Wetlands (coastal and inland)
At least 27 100 square kilometres of wetland habitats protected under Annex I of the Habitats Directive need to be restored
Wetlands are a characteristic feature of many landscapes. They have a range of functions and are crucial for both chemical decomposition and as carbon sinks. About 80 % of the European wetlands that existed 100 years ago have been lost leading to a substantial decrease in the number, size and quality of large bogs and marshes, and small or shallow lakes. The trend continues, albeit more slowly .
Distribution of 28 wetland habitats in the EU
Source: Distribution maps (10 km x 10 km) delivered by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the shades of brown indicate the number of habitat types per 10 km x 10 km grid cell
Considering their high ecological value and climate mitigation contribution, wetlands are one of the priority habitats recognised for restoration actions. The Habitat Directive protects 28 wetland habitat types, such as peatlands and wet forests These habitats cover close to 174 400 km2, equalling 4.5 % of the EU terrestrial area (excluding Romania). The latest assessment of the State of Nature showed that a high proportion of Annex I wetlands habitats has an unfavourable status (89 %) and 51 % are further deteriorating.
At least 27 100 km2 of Annex I wetland habitats need to be restored and a strict minimum of 3 100 km2 of additional areas need to be ‘recreated’ from other land use
According to the results of the EEA restoration assessment based on data reported by Member States, the area of Annex I wetland habitats that require restoration amounts to at least 27 100 km2, representing 16 % of the total area reported for this group of habitats. However, as the condition for another over 84 300 km2 (48 % of the total area) is unknown, the area requiring restoration is most certainly considerably larger. In addition, the areas where the Annex I habitats will need to be recreated from other land uses represent at least 3 100 km2, mostly targeting bogs, mires and fens (but most likely even more areas will be needed to reach the good state for these habitats).
Habitat condition reported for wetland habitats
Source: Habitat condition reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the restoration surface areas are indicative since they were estimated on the basis of minimum areas reported by Member States and, for most habitats, their condition is largely unknown.
Peatland restoration in Belgium. © NEEMO
CASE STUDY: Peatland restoration in Belgium
The majority of the total habitat area of bogs and mires and grasslands has been lost over the last century as a result of human interventions, such as agricultural intensification, draining peatlands and land take/urbanisation. To overcome these pressures and restore peatlands, a series of six LIFE Nature mire restoration projects were successfully implemented in the Belgian Ardennes between 2003 and 2019, and more than 80 % of peatlands in Wallonia and about 40 % of all peatlands nationally were mapped. As a result, a total area of over 2 500 ha of peatlands show improved peat soil hydrology. The area on which restoration measures (mainly deforestation) have been completed corresponds approximately to the total area of degraded raised bogs still capable of natural regeneration (7120) in continental Belgium. In regenerating bog habitats it can take up to several decades before the desired peat-forming vegetation is sustainably restored. However, it can be assumed that the large scope of the series of LIFE projects in the Ardennes plateau and the advanced stage of development of pioneer mire vegetation will soon lead to an improvement in the conservation status of the targeted mire habitats on a national scale.
Restoring the degraded Annex I habitats will in many cases include the actions and measures aiming at reducing the current pressures. Main pressures reported under the Article 17 reporting are:habitat management, pollution, habitat conversion and modifications of hydrology and hydromorphology.
- Habitat management practices are mostly related to agricultural activities, such as intensive grazing, the abandonment of grassland or other management, and burning.
- Pollution is most frequently originating from mixed source. Another important source of pollution is the agricultural sector, especially through the application of synthetic or mineral fertilisers and diffuse pollution.
- Habitat conversion still poses a significant pressure to Annex I wetland habitats and is most commonly associated with conversion into forests or monocultures as well as into agricultural land.
- Modifications of hydrology and hydromorphology are critical pressures to wetlands and often lead to their rapid loss. Drainage for general or agricultural use) is predominant in this group of pressures. Additionally, Annex I wetland habitats are impacted by water abstraction and other activities generating changes of the hydrological conditions.
Pressures reported for wetland habitats
Source: Pressure reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018). Conservation status of habitat types and species: datasets from Article 17, Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC reporting
 Verhoeven, J. 2014, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925857413001109