Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES)

Europe’s ecosystems, on which we depend for food, timber, clean air, clean water, climate regulation and recreation, suffer from unrelenting pressures caused by intensive land or sea use, climate change, pollution, overexploitation and invasive alien species. Ensuring that ecosystems achieve or maintain a healthy state or a good condition is thus a key requirement to secure the sustainability of human activities and human well-being. This guiding principle applies for all ecosystems including marine and freshwater ecosystems, natural and semi-natural areas such as wetlands or heathlands but also managed ecosystems such as forests, farmlands and urban green spaces.

In October 2020 the EU published the first EU ecosystem assessment report. This report gives an assessments of the key ecosystems in the EU, evaluates the EU 2020 biodiversity targets and provides a baseline for the 2030 biodiversity policy and EU nature restoration plan.

Ecosystems are vital for human well being

What are ecosystems?

Spatially-explicit mapping is required to capture different gradients and variations of the relevant components, in space and time, affecting ecosystem function (Maes et al., 2014). The assessment of ecosystem condition provides information about its capability to continuously provide services for human well-being. This knowledge is essential to document the on-going loss and degradation of ecosystems and their services, the subsequent socio-economic impacts, and the identification of pathways towards sustainable development, in order to maintain the delivery of services. As such, ecosystem assessments provide the input for decision-making by addressing and integrating basic information to sectoral policies, i.e. mainly, territorial planning, nature protection, agriculture, forestry, freshwater, marine, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and air pollution reduction

Ecosystems are defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as ‘a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit’ (UN, 1992). Ecosystems are multi-functional. Each system provides a series of services for human well-being either directly, e.g. as food and fibre, or more indirectly by e.g. providing clean air and water. Ecosystem assessment is an instrument for structured and targeted analysis of environmental change and its impact on human well-being. The structural and functional entities of ecosystems are key entry points for our understanding of how species interact with each other and their abiotic environments, and how these interactions are affected by human activities.

Ecosystems contain a multitude of living organisms that have adapted to survive and reproduce in a particular physical and chemical environment. Anything that causes a change in the physico-chemical characteristics of the environment has the potential to change an ecosystem’s condition, its biodiversity and, consequently, its capacity to provide services. Any activity that removes or adds organisms can change the functionality of an ecosystem. An ecosystem assessment should evaluate all of the relevant factors affecting the ecosystem’s structure and function.

What ecosystems make up the EU?

The EU is covered by 45 ecosystems which are grouped into 10 main types on land and 1 main type in the marine. In the marine there are 30 ecosystems grouped under the heading of Marine habitats, on land 45 ecosystems are grouped into 6 main types: Urban, Agroecosystems (Grasslands and Cropland), Forest, Wetlands, Heathlands and Rivers and Lakes.

Agroecosystems & Woodland cover 85% of the EU

Agroecosystems & Woodland cover 85% of the EU

What is the EU ecosystem assessment report?

Analysis of the trends in the pressures, condition and services of marine, freshwater and land ecosystems of  EU+UK (EU28) based on a common method and using 2010 as policy baseline year.

EU assessment report small.JPG

What is ecosystem condition?

The physical, chemical and biological condition or quality of an ecosystem at a particular point in time.

How do you measure this condition?

•       Abiotic quality (air, water, soil quality)

•       Composition (species/habitat diversity and abundance)

•       Structure (biomass, tree density, …)

•       Functions (productivity, …)

•       Landscape (coherence)

What is the condition of Ecosystems?


The condition of ecosystems that are under legal designation is unfavourable

•       < 25% of habitats are in favourable conservation status

•       36% of rivers and lakes are in good chemical status (78% without priority substances); 39% of rivers and lakes are in good ecological status

•       XX% of marine ecosystems are in good environmental status

On land forests (36%)[I have 43%] and cropland (36%) are the dominant ecosystem types in the EU, followed by grasslands (11%), urban areas, (5%) heathlands and shrub (4%), rivers and lakes (2.5%), inland wetlands (2%) and sparsely vegetated land (1.5%). In terms of land cover changes, the extent of most ecosystem types has reached a rather stable value over the last 10 years apart from urban areas, which increased in size with a rate of 3.4% per decade. Agroecosystems, inland wetlands, heathlands and shrub slightly decreased since 2010 (<1% per decade).

