2 Floodplains under pressure - 2.2 Current floodplain status in Europe

The loss of floodplains in Europe has not been assessed using a uniform Europe wide approach, but those studies that have been carried out suggests it is considerable. An overview of floodplain loss in Europe was presented in EEA, 2016. Depending on the river, 70-100% of the floodplain had been lost.  Of the rivers shown, the best preserved floodplains were the Danube Delta and the Middle Ebro River in Spain. The worst were the Tisza, Seine, Rhine and Meuse Rivers where close to 100% of the natural floodplain area had been lost.

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This loss, is reflected in assessments of conservation status carried out under the Habitats Directive (EEC, 1992). An analysis of the conservation status of 37 floodplain habitats shows that the vast majority are in either inadequate or bad conservation status (Figure 2.5). Across Europe, only 14% of floodplain habitats and species are in good conservation status, reflecting the high degree of disturbance to the floodplain ecosystems. The disturbances stems from the multitude of human activities, but especially urbanization and agriculture have had a very large impact.

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Box 1: Riparian forests in central Europe

One of the floodplain habitats listed in the Habitats Directive is riparian forest, which is also the natural vegetation of floodplains in Central Europe. Softwood forest is found close to the river where inundation can be up to 180 days per year. Hardwood forest is found further away from the river where groundwater levels are lower and inundation occurs less than 60 days per year. In their natural state floodplain forests provide important habitats for many different species. Because of their nutrient rich soils, water supply and diversely structured forest strata, old hardwood forests host one of the most species-rich and unique bird communities of Central European forests. One study counted more than 200 pairs of breeding birds per 10 hectares in a riparian forest along the Elbe River (Scholz et al., 2012). One of the most prominent bird species of these forests in Central Europe is the Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius).


Only around 12% of existing riparian forests across Europe achieve favourable conservation status, and many have disappeared altogether.

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