Commission Report Links Loss of Traditional Agriculture to Negative Biodiversity Impacts

DG Environment has recently submitted a report to the Council and the European Parliament on the ‘conservation status of habitat types and species as required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive’. The report is apparently 'the first ever systematic assessment of the conservation status of Europe’s most vulnerable habitat types and species protected under the Habitats Directive' and was 'carried out as part of the regular six-yearly progress reporting across 25 Member States and 11 (seven land and four marine) bio-geographical regions'.

'In general, the conservation status of all habitat types associated with agriculture is significantly worse than other types of habitat.'

Report Findings

A key conclusion of the report is that:

'In general, the conservation status of all habitat types associated with agriculture is significantly worse than other types of habitat. While in parts of the EU the explanation is related to shifts towards more intensive agriculture, in other areas abandonment of the land and the absence of management is the underlying reason for the decline.'

'It is clear that habitat types linked to agriculture generally have a worse conservation status, with only 7% of assessments being favourable, compared to 21% for ‘non-agricultural’ habitats.'

The report goes on to note that:

'The majority of grassland habitats in Europe require active management. The abandonment of traditional management practices has resulted in a loss of biodiversity in some locations whereas in others the shift towards more intensive agricultural practices is the root of the problem. Grassland habitats are under particular pressure in the Atlantic, Pannonian and Boreal regions.'

'The situation is particularly severe in the Atlantic region where none of the habitats associated with agriculture were assessed as favourable. The Atlantic region has the highest pressure on agricultural land and includes some of the most intensively farmed areas on the continent.'

Implications for the CAP

The report also indicates that 'the results from the present reporting period will provide a benchmark against which to assess the impact of the wide-range of biodiversity positive measures being implemented under the Common Agricultural Policy.'

The challenge for CAP policy makers, therefore, is to square the circle between those commentators calling for greater liberalisation of EU agriculture... and targeting support at those farming systems which impact positively on biodiversity...

Whilst the biodiversity impacts associated with intensification of farming practices on the one hand, and abandonment or under-management of agricultural land on the other, have been well documented, the report's conclusions raise interesting questions about how the CAP could best support the conservation of biodiversity in the future. In particular, how to support traditional patterns of agriculture associated with positive biodiversity impacts, given that such forms of production are often amongst the least viable in economic terms?

The challenge for CAP policy makers, therefore, is to square the circle between those commentators calling for greater liberalisation of EU agriculture (and thus greater economic efficiency - see, for example, here) - often linked to greater intensification and concentration of production - and targeting support at those farming systems which impact positively on biodiversity, where the market price is not able to capture this (e.g. through product labelling or other aspects of quality product policy) . Much of current policy support for extensive systems is channelled through the single payment as untargeted income support, and through more targeted rural development compensation and incentive payments. Product labelling is relevant in some cases, but not the most important form of intervention by far.

1 comment posted

  • Jack Thurston September 21st, 2009

    The way to ‘square the circle’ is to redirect a fraction of money currently funneled into intensive agriculture into extensive management of defined areas of land that have a potential biodiversity value. As things stand the SPS strongly favours intensive production, because of politically-induced linkages to past subsidy entitlments as opposed to some other criterion such as income or biodiversity value.

    In other words: for land that is economically viable for agricultural production and where the risk is over-intensification, the policy response is regulatory. For land that is econimically marginal and where the risk is abandonment, the policy response is some form of intensive payment.

    The trap that must be avoided is to pay incentive payments to farmers in economically viable land. Unfortunately, this is the trap that policy-makers have already fallen into.

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PUBLICATION DATE

10 Sep 2009

AUTHOR

IEEP

FURTHER INFORMATION

The Institute for European Environmental Policy coordinates CAP2020. It is an independent not for profit institute which undertakes research in a number of policy areas including agriculture and rural development.


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