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Denmark - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Denmark is home to about 30,000 species of plant, fungus and animal. In terms of natural ecosystems, Danish woods are both deciduous and coniferous with a high proportion devoted to plantation or production forest. The forest ecosystem is considered the most diverse national ecosystem and presents considerable species richness. Coastal ecosystems are also unique because of the 7,000 km long dynamic coastline, continuously reshaped by erosion and deposition, with succession in built-up areas, lagoons and salt lakes. Species richness of invertebrates in marine areas is very high, with more than 500 species in Denmark’s inner waters, despite variations between local areas.

Yet Danish biodiversity is nowadays in net decline. Currently, 6,367 species in 8 major species groups have been assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria, and 1,514 or 23.7% of these have been red-listed. In agricultural ecosystems, trends are negative for 22 species of farmland birds, brown hare, vascular plants of small biotopes, butterflies, bumble bees and beetles. The area occupied by open habitat types, such as commons, heaths, bogs and sand dunes is decreasing; 66% have a poor conservation status and their area has fallen from 12.5% in 1965 to 9.2% in 2000. In contrast, forests are in a rather good conservation status, and forest area is even growing as a result of reforestation policies. A survey for the 2001-2006 period indeed shows that, out of 9 forest types in Denmark, as specified in the EU Habitats Directive, 6 have favourable, 1 has moderately unfavourable, 1 has unfavourable and 2 have unknown conservation status. Nevertheless, forests constitute 52% of the habitat affiliations for red-listed species and, while undisturbed forest is today estimated to account for 7% of Danish forest, only 1.6% of it enjoys direct protection. In terms of aquatic biodiversity, there have been marked improvements in species diversity in watercourses, with the incidence of the most sensitive small animals (caddis fly (Trichoptera), mayfly (Ephemeroptera) and stonefly (Plecoptera)) increasing by 23% in Danish watercourses between 2000 and 2007.

The conservation status is unfavourable for all 5 types of lake listed by the Habitats Directive and for 1 of 2 watercourse types. Of the 14 terrestrial habitat types in coastal zones, the conservation status is unknown or not evaluated for 7 types, favourable for 2 types and unfavourable for 5 types. Finally, the number of seabed species more than halved between 1994 (almost 14 species per sample) and 2007 (6.5 species per sample).

Though part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Government of Greenland has management responsibility over, amongst other things, biodiversity and living resources. Eighty-five per cent of Greenland is ice-covered, 15% ice-free. There is a large range of terrestrial habitat types (including heath, scrub, forest, snow-bed, herb-slope, grassland, steppe, mires), resulting in a diversity of living conditions for terrestrial organisms. Melting of glaciers and the Ice Cap, as well as summer rainfall create a range of freshwater habitats (e.g. homeothermic springs and saline lakes). The status of all habitat types has been assessed as favourable. Yet 3 species/subspecies/discrete populations are categorised as extinct or regionally extinct, 6 as critically endangered, 3 as endangered, 12 as vulnerable and 12 as near-threatened and the above-mentioned freshwater habitats face threat from the proximity of human settlements.

Biodiversity offers considerable benefits. In Greenland, for example, traditional hunting is of significant socioeconomic importance and central to the cultural identity of the people. Fishing notably is the lifeline of Greenland and the primary industry in the country, with 90 % of all export deriving from it.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Over the last century, extensive drainage and intensification of forestry for timber production has led to a significant net decrease in open forest glades, forest wetlands and structures related to old growth forests. Based on expert judgment, it is likely that the rare specialist species are declining due to a delayed negative response (extinction debt) to ongoing loss of habitats for these species, and due to a general scarcity of old growth habitats in the forests and plantations of the present day. The main threats to Danish watercourses, lakes, coastal and marine environment include maintenance, discharge of sewage and former practices to straighten and dam watercourses, introduction of agricultural nutrients, loss of natural disturbance caused by marine and wind erosion, cessation of grazing, construction of dikes, invasive scrub species threatening herbaceous dune and grassland habitats and de-oxygenation, bottom-trawling. Climate change also is an important driver of biodiversity change. Yet its effects on ecosystems are ambiguous. On the one hand, climate change is expected to have considerable impacts on food webs (notably in lakes), plant and animal composition (for instance, by enhancing the competitive exclusion of subordinate stress-tolerant plants and their associated herbivore insects, while denser and taller sward will limit the area of warm and sunny open ground, so critical to invertebrate diversity). It will impose an important future threat to coastal biodiversity, sea level rise leading to significant loss of low altitude coastal habitats. On the other hand, climate might benefit some ecosystems, such as forest ecosystems, through the increased occurrence of windfalls.

