland 2007.
IUCN categories for protected areas:
- Ia: Strict Nature Reserve:protected area managed mainly for science
- Ib: Wilderness Area: protected area managed mainly for wilderness protection
- II: National Park: protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation
- III: Natural Monument: protected area managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features
- IV: Habitat/Species Management Area: protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention
- V: Protected Landscape/Seascape: protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation
- VI: Managed Resource Protected Area: protected area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems
More precise definitions of the categories:
IUCN categories for protected areas > Definitions & Categories > Defining nationally designated protected areas
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