What is the level of protection of ecosystems

Despite the wide coverage of environmental legislation in the EU, there are still large gaps in the legal protection of ecosystems. On land, 76% of the area of terrestrial ecosystems, mainly forests, agroecosystems and urban ecosystems, are excluded from a legal designation under the Bird and Habitat Directives

The report

This report presents an ecosystem assessment covering the total land area of the EU as well as the EU marine regions. The assessment is carried out by Joint Research Centre, European Environment Agency, DG Environment, and the European Topic Centres on Biological Diversity and on Urban, Land and Soil Systems. This report constitutes a knowledge base which can support the evaluation of the 2020 biodiversity targets. It also provides a data foundation for future assessments and policy developments, in particular with respect to the ecosystem restoration agenda for the next decade (2020-2030). The report presents an analysis of the pressures and condition of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems using a single, comparable methodology based on European data on trends of pressures and condition relative to the policy baseline 2010. The following main conclusions are drawn:

· Pressures on ecosystems exhibit different trends.

 · Land take, atmospheric emissions of air pollutants and critical loads of nitrogen are decreasing but the absolute values of all these pressures remain too high.

 · Impacts from climate change on ecosystems are increasing.

· Invasive alien species of union concern are observed in all ecosystems, but their impact is particularly high in urban ecosystems and grasslands.

 · Pressures from overfishing activities and marine pollution are still high.

· In the long term, air and freshwater quality is improving.

· In forests and agroecosystems, which represent over 80% of the EU territory, there are improvements in structural condition indicators (biomass, deadwood, area under organic farming) relative to the baseline year 2010 but some key bio-indicators such as tree-crown defoliation continue to increase. This indicates that ecosystem condition is not improving.

· Species-related indicators show no progress or further declines, particularly in agroecosystems.

Reporting at the national level

Target 2 Action 5 of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 states that "Member States, with the assistance of the Commission, will map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services in their national territory by 2014, assess the economic value of such services, and promote the integration of these values into accounting and reporting systems at EU and national level by 2020." In order to deliver Action 5 the Working Group MAES (Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services) was established in 2012 under the Common Implementation Framework (CIF). Members of the group provide updates on progress in their countries twice a year and a barometer is updated accordingly.  


Click here to get an overview on MAES related developments in a specific Member State or for the European Union.

Way forward

This assessment [Link to MAES report] presents the changes in pressures and ecosystem condition in the EU and its marine regions using the year 2010 as a policy baseline.

Ecosystems are mapped by interpreting available land cover data on the basis of the European habitat

Conclusions and outlook

More efforts are needed to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and to put ecosystems on a path to recovery. The progress that is made in certain areas such as pollution reduction, increasing air and water quality, increasing share of organic farming, the expansion of forests, and the efforts to maintain marine fish stocks at sustainable levels show that a persistent implementation of policies can be effective. These successes should encourage us to act now and to put forward an ambitious plan for the restoration of Europe’s ecosystems.

Reference material

This assessment [Link to MAES report] presents the changes in pressures and ecosystem condition in the EU and its marine regions using the year 2010 as a policy baseline.

Ecosystems are mapped by interpreting available land cover data on the basis of the European habitat

Typology of ecosystems

Correspondence between Corine Land Cover classes and ecosystems types

Crosswalks between European marine habitat typologies

Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES)

Categories of ecosystem services (MA, TEEB and CICES)

Reference data for ecosystem mapping

MAES digital atlas

Indicators of ecosystem conditions

Maes viewer

Key documents - old info from this point onward

This first MAES report provides an analytical framework.

This second MAES report proposes indicators that can be used at European and Member State level to map  and assess biodiversity, ecosystem condition and ecosystem services according to the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES)

The report presents an analysis of the trends in the spatial extent of ecosystems and in the supply and use of ecosystem services at the European scale between 2000 and 2010.

An in-depth report published by the European Commission (DG-ENV).

This report summarises EEA contributions to MAES

This report synthesises the European Environment Agency's (EEA's) work on ecosystem mapping and assessment over the last few years.

This third MAES report focuses on the condition of ecosystems. The report synthesises the European Environment Agency’s (EEA’s) work on ecosystem mapping and assessment over the last few years.

The aim of this report is to illustrate by means of a series of case studies the implementation of mapping and assessment of forest ecosystem services in different contexts and geographical levels. Methodological aspects, data issues, approaches, limitations, gaps and further steps for improvement are analysed for providing good practices and decision making guidance.

This fourth MAES report provides guidance for mapping and assessing urban ecosystems and includes an indicator framework to assess the condition of urban ecosystems and services, which is used at European, Member State and local level.

Communication from the European Commission on one of the most threatened habitat types common to all European Union countries: the wetlands  

This report makes proposals for measuring the condition of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystem types based on a selection of indicators. A set with specific indicators is available for assessment of ecosystem condition per ecosystem type. A core set with key indicators is available to support an integrated ecosystem assessment across ecosystem type. The report defines ecosystem condition, describes in a conceptual model the link between pressures, ecosystem condition and ecosystem services, and provides a hierarchical structure and classification of pressure and ecosystem condition indicators. It does not define reference conditions but instead argues for a spatial baseline considering the current use and management of land and sets a reference in 2010 against which condition should be evaluated.

Further reading