The Norwegian Nature Index

Norway’s Nature Index is intended to document overall trends for the state of major ecosystems throughout the country, and to provide a readily available overview of whether Norway is making progress towards its goal of halting the loss of biodiversity. 

Willow grouse. Photo John Atle Kålås/NINAWillow grouse. Photo © John Atle Kålås/NINA

What is the Norwegian Nature Index?

The Nature Index is designed to show trends in biodiversity in major ecosystems. It is based on a large number of indicators representing different aspects of biodiversity. The overall objective is to measure whether Norway is succeeding in halting the loss of biodiversity, as we have pledged under several international agreements.

The Norwegian Government made the Norwegian Environment Agency responsible for developing a biodiversity index to document overall trends for major ecosystems and the species they support. The first edition of the Nature Index was published on 23 September 2010.

Where are the results available?

The main results are presented in a report published by the Norwegian Environment Agency. 

The Nature Index is included in the Norwegian official set of indicators for sustainable development, presented annually in the reporting on sustainable development indicators by Statistics Norway and by the Ministry of Finance in the National Budget. It will be considered, in cooperation with Statistics Norway, how results from the Nature Index can be applied for inclusion in Experimental Ecosystem Accounting and other approaches to supplement the national accounts with regard to biodiversity and ecosystems.

The results show the state of and trends in biodiversity for the following major ecosystems: forest, mires and wetlands, open lowland, fresh water, coastal waters, and the open sea. More detailed information is available in Norwegian, including results for individual regions and sea areas and thematic indices for various species groups, such as top carnivores, birds and fish.

Based on international methods

The Nature Index is based on international methods that we have developed further. This is the most extensive compilation of information on Norway’s biodiversity to date, and we believe it provides a good indication of the status of our major ecosystems.

How will the Nature Index be used?

Until now, it has been difficult for politicians and others to have an overview of the state of Norwegian biodiversity, partly because of the complexity of the natural environment, but also because the media tend to focus largely on negative trends and because the topic has received relatively little attention in the scientific literature.

The Nature Index is based on the best available knowledge for a wide range of indicators, and combines all the information to provide an overall picture of developments. The results can be used to define clearer targets for the action we take and improve nature management. We can identify where action is most urgently needed, and where we are already doing a good job. The Nature Index also gives an indication of which environmental pressures are driving change.

To give an idea of where we need to act to halt the loss of biodiversity, all the researchers who provided data for the Nature Index were asked how they expected the values for “their” indicators to change by 2020. If they expected a negative trend, they were also asked how urgently action is needed, and how difficult it will be to take the necessary steps.

Which indicators are included in the index?

The Nature Index gives an overview of the state of Norway’s environment, and focuses on trends in major ecosystems – forest, mires and wetlands, open lowland, fresh water, coastal waters, and the open sea. For each of these ecosystems, indicators were chosen for a variety of species groups, so that they are representative of overall species diversity.

Indicators were selected from the main species groups – algae, lichens, fungi, plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals. In addition, indirect indicators that give information on the biodiversity potential of an area have been included, for example the presence of dead wood and the degree to which open lowland landscapes (semi-natural habitats) are becoming overgrown. In all, the Nature Index uses more than 300 indicators.

How is the Nature Index calculated, and who provides the data?

To allow comparison and combination of the different indicators used to compile the Nature Index, the data for all of them have been converted to a scale from 0 to 1. They show deviation from a reference state, which is given the value 1 and is intended to represent an ecologically sustainable state. A reference value is set for each indicator, often using the estimated population size when human impact is low, or the historical population level. The value 0 indicates large deviations from the reference state, for example the extinction of a species within a particular area.

The state of an ecosystem is given by the average of the values of all the indicators for that ecosystem. The indicators are weighted, so that indicators that represent many species count more than the others. The large number of indicators makes it possible to present separate thematic indices for selected species groups, ecosystems and environmental pressures.

The indicators are based on monitoring data or assessments by experts. The following research institutes have contributed data or assessments to the Nature Index: the Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the Norwegian Institute of Water Research and the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research. Many other experts from biological institutes have also provided input to the assessments.

How does the Nature Index reflect political goals?

Norway target was to halt the loss of biodiversity by the end of 2010. This means that the value of the Nature Index should not decline after 2010. Although the state of certain ecosystems may seem relatively poor, this may be the result of a deliberate policy, for example as regards harvesting of timber or marine fish species.

Norway has not established specific political targets for the state of biodiversity, although there are targets for a few species, for example the large carnivores and salmon. 

Further development of the Nature Index

Norway and the Netherlands have been pioneers in establishing an overall Nature Index based on expert assessments and scientific data. This has involved a great deal of work by many different people. Nevertheless, in many cases the indicators are based on inadequate data, and do not yet give an accurate picture of species trends. New monitoring programmes must be established to give more precise information and provide better data for the Nature Index.

The plan is to present an updated edition of the entire Nature Index in 2015. Before this, thematic indices may be published for species groups, ecosystems or environmental pressures.

Read more about the Nature Index