1. Ecological effects of infrastructure

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Last update: June 2023 - How to cite


Transport infrastructure is essential for the mobility of people, for trade and for social and economic development. However, infrastructure and its traffic have widespread, complex, lasting, and mostly negative effects on the environment. Only few places on Earth remain that are not directly or indirectly affected. Infrastructure also paves the way for future land use change, urban development, and human settlements, which cumulatively threaten nature and are one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss.

To meet future transportation demands, infrastructure needs to be safe, accessible, reliable and efficient, but in order to be sustainable, affordable and resilient, it must also be adapted to preserve nature. Sustainable and resilient transport infrastructure can only be developed if nature is included as a fundamental aspect in new infrastructure planning and design, as well as in management and adaptation of that which are already under operation.

Mainstreaming biodiversity with transport infrastructure means addressing the need for mobility and communication without compromising nature and the benefits humans derive from it. Choosing appropriate measures to mitigate the ecological impact of infrastructure and traffic and even to enhance potential positive ecological effects is challenging but can build on decades of experience and research. Cooperation and knowledge exchange between transport and ecology sectors, as well as a broad understanding of how biodiversity and infrastructure interact, are essential to achieve this goal.

Main messages

  • The transport sector is one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss as it causes habitat degradation, landscape fragmentation, pollution and wildlife mortality. 
  • The effects on biodiversity are non-linear, long-lasting, and mostly deleterious. They vary considerably among species, habitats, and regions, and require context-specific solutions, systematic monitoring as well as large scale strategies to avoid crossing tipping-points.
  • The use and maintenance of transport infrastructure affects surrounding ecosystems through a variety of toxins, noise, light, changes in microclimate, and biotic pollutants. The combined disturbance, or ‘effect zone’, by far exceeds the physical footprint of infrastructure.
  • New habitats that benefit some species in transformed landscapes can be created through transport infrastructure. However, these habitats can also facilitate the spread of invasive alien species by providing migration corridors or suitable habitats and may also create ecological traps attracting animals to areas with unsuitable conditions or a high mortality risk.
  • The transport sector has a responsibility to mitigate its direct effects on nature, such as habitat loss and transformation, pollution, and corridor, barrier, and mortality effects. The negative effects interact and lead to habitat fragmentation and other cumulative effects such as land exploitation and urban development. To address these secondary effects, the transport sector must take an integrated and holistic approach and collaborate with other stakeholders.
  • Even with the best mitigation efforts, there is likely always a residual net loss of nature when new transport infrastructure is built. Improving existing infrastructures may offer opportunities to reduce the impact and achieve a net gain for nature.

Actions to take

  • Rethink transportation itself and change policies, investments, behaviours, and mindsets to reduce transport demand while, creating a resilient and efficient infrastructure.
  • Upgrade existing infrastructure by implementing innovative, sustainable, nature-based solutions that integrate biodiversity, contain pollution, mitigate barrier and mortality effects, restore ecological connectivity, and enhance green and blue infrastructures in the landscape.
  • Develop and benefit from necessary climate adaptations of infrastructure wherever they provide opportunities to improve conditions for biodiversity.
  • Ensure effective and transparent cooperation amongst stakeholders throughout the entire life cycle of infrastructure projects, from plans and programmes to design phases and even further to maintenance and decommissioning.
  • Engage all stakeholders in mainstreaming biodiversity in transport planning and design and implement the EU Green Infrastructure Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.

Maximum file size: 134.22MB

Tell us if we can share parts of your documents on this website