September 14, 2020
A Living Planet Index for Belgium
The Belgian Biodiversity Platform is pleased to be a part of the release of the very first Living Planet Report Belgium. This work was done in collaboration with WWF, Natagora, Natuurpunt and the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences.
The first Living Planet Report Belgium provides an inventory of biodiversity in Belgium between 1990 and 2018. The trend is slightly positive (+ 0.2% / year) but hides many differences depending on the species and the habitats. Species specific to wetlands and natural open environments show a slight increase in their populations on average. On the other hand, the decline is dramatic for species in agricultural environments and, to a lesser extent, for forest species , in particular for birds.
A LIVING PLANET INDEX FOR BELGIUM
Belgium is a small country with a great diversity of habitats and species. The Living Planet Report Belgium is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between Natagora, WWF, Natuurpunt, Belgian Biodiversity Plateforme, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and more than twenty experts from universities, public institutions and conservation organizations. For the first time, a Living Planet Index (LPI) has been calculated to better assess the state of biodiversity in Belgium. The LPI measured the average change in the size of populations of 283 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects for the period 1990-2018.This indicates an increase of 0.2% per year with stability over the past 10 years. An encouraging result but to be qualified according to the species and the habitats.
THE “WINNERS” AND THE “LOSERS”
Behind the national LPI, indexes were also calculated for four major types of habitat: agricultural areas, forests, wetlands and open natural environments. Over the past 28 years, species in open natural environments (natural meadows and moors) such as certain locusts, butterflies and grasshoppers have experienced an average increase of 15%. Wetland species (marshes, streams and standing water) show an average increase of 47.6%.The increase in populations of dragonflies and damselflies may be associated on the one hand with global warming and on the other hand with restoration efforts which have made it possible to improve the quality of surface water and protect ponds, thanks to the Directive- framework on water, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. These results suggest that ambitious nature restoration projects, such as those carried out in the Scheldt basin in Flanders and on the Ardennes highlands in Wallonia, for example, have had a beneficial impact on biodiversity. However, only 27% of surface water bodies are currently in “good ecological condition” in Belgium.
In the agricultural zones which occupy 44% of the Belgian territory, on the other hand, the decline of the species is vertiginous. Bird populations have declined by 60.9% on average. This fall is associated with the intensification of agricultural practices. Intensive agriculture harms the environment through its contribution to eutrophication and the drying out of soils, the excessive use of pesticides and the simplification of landscapes. The removal of various elements of the ecological network puts wild flowers, insects and birds at risk.
In the forests, which cover 20% of the national surface, the populations studied have fallen by 26.6% on average. It is not easy to identify a single or even main cause for the evolution of species in a forest environment. The decline of certain birds such as the European oriole or of butterflies such as the copper of the goldenrod, contrasts with the spectacular return of emblematic species such as the black stork or the advance of the woodpecker. disturbances, such as drought or bark beetle invasions, are a challenge for forest managers.
THE DIRECT IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Intensive agriculture, logging, destruction, fragmentation and pollution of habitats constitute the greatest threat to biodiversity in Belgium. The overexploitation of natural resources and the introduction of exotic species also exert pressure on biodiversity, as well as climate change, the effects of which are increasingly visible. The populations of southern (southern) species are on the increase (+ 28.5% on average) while northern (northern) species seem to be doing less well (stable trend). Extreme weather events such as summer droughts can also lead to biodiversity loss.
According to the Living Planet International Report 2020 published on September 10, the vertebrate populations studied have lost an average of 68% of their numbers since 1970. Some scientists suggest a 6th mass extinction. The COVID-19 pandemic makes us realize that the state of biodiversity and that of our physical and mental health are inextricably linked. Deforestation and illegal wildlife trafficking make it easier for humans to come into contact with pathogens. At the same time, many of us have been looking for the beneficial effects of nature during confinement.
Nature restoration projects are beneficial for biodiversity. The return of certain key species such as the wolf, the otter or the European eagle owl is proof that conservation efforts are bearing fruit. But restoring nature also allows us to face societal challenges such as climate change, air quality, food and water supply. Measures such as the protection of coastal dunes, the creation of nature reserves or even the green and blue network in and around cities make it possible to limit the risk of flooding and the consequences of drought.
This first Living Planet Belgium Report is intended to be the starting point for effective actions in the field. To rebuild rich ecosystems, more education about nature and the environment, stimulating sustainable production and consumption, and involving citizens are part of the solution. But a coherent approach presupposes above all a coordinated strategy between the different levels of power which will take into account all the advantages that nature brings to society, for the economy, health, safety or tourism.