In Greenland, climate change constitutes a considerable threat. Average temperatures are predicted to rise by 2 degrees in southern Greenland and by 6-10 degrees in northern Greenland, with an increase in rain and snowfall of 10-50%. There is a risk that most of the high Arctic zone will be replaced by low Arctic conditions. Climate change is notably affecting the marine ecosystem: northern shrimp has already started to disappear from the waters off southern Greenland, while large stocks of northern cod are reappearing. Additional threats include environmental contaminants and, to some extent, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, increased shipping and air traffic, and regional development such as oil and gas exploration and production.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Denmark adopted its Action Plan for Biodiversity and Nature Conservation in 2004 (with the Strategy having been adopted considerably earlier in 1996). Denmark hopes to finalize "Nature Plan Denmark" in 2013 which will serve as Denmark’s revised and updated NBSAP, in accordance with Aichi Biodiversity Target 17). The Plan will identify and concretize Danish implementation of the 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Sectoral integration is expected to be a significant element of the new Plan, especially with regard to agriculture and forestry. Greenland adopted its own NBSAP in 2009 with the intention to set up a steering committee chaired by its Ministry of Domestic Affairs, Nature and Environment for securing proper implementation of the NBSAP.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

To date, Denmark has protected more than 11% of its total land area, one third of which is classified as IUCN Categories I and II. The Natura 2000 network comprises in total 16,638 km2: 3,591 km2 are terrestrial (8.4% of land base) and 13,047 km2 are marine (12.3% of marine area). There are currently 13 national species management plans for species of plants and animals, supplemented by a number of in-situ and ex-situ programs on a national level to support plant and animal genetic resource conservation. In the forest environment, a new subsidy scheme has just been put in place to encourage private landowners to plant new forests. Environmental education is promoted through a whole range of publication materials, events, school-based programming, and nature schools/eco bases which carry out environmental education, with positive results. In 2006, over 950,000 people participated in more than 36,000 events, led by 310 nature guides. Finally, Denmark supports indigenous cultures and traditional knowledge they possess through a variety of funding, training and capacity-building initiatives (e.g. funding for the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, and Consolidation of the Amazon Region Programme in the Colombian Amazon).

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

In addition to the Action Plan for Biodiversity and Nature Conservation, Denmark benefits from a large legislative framework for biodiversity protection. It includes the Agreement on Green Growth, which is a long-term plan defining environment and nature policies and the agriculture industry’s growth conditions and was signed by all major political parties in Denmark; the Environment and Nature Plan, which sets a range of goals to improve environmental conditions and strengthen protection measures (e.g. an aquatic environment of high quality; reduction in pesticide effects; reduction in green-house gases; improved environmental monitoring, etc.); and the National Forest Program, which outlines a transition to “near-nature forestry” based on Danish guidelines for sustainable forestry and includes objectives to increase forest area to 20-25% within 80-100 years. The program also requires that, by 2040, 10% of forest area must be operated with biodiversity as the primary aim. Finally, the overall objective of the National Strategy on Native Forests 1992-2040 is to conserve biodiversity in Danish forests, including genetic resources. At the international level, Denmark has ratified almost all international conventions concerning nature and biodiversity. It is also Party to a number of regional agreements, such as the Wadden Sea Seal Agreement, the African-Eurasian Water birds Agreement, the Agreement on the Conservation of European Bats, and the Agreement of the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Sea.

Mainstreaming is provided for in various sectors. For instance, several Danish policies aim to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture by promoting organic farming, re-establishment of wetlands, environmentally sound farming practices, controlled use of genetically modified organisms and the reduced use of pesticides and nutrients. The Common Fisheries Policy in the European Union aims at a progressive implementation of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. Furthermore, there has been progress to integrate biodiversity conservation and sustainable use into a number of major fiscal policy decisions, including, most recently, in the decisions on investment in infrastructure and on tax reform (e.g. the financial framework for public expenditure in the transport sector states that bridges, roads, and railways cannot be allowed to destroy irreplaceable nature). Finally, integration of conservation values at a municipal planning level is strong: the Planning Act obliges municipalities to include guidelines in their municipal plans for the management of nature protection interests.

Total government expenditure on nature conservation, including county and municipality expenditures, was DDK 2,528 million in 2005, up from DDK 2,118 million in 2000. In terms of private funding, there are a number of organisations that are major actors in nature protection through land purchase and management (e.g. the Danish Bird Protection Foundation has more than 850 ha in 18 bird sanctuaries). In Greenland, the Nature Protection Act provides the framework for legislation related to nature protection. The overall objective of the law is to conserve biological diversity, including genes, habitats, species and ecosystems and to ensure sustainable exploitation of natural resources. The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) initiative can be regarded as a regional collaboration forum on CBD implementation and constitutes a unique tool for cooperation among national governments and indigenous peoples on matters such as monitoring sustainability, the environment, biodiversity, climate change, biodiversity conservation, assessing and preventing pollution in the Arctic, etc.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Denmark suffers from a lack of long-term monitoring of species biodiversity and research (notably in the forest ecosystem). In Greenland, an ongoing project “Nordic Nature – trends towards 2010” led by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) aims to identify trends and status of biological diversity in the Nordic countries towards 2010, with facts sheets on biodiversity produced and published in all Nordic languages and in English.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme