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Red Lists

Worldwide, around 100 species disappear every day. Red Lists, which highlight the species in need of conservation action, are an important instrument in biodiversity protection efforts.

Red Lists

1. Species on the Red List

Worldwide, according to the IUCN, more than 16,000 species of animals and plants are threatened by extinction. In Switzerland alone, 224 animal and plant species have become or are presumed to have become extinct over the last 150 years. Since 1960, the rate of human-induced extinction has clearly exceeded the natural rate.

Today, 40% of the animal species evaluated in this country are included on the Red List. Almost a third (34%) of our flowering plants and ferns have disappeared or are threatened, and for bryophytes and lichens the proportion is 42% and 41%.

Species groupRed List species
Animals41 %
Mammals39 %
Breeding birds39 %
Reptiles79 %
Amphibians78 %
Fish and cyclostomes 58 %
Molluscs41 %
Insects39 %
Ferns and flowering plants31 %
Bryophytes42 %
Lichens41 %
Charophyceae87 % 
Swiss flora & fauna36 %

If species that are "near threatened" are also taken into account, the proportion of Switzerland's flora and fauna requiring support rises to 50%. 

Gefährdete Arten in der Schweiz - Synthese Rote Listen, Stand 2010. 2011

2. What are Red and Blue Lists?

Red Lists

  • show which species of flora and fauna are vulnerable, endangered or (presumed) extinct;
  • document trends for species diversity in the wild (for this purpose, they are periodically revised);
  • highlight species at particular risk, for which urgent action is required;
  • also indicate conservation measures required to protect threatened species.

The continuing decline in species diversity is attributable to various factors:

  • Watercourse alterations
  • Man-made structures on slopes and along rivers
  • Drainage of wet and damp sites
  • Removal of microstructures or filling-in work, building
  • Habitat fragmentation and isolation
  • Destruction of buffer zones
  • Habitat degradation or disturbance
  • Intensive agriculture or forestry
  • Collection of specimens
  • Disappearance of natural or semi-natural habitats
  • Soil, air and water pollution

In view of the pressure they exert on native biotic communities, invasive alien plant and animal species are no longer evaluated in the Red Lists (e.g. Ambrosia artemisiifolia, included in the Red List of Vascular Plants, 2002).

Blue Lists

In contrast to Red Lists, Blue Lists record species whose populations have stabilized or increased thanks to the application of nature conservation techniques over the past 10-15 years. These lists are only available for the cantons of Argau, Schaffhausen and Zurich. Of 641 plant species assessed, a quarter showed stabilization, while a tenth showed increased abundance - mainly as a result of appropriate conservation measures.


3. Biodiversity conservation instrument

Red lists are an important tool to assess the value of a biotope:

  • They highlight the need for action in the areas of species and habitat protection and facilitate the setting of priorities.
  • They provide a basis for monitoring the effectiveness of conservation measures by documenting changes in biological diversity and in threat categories for individual species.
  • They represent permanently available expertise, providing a tool for making spatial planning as environmentally sound as possible.
  • They enhance higher-level cooperation on conservation by serving as a source of data for international Red Lists and coordination.
  • They are a valuable tool for informing the public about the state of and changes in biodiversity.
  • They indicate areas where further research is required.
  • They offer recommendations for the actors concerned.

Since 1991, Red Lists have been enshrined in the Nature and Cultural Heritage Protection Ordinance. Reference is made to them in particular for the designation of biotopes meriting protection.

In the Swiss Landscape Concept, the sectoral objectives for the protection of nature, landscape and cultural heritage specify that:

  • a) human influences on nature and landscape should not lead to additional species being included on the Red Lists and
  • b) threatened species and their habitats should be conserved to the extent that no species has to be classified as more severely threatened and that the number of listed species can be reduced by 1% per year.

Contact: aoel@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 25.03.2014

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