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Agriculture policy. EU agricultural reform fails on biodiversity


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In December 2013, the European Union (EU) enacted the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2014–2020, allocating almost 40% of the EU's budget and influencing management of half of its terrestrial area. Many EU politicians are announcing the new CAP as “greener,” but the new environmental prescriptions are so diluted that they are unlikely to benefit biodiversity. Individual Member States (MSs), however, can still use flexibility granted by the new CAP to design national plans to protect farmland habitats and species and to ensure long-term provision of ecosystem services.
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1090 6 JUNE 2014 • VOL 344 ISSUE 6188 SCIENCE
EU agricultural reform
fails on biodiversity
Extra steps by Member States are needed
to protect farmed and grassland ecosystems
n December 2013, the European Union
(EU) enacted the reformed Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2014–
2020, allocating almost 40% of the EU’s
budget and influencing management
of half of its terrestrial area. Many EU
politicians are announcing the new CAP as
“greener,” but the new environmental pre-
scriptions are so diluted
that they are unlikely to
benefit biodiversity. Indi-
vidual Member States (MSs), however, can
still use flexibility granted by the new CAP
to design national plans to protect farm-
land habitats and species and to ensure
long-term provision of ecosystem services.
Agricultural expansion and intensifica-
tion are important global drivers of bio-
diversity loss and ecosystem degradation
( 1). In Europe, habitats associated with ag-
riculture, such as grasslands, heathlands,
and peatlands, support threatened and
declining species and provide important
ecosystem services, yet have the worst con-
servation status among all ecosystems ( 2).
Declines in species richness seem to have
slowed for a few taxa in parts of north-
western Europe ( 3), albeit at a biodiversity-
impoverished status quo.
Expansion of the EU and its common
market continue driving agricultural in-
tensification in Europe ( 1, 3). Aided by CAP
subsidies, the scale of agricultural opera-
tions is increasing throughout the EU [e.g.,
increasing holding size (see the chart)], with
new MSs showing an increase in agrochemi-
cal inputs [e.g., fertilizers (see the chart)].
These processes, alongside peatland drain-
age and abandonment of seminatural grass-
land in less productive or accessible regions,
lead to continuing decline of farmland bio-
diversity ( 46) (see the chart).
Certain problems relating to biodiversity
decline are addressed through existing EU
legislation and policies to protect the envi-
ronment (e.g., directives on habitats, birds,
water, nitrates, and sustainable use of pes-
ticides), but the CAP has a much broader
influence on ecosystems in the EU. With a
total budget of €362.8 billion (U.S. $495.4
billion) for 2014–2020 ( 7), it provides fi-
nances, policy mechanisms, and control
systems with higher environmental impact
than all other policies and directives [sup-
plementary materials (SM) part A]. Recog-
nizing the role of the CAP for biodiversity,
the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 sets
Target 3A to “maximise areas […] covered
by biodiversity-related measures under the
CAP” ( 8). The CAP reform does not fulfill
this target.
European Commission launched the latest
CAP reform in 2010, it outlined three main
challenges: food security, environment and
climate change, and maintaining the terri-
torial balance and diversity of rural areas
( 9). To help address the second challenge,
30% of direct payments to farmers (“Pillar
1”) were to become conditional on compli-
ance with three “greening measures”: es-
tablishing Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs)
on 7% of farmed area, maintaining exist-
ing permanent grassland, and growing a
minimum of three different crops on any
farm with >3 ha of arable land. Yet after
3 years of negotiation ( 10), these measures
now apply to roughly 50% of EU farmland,
and most farmers are exempt from deploy-
ing them.
