Green infrastructure and the wider countryside
Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are by far the biggest drivers of terrestrial biodiversity loss at EU level over the past 50 years. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Europe's territory is more fragmented than any other continent.
This is largely due to the fact that vast areas have been transformed into urban zones or cut up by transport infrastructures. In addition, traditional land use practices have been replaced by more intensive, mechanised and industrial-scale activities, especially in the agricultural and forestry sectors. This has weakened the resilience of once biodiversity-rich ecosystems.
If ecosystems become too small, depleted or isolated, they may stop providing us with valuable services such as food and freshwater. These pressures have also major consequences for the long term functioning of protected area networks such as Natura 2000 – with sites frequently being "islands" in a landscape that does not allow for dispersal and genetic exchange.
Europe's main contribution to reverse this trend and to link and strengthen various ecosystems in urban and rural areas will be Green Infrastructure. It consists of spatially or functionally connected areas which maintain ecological coherence as an essential condition for healthy ecosystems. Its added value however comes from broader investments in natural capital with a view to 'greening' existing infrastructure and strengthening the functionality of ecosystems for delivering goods and services as well as mitigating and adapting to climate change effects, and enhancing the quality of life (health, tourism, conserving historic and cultural heritage).
Green Infrastructure is built up of natural and man-made, rural and urban elements. It encompasses ecological networks, by ensuring the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 Network. Green Infrastructure includes reforestation zones, green bridges and green roofs, green urban areas, fish migration channels, floodplain restoration and flood-retention facilities as well as natural areas, high-value farmland and forest areas, which demonstrate the advantages of nature-based solutions to purely technical ones, or innovative planning approaches for intelligent, multi-purpose land use.