EEA Report Highlights Abandonment and Intensification as Threats to Mountain Areas

A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on mountain ecosystems in Europe highlights the importance of the regions for biodiversity, and lists agricultural intensification and abandonment as key threats to these areas. The report, entitled [‘Mountain Ecosystems’][1] is eighth in the EEA’s series of ’10 messages for 2010’.

Low intensity farms support biodiversity

The report highlights the important role that low intensity farming plays in maintaining mountain biodiversity. Livestock rearing and traditional cultivation in particular are identified as farming practices which maintain semi natural habitats such as species rich grasslands, hay meadows and grazed wetlands. Over 50 per cent of all farmland identified as High Nature Value (HNV) is situated in mountainous regions, and the report draws attention to the links that exist between the biodiversity these farms support and the associated cultural heritage.

Agricultural Intensification and Abandonment Identified as Key Threats

Mountain grasslands are particularly vulnerable to agricultural land abandonment in mountain regions, according the EEA, as they require labour intensive management. In a comparison between Western and Eastern Europe, the report states that grassland abandonment is an issue in both areas, often due to unprofitable conditions such as steep slopes or poor soils. However, grasslands in Eastern Europe are often affected to a greater degree as a result of complex political factors. For example, many Eastern European countries have to contend with land reform strategies following the collapse of Communism, which complicate the social and economic dynamics of the sector.

Policy as an Important Tool

Aside from the recognition mountain regions receive in international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Alpine Convention, the report also highlights the role the EU plays in supporting mountain areas. The report notes that 92 per cent of EU mountain regions have been designated as Less Favoured Area (LFA). In addition to this, 43 per cent of Natura 2000 sites, and 51 per cent of HNV farmland can be found in Europe’s mountainous areas. Given this, the report stresses the need for improved integration of management strategies for mountain ecosystems to help combat the negative trends in biodiversity, highlighting the importance of measures which have the potential to increase ecological connectivity. A key conclusion of the report is the need for continued monitoring of the success of regional and local biodiversity actions for each major ecosystem type in mountain areas as well as the need for more applied research to be carried out.

[1]: ecosystems


17 Aug 2010




The Institute for European Environmental Policy coordinates CAP2020. It is an independent not for profit institute which undertakes research in a number of policy areas including agriculture and rural development.