Biodiversity is often taken for granted

In Norway, the significance of biodiversity for humans is perhaps most noticeable through the financial value added from resources harvested from agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Biodiversity is sadly something that is often taken for granted, and many will not realise the value of it until it is gone. It is therefore important to highlight the value of biodiversity for tourism and outdoor recreation as well as its implications for human health. Greater biological diversity also increases resistance against disease.

3800 species on the Red List

The 2010 Norwegian Red List was published by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre in November 2010. The List is a forecast of the risk of species becoming extinct in Norway.  The assessments are based on the Red List Criteria from The World Conservation Union and a total of 21 000 species have been evaluated.

Species on the Norwegian Red List in 2010

A majority of the groups of species on the Norwegian mainland have been evaluated, while vascular plants, birds, mammals, freshwater fish and springtails have been evaluated on Svalbard. Marine invertebrates, algae, fish and sea mammals have been evaluated in the Norwegian economic zone and the protected fisheries zone around Svalbard. Red list assessments have been undertaken for indigenous multicellular species. At present, we know of approximately 40 000 such species.

The Red List is comprised of evaluations made for about 21 000 of these species. Data deficiencies pertaining to distribution records and taxonomy are the main reason why more species have not been assessed. In total 4 599 are classified as red-list species. Of these, 2 398 species are ranked as threatened (i.e. they are in one of the top three red-list categories; critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable).

The highest occurrence of Red List species is in forest and woodland with 1 838 species, which is 40 per cent of the Red List species. However, many of these species are not exclusively associated with forests, but may also occur in other habitats.

There are also many threatened or near threatened species in areas that have been or are strongly affected by human activities, particularly farming, now or in the past. Of these, meadows, pastures and rough grazing are most important with 741 species (20 per cent of all threatened or near threatened species)

Changes in land use greatest threat today

Changes in land use are the greatest threat to the Norwegian fauna and flora today. The change from a scattered agricultural population in the19th century to a modern industrial society has had a great impact on the natural environment.  Hay meadows and other habitats of the traditional agricultural landscape are being lost, along with many of their plant and insect species. Commercial fertilisers alter the composition of plant communities. Many of the most severely threatened habitats are wetlands, which are altered by regulation of river systems, pollution and damage from acid rain. Towns have grown in size and population.

As a result of these changes many habitats are disappearing and being replaced by man-made habitats. This affects the very survival of many species. Climate change will also result in habitat change and allow new species to become established. In the southern part of Norway, acidification of lakes and rivers is still a problem to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Threats to biodiversity

Alien species 

As seen from the above graph, alien species are not a big threat to the general biodiversity, but there are several cases where they cause severe problems.  The problem is expected to increase as a consequence of international transport and a milder climate.  In Norway, most of the alien species can be found in agriculture. Of these, more than 60 per cent are fungi, vascular plants and insects. There are also considerable numbers of alien species in forest, marine water and freshwater.

The Norwegian Black List

The 2007 Norwegian Black List is produced by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre in cooperation with experts from Norwegian scientific institutions. It has been prepared on the basis of criteria developed for the purpose of standardising assessments of ecological consequences of alien species. A risk analysis has been carried out for 217 of 2483 alien species. The species have been divided into three categories:

  • Low risk – species which most probably have no, or no significant, negative impacts on indigenous biological diversity
  • Unknown risk - species about which too little is known to assess whether they have negative impacts on indigenous biological diversity
  • High risk - species that have negative impacts on indigenous biological diversity

Species on the Norwegian Black List in 2007

Climate change and habitat destruction greatest threats in future

It is likely that climate change will replace habitat destruction as the biggest threat to biological diversity in the future. Studies show that climate change will be noticeable first in the Arctic and alpine areas, and that the biggest changes also will happen there in the future. Nordic, low-productive areas that are poor in species will be particularly vulnerable to global warming.

The climate change-related factors affecting Norwegian flora and fauna in the years to come will be an increase in precipitation and a rise in temperature. Warm spells in the winter months could also lead to frost damage on plants. It is likely that global warming will lead to an increase in biodiversity in Norway. New species will establish in areas that were previously covered by snow, such as hardwood forests and the species of birds and insects that reside there.

The Nature Index an important tool

The Norwegian government has initiated the development of a Nature index for Norway. New methodology calculating the condition of different types of nature are being developed and tested in Mid-Norway. The nature index is built on principles from the Natural Capital Index. However, new aspects are included in the nature index (NI) such as the integration of uncertainty and the use of expert judgements and data within the same index. Marine ecosystems are also included. Data on species gathered through the water frame directive, marine commercial fish stocks and forestry are among data used in the NI. Thematic indexes on major habitats, species groups and the effect of major human pressures on biodiversity is being produced.

The NI for Norway was published in September 2010. It will be an essential tool to monitor the overall trend in nature over time. Furthermore, it will also be a basis for the comparison of the condition of different natural habitats and districts, and can be used for setting management goals. It should also be a tool for international comparison and indicates the need for mapping and monitoring of biodiversity.

Protection of habitats

Protection of habitats is essential for ensuring biological diversity. Some threatened and vulnerable species and their habitats are strictly protected under the Nature Diversity Act. About 16 per cent (50 861 km2) of the Norwegian mainland is protected as national parks, nature reserves, or other conservation areas. The figure for Svalbard is 65 per cent (39 800 km2). Most of the protected area occurs in the alpine zone.

Areas protected by vegetation zone

48 species of vascular plants, 8 moss species and 11 species of invertebrates are permanently protected throughout the country by Royal Decree pursuant to the Nature Diversity Act. The Wildlife Act basically protects all amphibian, reptilian, birds and mammal species, but opens for hunting, with hunting regulations for selected species. The Act relating to salmonids and freshwater fish and the 1983 Act relating to seawater fisheries have protection regulations for species and habitats, and regulates for catches.

All sectors in Norway are now urged to integrate environmental considerations into their own tasks. The municipalities have for example surveyed key habitats in forests and biological diversity within their boundaries. To safeguard species, it is not enough to protect them against harvesting and collection: what is most important is to protect the environments they live in. This means that land use is a very important factor and that special attention must be paid to important habitats in connection with land-use planning.