EFAs are now set at 5%, instead of 7%,
and only on farms with >15 ha of arable
land. Countries can reduce the require-
ment to 2.5% or lower in some regions (SM
B). The area threshold exempts at least
88% of EU farms and over 48% of farmed
area (table S1). Farms with permanent
crops, grasslands, or pastures do not need
EFAs. On the other hand, various land uses
may qualify as EFAs, including nitrogen-
fixing crops, catch crops, short-rotation
coppice, and green cover. These land uses
could help maintain soil and water quality
By G. Pe’er, L. V. Dicks, P. Visconti,
R. Arlettaz, A. Báldi, T. G. Benton,
S. Collins, M. Dieterich, R. D. Gregory,
F. Hartig, K. Henle, P. R. Hobson,
D. Kleijn, R. K. Neumann, T. Robijns,
J. Schmidt, A. Shwartz, W. J. Sutherland,
A. Turbé , F. Wulf, A . V. Scott*
2007 20102005
2004 2010 20122000
1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 <10 ha
Da t a: E U RO STATData: PECBMSDa t a: FAO STATDa t a: E U RO STAT
West New Member States North South
>30 ha farm size10 – 30 ha
Mean farm size (ha) Fertilizer use (10
t) Farmland bird index Arable crops per farm
(mean number per country)
EU agriculture. (Left) Farm sizes are particularly large in Western and Northern Europe and have increased in Western Europe (+27%) and the new MSs (+30%) since 2005.
(Left middle) Fertilizer use in new MSs has been increasing in the past decade (other types of agrichemical inputs show similar trends). (Right middle) The Farmland Bird Index
(normalized to 1990 levels) declines throughout the EU. (Right) Average crop diversity in different MSs (symbols) compared with the minimum requirements set by the new CAP
(horizontal lines). See SM for data sources and details.
Published by AAAS
on June 5, 2014www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from on June 5, 2014www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from on June 5, 2014www.sciencemag.orgDownloaded from
6 JUNE 2014 • VOL 344 ISSUE 6188 1091SCIENCE
but are not known to deliver benefits for
biodiversity ( 11). In such a diluted form,
and without specific management guide-
lines, EFAs will likely contribute little to
Permanent grasslands have decreased in
cover by 6.4% between 1993 and 2011 in the
EU and by 11.8% in new MSs (SM C). The
new CAP aims to halt this decline, thereby
reducing biodiversity loss and greenhouse
gas emissions. But rather than maintaining
all permanent grasslands, the reformed CAP
allows a reduction of up to 5% in the net
area of permanent grasslands at national
or regional scales. Further degradation is
permitted by the lack of habitat quality and
management criteria. MSs are required to
identify and protect ecologically valuable
grassland within protected sites (“Natura
2000”), but outside these sites, farmers will
continue receiving subsidies while con-
verting low-input, extensively managed,
species-rich grassland ( 3) to highly intensi-
fied, uniform, species-poor swards ( 6). The
potential to maintain grassland biodiversity
is further undermined by incomplete map-
ping, lack of differentiation among regions
and grassland types, and a focus on net area
without consideration of continuity and
connectivity of existing seminatural grass-
land parcels.
The crop diversification measure obliges
medium (10 to 30 ha) to large (>30 ha)
farms to cultivate at least two or three
crops, respectively (SM D). Farms with <10
ha of arable area (instead of 3
ha as originally proposed) are
exempt, accounting for 92%
of arable holdings in new MSs
and 13% of arable area across
the EU (table S4). Cultivating
three crops on large, intensively
managed farms is unlikely to
enhance biodiversity ( 11). More-
over, in many MSs these targets
are lower than current average crop diver-
sity at the farm scale (see the chart). Com-
bined with the absence of requirements
regarding eligible crop types or rotation,
this measure is unlikely to deliver benefits
to biodiversity or soil quality, or to prevent
further landscape homogenization.
Beyond those compulsory measures, the
new CAP gives insufficient attention and
financial support to sustainable farming
in marginal, small-scale, and biodiversity-
rich farms. Measures deployed within the
framework of the Rural Development Regu-
lation (Pillar 2), especially agri-environment-
climate schemes (AESs) that farmers could
take up voluntarily, can improve habitat
quality and maintain biodiversity when they
are well-designed, targeted, and financed
( 12). Yet funding for Pillar 2 will decrease
in absolute terms by 18% from 2013 to 2020
[from €13.9 to 11.4 billion (~U.S. $19) an-
nually, in 2011 prices] compared to a 13%
reduction in Pillar 1 budget ( 7). Although the
proportion of Pillar 2 funding earmarked
for environmental measures has increased
from 25% in the previous CAP period to 30%
now, the budget needs to cover other activi-
ties, including climate change mitigation,
organic farming, and so-called climate and
environment investment measures—with
potential for both positive and negative
impacts on biodiversity (SM E).
MSs have the flexibility to move some
budgets from Pillar 1 to 2 (“modulation”)
but also vice versa (“reverse modulation”).
