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Status report Biodiversity

1. Geophysical diversity and change in land use (drivers)

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on the levels of the ecosystems (habitats) and species (flora, fauna, fungi, microorganisms) and genetic diversity, i.e. the variability and variety of the individuals within a given species.

Switzerland's rich biodiversity is the outcome of its geophysical diversity (differences in altitude, extremes of climate, diversity of the soils), on the one hand, and human influences, on the other.

Centuries of land use have generated and shaped Switzerland's mosaic of forests, open country, surface waters, and settlements. Traditional forms of land use, such as standard orchards, wooded pastures, chestnut groves and irrigated and dry meadows continue to exist today.

Land use has changed considerably, however, over the past century and reflects the changing needs and demands of society, such as

  • increased energy requirements
  • increased mobility
  • the greater and more varied culture of leisure
  • and the rationalisation of agricultural and forestry production.

2. Intensification and expansion of land use,  the spread of invasive species and effects of climate change (pressures)

Biodiversity in Switzerland has come under pressure over the past 150 years: in particular, due to management practices that are intensive and no longer sustainable, the agricultural ecosystems used in agricultural production have suffered severe losses in terms of small structures such as hedges and dry-stone walls. This decline is also fostered by high levels of fertiliser and pesticide use, species-poor seeding and standardised mechanical management practices.

In many locations, rivers and streams have surrendered their natural courses to land reclamation structures, flood control measures and electricity production.

Many habitats in the settlement areas have disappeared due to the sealing of surfaces and walls.

In addition, since the middle of the last century, settlements and infrastructure have been expanding continuously which has led to a loss of space and the increasing fragmentation of the remaining habitats. Approximately 0.7 m2 of soil are sealed per second in Switzerland.

Finally, chemicals and nitrogen inputs via the air and waters, the spread of non-native species, the increase in the disruption caused by leisure activities and tourism, and climate change all have negative impacts on biodiversity.

3. Continuing decline and threat despite some successes (state)

Biodiversity has suffered significant losses throughout the world in recent decades and its status is considered as being under threat today.

Although the decline in the stocks of some species and the quantitative areal losses of certain habitat types has been halted over the past 20 years in Switzerland, the quality of most habitats is poor and continues to deteriorate.

  • Biodiversity in the Central Plateau and in the major Alpine valleys is impaired, in particular in the open countryside (loss of area, fragmentation, deterioration in quality).
  • Biodiversity is under less pressure in the forest than in other ecosystems. The rise in the volume of dead wood is a positive development here. However, the increasing darkness in light-deprived stands is a negative trend.
  • The last remaining extensive areas with largely intact biodiversity are found in the mountain regions.
  • The biodiversity in settlement areas is surprisingly large - however, it usually consists of relatively unsophisticated species.

The status of species diversity, which continues to be a matter of concern, is recorded in the Red Lists: 36% of the surveyed species in Switzerland are under threat (i.e. classified according to the IUCN categories as «vulnerable (VU)», «endangered (EN)» or «critically endangered (CR)»). These include species, whose loss is irreversible because their presence is very limited and localised or they arise exclusively or predominantly in Switzerland.

On the level of genetic diversity, the intensification of agriculture and concentration on high-yield crop varieties has given rise to the impoverishment of the landscape. However, it has been possible to halt some of the decline.

The increasing dominance of natural forest regeneration and the use of tree species that are suited to the location in which they are planted has played an important role in the promotion of genetic diversity since the mid-1980s.

4. Loss of ecosystem services (impacts)

Biodiversity provides natural goods and ecosystem services which make a crucial contribution to social and economic development. Such ecosystem services include, for example,

  • the supply of drinking water, which is provi
  • ded in sufficient quantities and quality by the forests and their soils
  • protection against rockfall and avalanches as provided by the mountain forests
  • the absorption of precipitation peaks by mires and wetlands
  • the regulation and containment of pathogens
  • the maintenance of soil fertility
  • the regrowth of raw materials and food
  • and the enhancement of the quality of life through the provision of near-natural recreational areas.

A study that attempted to put a monetary value on the global ecosystem services arrived at the sum of USD 33,000 billion per year -which represents 1.8 times global gross national product.

A deterioration in the status of biodiversity generates a threat to natural goods and ecosystem services and, hence also, a risk to sustainable economic and social development.

However, it is not only important to conserve the diversity of life to ensure the basic satisfaction of human needs, the recognition of its its value as such also constitutes an ethical obligation of humans.

5. Protected areas, promotion of sustainable land use, intersectoral cooperation (measures) 

The implementation of measures for the conservation of biodiversity has a long tradition in Switzerland. The Swiss hunting reserves were the first protected areas to have their status enshrined in law in 1875. Over the past 100 years, Switzerland has designated a range other protected areas, starting with the National Park (1914) and including areas as wide-ranging as amphibian spawning areas (2001) and dry meadows and pastures (2010).

Along with the Red Lists and Biodiversity Monitoring Switzerland, the federal government monitors the state of biodiversity.

 Since 2011, in conjunction with the National Ecological Network (REN), the federal government has used spatial planning as a basis for better biodiversity monitoring. Both scientific research and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country reports that measure progress in goal fulfilment highlight the fact that although the existing instruments and measures have been effectively implemented and partially successful in Switzerland, they are far from sufficient. They have not been able to stem the loss of habitats and the species that live in them or the deterioration in habitat quality.

The Swiss Biodiversity Strategy is the federal government's plan to stem the loss of biodiversity and conserve ecosystem services. Adopted by the Federal Council in 2012, it sets 10 strategic goals that should be achieved by 2020. Some of these include sustainable use by all relevant sectors and the development of an ecological infrastructure out of protected and connection areas. In order to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services over the long term, the goals of the biodiversity strategy need to be converted into an action plan by the beginning of 2014.

Biodiversity conservation and promotion is enshrined in various other instruments of the federal government:

  • The Agriculture Policy 2014-2017 plans the further development of contributions to biodiversity and the environmental goals of agriculture make a substantial contribution to biodiversity conservation.
  • The Forest Policy 2020 plans an increase in the percentage of forest reserves from 5% in 2012 to 8% by 2020
  • The Water Protection Act, which was revised in 2011, stipulates that watercourses deemed to have an ecological function can undergo renaturation with support from the federal government.

Biodiversity conservation is a challenge that requires action at the local, regional and international levels. The most important tool at the international level is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Nagoya Protocol, which was adopted in 2011, calls for protecting 17% of terrestial areas and governs access to the genetic resources of plants, animals and other organisms.

Contact: info@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 05.07.2013

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