(IMPACT) (ECOSYSTEMS) (AGRICULTURE) (ENERGY) (FISHERIES) (FORESTRY) (TOURISM) (TRANSPORTATION)
of ecosystems, habitats and species
In the past, human interaction with nature, although often having a disruptive effect on nature, often also enriched the quality and variety of the living world and its habitats - e.g. through the creation of artificial landscapes and soil cultivation by local farmers.
Today, however, human pressure on natural environments is greater than before in terms of magnitude and efficiency in disrupting nature and natural landscapes, most notably:
Europe's natural environment is inextricably linked with agriculture and forestry. Since agriculture traditionally depends on sound environmental conditions, farmers have a special interest in the maintenance of natural resources and for centuries maintained a mosaic of landscapes which protected and enriched the natural environment.
As a result of needs for food production since the 1940s, policies have encouraged increased pro- duction through a variety of mechanisms, including price support, other subsidies and support for research and development. The success achieved in agricultural production has however entailed increased impact on the environment.
Modern agriculture is responsible for the loss of much wildlife and their habitats in Europe, through reduction and fragmentation of habitats and wildlife populations. The drainage of wetlands, the destruction of hedgerows and the intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides can all pose a threat to wildlife. Highly specialised monoculture are causing significant loss in species abundance and diversity. On the other hand increased production per hectare in intensive areas, raising of livestock volume, and lower prices for agricultural products also caused marginalization of agricultural land, changing the diversity of European landscapes into the direction of two main types: Intensive Agriculture and Abandoned land.
Abandonment can be positive for nature, but this is not necessarily so. Land abandonment increases the risk of fire in the Mediterranean Region, causes a decline of small-scale landscape diversity and can also cause decrease in species diversity.
All energy types have potential impacts on the natural environment to varying degrees at all stages of use, from extraction through processing to end use. Generating energy from any source involves making the choices between impacts and how far those impacts can be tolerated at the local and global scale. This is especially of importance for nuclear power, where there are significant risks of radioactive pollution such as at Chernobyl.
Shell Oil Company and IUCN have jointly drafted environmental regulations for oil-exploitation in Arctic areas of Siberia. Other oil companies are aware of this and use these environmental regula- tions voluntarily for developing oil fields.
Into the future the sustainability of the natural environment will be improved as trends away from damaging energy uses and extractive methods reduce and whilst real cost market forces and the polluter pays principle take effect.
The principle of the fisheries sector is towards sustainable
catches of wild aquatic fauna. The principle environmental impact associated
with fisheries activities is the unsustainable har- vesting of fish stocks
and shellfish and has consequences for the ecological balance of the aquatic
environment. The sector is in a state of "crisis", with over capacity of
the fleet, overexploitation of stocks, debt, and marketing problems.
Growing aquaculture industry may increase water pollution in western Europe, and is appearing to be a rising trend in the Mediterranean and Central/East Europe.
Fishing activities have an impact on cetaceans and there is concern that large numbers of dolphins, and even the globally endangered Monk seal, are being killed.
Compared to other landuses, forest management has the longest tradition in following sustainable principles due to which over 30% of Europe is still covered with trees. Without such an organised approach, forests are likely to have already disappeared from Europe's lowlands. However, as an economic sector, forestry has also impacted severely on the naturalness of Europe's forests: soils have been drained, pesticides and fertilizers applied, and exotic species planted. In many areas monocultures have replaced the original diverse forest composition. Monocultures are extremely sensitive to insect infestations, fires or wind, and so can lead to financial losses as well as biological decline. The inadequate afforestation practices characterize new trends in impacting on the sustainability of the natural environment.
Almost all forms of industry have an impact on the natural environment and its sustainability. The impact varies at different stages in the life cycle of a product, depending upon the raw materials used through to the final end use of the product for waste residue, re-use or recycling. Industrial accidents and war damage to industrial plants can also endanger the natural environment.
Tourism and Recreation
Tourism and recreation impact in various ways on the natural environment. On the one hand, natural areas form the very basis of many touristic attractions by highlighting scenic value or exceptional encounters with fauna and flora. However, some forms of tourism can be extremely detrimental to ecologically sensitive areas, resulting in habitat degeneration or destruction, in the disturbance or hunting even rare or threatened species. The pressure from short holiday seasons and specific, sometimes small, locations of touristic interest result in conflicting land-uses, such as in the Alpine regions, at Mediterranean beaches and along many banks of inland waters.
Transport and Infrastructure
Transport is perhaps the major contributor to pollution in the world today, particularly global envi- ronmental issues such as the greenhouse effect. The key impacts of transportation include frag- mentation of habitats and species and genetic populations, disruption of migration and traffic mortalities to wildlife. Since the 1970s transport has become a major consumer of non-renewable resources, 80% of oil consumption coming from road transport.
Last revision: 3 October 2000