The latter is already occurring in some MSs
(SM E). Moreover, MSs still have to match
Pillar 2 payments with national cofunding.
Although the requirements for national co-
funding were reduced in certain cases com-
pared with the previous funding period,
MSs may still lack the budgets required to
unlock these resources or may prefer to al-
locate Pillar 2 funds to measures that are less
beneficial for biodiversity. Too few develop-
ments in the new Pillar 2 regulations focus
on improving cost-effectiveness in terms of
uptake and biodiversity outcomes. One im-
portant advancement in some MSs, however,
is encouraging farmers to act jointly toward
achieving landscape-scale targets (see SM E).
Agricultural intensification clearly pro-
vides some short-term economic gains for
farmers and the food industry. But these
have to be weighed against the loss of pub-
lic goods, such as climate stability ( 13),
landscape quality, and biodiversity ( 13, 14)
with associated environmental, health,
and societal costs that are largely external-
ized from the farming economy. The EU
acknowledges the importance of biodiver-
sity through its 2020 biodiversity targets,
as well as by endorsing the Aichi targets
of the Convention on Biological Diversity,
including strategic targets on sustainable
agricultural production and consumption
(goal 1, targets 4 and 7) and elimination of
incentives harmful to biodiversity (target
3) (SM F). These strategic goals, developed
from the evidence for the various costs of
losing biodiversity and ecosystem services
( 15), would be undermined if MSs adopt
the minimum requirements as set by the
reformed CAP.
THE WAY FORWARD. The EU has lost an
opportunity to design better guidelines
to improve agricultural sustainability. Yet
the increased devolution of responsibili-
ties to individual MSs offers flexibility for
promoting biodiversity and farmland eco-
systems. We provide six recommendations
for immediate action by MSs within the
CAP implementation (see box) (SM G). In
addition, we identify five actions for the
EU to consider in its deliberations over
the next CAP reform (details in SM H): (i)
publish an evidence-based assessment of
the CAP’s impacts on farmland habitats,
species, and ecosystem services, drawing
on national-level monitoring as a base for
improvements; (ii) increase the EU-wide
AES budget, direct it to more effective in-
centives, and shift to outcome—rather than
area-based targets; (iii) improve EFA ef-
fectiveness by reducing exemptions, refin-
1. Maintain or enhance the AES budget in Pillar 2 through budget modulation, prioritizing
context-specic measures shown to support biodiversity and ecosystem services. Set clear
and measurable targets that are coherent with the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
2. Use AESs to allow specic target groups (e.g., small holdings in marginal areas, young
farmers, cooperating farmer groups) to prot from environmentally friendly practices or
jointly provide landscape-scale benets.
3. Ensure that eligible land uses for EFAs prioritize elements that benet biodiversity and
ecosystem services, including management prescriptions when necessary.
4. Complete identication and mapping of grasslands, with dierentiation into types,
qualities, and required management.
5. Allocate sucient funding and eort within the Farm Advisory System to deliver
ecological expertise to farmers as required.
6. Institute comprehensive provisions for monitoring biodiversity outcomes to evaluate the
eectiveness of the agricultural policy against the targets set in the EU.
Recommended immediate actions by Member States
*Author a liations can be found in supplementary material
(SM) on Science Online. †Corresponding author. guy.peer@
Many EU politicians are announcing
the new CAP as greener,” but the
new environmental prescriptions are
so diluted that they are unlikely to
benefit biodiversity.
Published by AAAS
1092 6 JUNE 2014 • VOL 344 ISSUE 6188 SCIENCE
nergy-releasing chemical reactions are
at the core of the living process of all
organisms. These bioenergetic reac-
tions have myriad substrates and prod-
ucts, but their main by-product today
is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), life’s
primary currency of metabolic energy. Bioen-
ergetic reactions have been running in a se-
quence of uninterrupted continuity since the
first prokaryotes arose on Earth more than
3.5 billion years ago, long before there was
oxygen to breathe ( 1). Under what conditions
did these bioenergetic processes first evolve?
Many ingenious ideas about energy at
life’s origins have nothing in common with
modern life. It is conceivable that early life
harnessed energy from volcanic pyrite syn-
thesis ( 2), zinc sulfide–based photosynthesis
( 3), ultraviolet radiation, or lightning, yet
none of these processes powers known mi-
crobial life forms. For biologists, the origin of
energy-harnessing mechanisms used by real
microbes is the issue. Recent studies point to
parallels between the energy-harnessing sys-
tems of ancient microbes and the geochem-
istry of alkaline hydrothermal vents (see the
figure), suggesting that natural ion gradients
in such vents ignited life’s ongoing chemical
How did the first cells harness energy? Be-
cause life arose in a world without molecu-
lar oxygen, some anaerobes are likely to be
ancient, and anaerobic environments should
harbor primitive bioenergetic reactions ( 4,
5). Ancient anaerobic niches deep in Earths
crust often contain acetogens (bacteria) and
methanogens (archaea), groups that biolo-
gists have long thought to be ancient ( 4).
However, anaerobic environments harbor
very little energy to harness ( 6, 7). In the an-
aerobic environments of submarine hydro-
thermal vents, geochemically generated H
is the main source of chemical energy.
In addition to being strict anaerobes, ace-
togens and methanogens live from H
, us-
ing the simplest and arguably most ancient
forms of energy metabolism ( 8). Both syn-
thesize ATP by reducing CO
with electrons
from H
to make acetate and methane, re-
spectively. They use a chemical mechanism
called flavin-based electron bifurcation ( 6)
to generate highly reactive ferredoxins—
small, ancient iron-sulfur proteins ( 5) that
are as central to their energy conservation
as is ATP ( 6). The shared backbone of their
energy metabolism is the acetyl–coenzyme
A pathway, the most primitive CO
pathway ( 8) and the one typical of sub-
surface microbes ( 9). Metabolism in these
anaerobes is furthermore replete with reac-
tions catalyzed by transition metals such
as iron, nickel, molybdenum, or tungsten,
another ancient trait ( 2, 58).
All known life forms, including methano-
gens and acetogens, use two basic mecha-
nisms to tap environmentally available
energy and harness it as ATP. The first is
substrate-level phosphorylation, in which
highly reactive phosphate-containing com-
pounds phosphorylate adenosine diphos-
phate (ADP) to make ATP ( 6, 10). The energy
conserved in ATP is released in a subsequent
reaction that does chemical work for the
cell or allows more sluggish reactions to go
forward. The highly reactive phosphate com-
pounds are generated during conversions of
carbon compounds. Their synthesis is driven
by environmental sources of chemical en-
ergy such as H
plus CO
that are harnessed
during conversion to more thermodynami-
cally stable compounds such as methane
and acetate.
The second mechanism that cells use to
harness energy involves ion gradients and
is called chemiosmotic coupling. Here, an
energy-releasing reaction is coupled to the
pumping of ions across a membrane from
inside the cell to the outside. The most com-
mon ions used for this purpose are protons,
By William F. Martin ,
Filipa L. Sousa ,
Nick Lane
Institute of Molecular Evolution, Heinrich-Heine-Universität,
Universitätsstrasse 1, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.
Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment,
University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK. E-mail:
… the primordial ATPase
could have harnessed
geochemically generated
gradients at an alkaline
hydrothermal vent.
Energy at lifes origin
Analysis of the bioenergetics of primitive organisms
suggests that life began at hydrothermal vents
EVOLUTIONing management criteria for qualification,
and expanding their total area, building
on country-level evidence and experience
(recommendations 3 and 6 to MSs); (iv) de-
velop longer-term perspectives for more ef-
fective and comprehensive protection and
restoration of grasslands and peatland; (v)
reevaluate the usefulness of the crop diver-
sity measure.
Our recommendations should encourage
MSs and the EU to start moving toward
more sustainable agriculture, securing
food provision alongside biodiversity and
ecosystem services for current and future
1. K. Henle et al., Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 124, 60 (2008).
2. European Environment Agency, EU 2010 Biodiversity
Baseline (Tech. Rep. No. 12/2010, EEA, Copenhagen,
3. L. G. Carvalheiro et al., Ecol. Lett. 16, 870 (2013).
4. T. G. Benton, J. A. Vickery, J. D. Wilson, Trends Ecol. Evol.
18, 182 (2003).
5. R. D. Gregory, A. van Strien, Ornitholog. Sci. 9, 3 (2010).
6. European Environment Agency, The European Grassland
Butterfly Indicator: 1990–2011 (Tech. Rep. No. 11/2013,
EEA, Luxembourg, 2013).
7. Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy
Department B, Note: European Council Conclusions on
the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014–2020 and the
CAP (European Parliament, Brussels, 2013).
8. European Commission, Our life insurance, our natural
capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (European
Commission, Brussels, 2011).
9. European Commission, The CAP towards 2020: Meeting
the food, natural resources and territorial challenges of
the future (European Commission, Brussels, 2010).
10. C. Rutz, J. Dwyer, J. Schramek, Sociol. Rural. (2013),
doi: 10.1111/soru.12033.
11. L. V. Dicks et al., Conserv. Lett. 7, 119 (2014).
12. R. F. Pywell et al., Biol. Lett. 8, 772 (2012).
13. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and
Human Well-Being: Biodiversity Synthesis (World
Resources Institute, Washington, DC, 2005).
14. R. Bommarco, D. Kleijn, S. G. Potts, Trends Ecol. Evol. 28,
230 (2013).
15. TEEB, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity:
Ecological and Economic Foundations (Earthscan,
London, 2010).
We thank P. Ibisch, T. Vandermaesen, A. Barnett, E. Ellis, L.
Podmaniczky, T. Hartel, J. Y. Humbert, M. Liebman, S. Becheva,
G. Beaufoy, S. Boldogh, J. Tzanopoulos, J. Hegarty, T. Lancaster,
and P. Vorisek for valuable inputs. G.P., K.H., and A.V.S.
acknowledge EC FP7 projects SCALES (contract 226852),
R.A. was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation
(31003A-120152) and the Swiss Government; A.A.B. and D.K.
acknowledge EC FP7 project LIBERATION (311781); A.A.B.
acknowledges MTA Lendület; W.J.S. acknowledges Arcadia;
L.V.D. is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
(NE/K015419/1); The Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring
Scheme is a joint initiative of the European Bird Census Council
and the BirdLife International, funded by the EC and the Royal
Society for the Protection of Birds.
Published by AAAS
Supplementary Materials for
EU agricultural reform fails on biodiversity
G. Pe’er,* L. V. Dicks, P. Visconti, R. Arlettaz, A. Báldi, T. G. Benton, S. Collins,
M. Dieterich, R. D. Gregory, F. Hartig, K. Henle, P. R. Hobson, D. Kleijn,
R. K. Neumann, T. Robijns, J. Schmidt, A. Shwartz, W. J. Sutherland, A. Turbe,
F. Wulf, A. V. Scott
*Corresponding author. E-mail:
Published 6 June 2014, Science 344, 1090 (2014)
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252254
This PDF file includes
Materials and Methods
Supplementary Text
Figs. S1 to S4
Tables S1 to S4
Supplementary Materials
Outline of Supplementary Materials
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1
A: Why Is the CAP Crucial to Biodiversity Recovery? ..................................................................... 2
B: Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) ....................................................................................................... 3
C: Permanent Grasslands .................................................................................................................... 6
D: Crop Diversification ....................................................................................................................... 8
E: Rural Development Regulation (‘Pillar 2’) .................................................................................. 10
F: Overall Summary of the CAP’s Weaknesses from a Biodiversity Perspective ............................ 13
G: Guidelines for Immediate Action by MS ..................................................................................... 16
H: Recommendations for the Next Review of the CAP ................................................................... 19
I: Details of Methodologies and Data Sources Underpinning Figure in the Policy Forum .............. 22
Supplementary Text: Affiliations……. ......................................................................................... 25
References ........................................................................................................................................ 26
Introduction. This supplementary material offers a thorough evaluation of the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the likely overall effects of the CAP reform on biodiversity.
We first examine each of the three compulsory ‘greening’ measures within Pillar 1 (sections
B–D), followed by the Rural Development Regulation (Pillar 2) in terms of both budget and
potential cost-effectiveness (Section E). Following a synthesis of our evaluation on the CAP
as a whole (Section F), we offer guidelines for immediate action by Member States (section
G), as well as recommendations for the next review of the CAP (section H). We support all
guidelines and recommendations with scientific evidence where available. Section I sets out
the methods underlying the figures in the main published text.
Main sources of evidence supporting this appendix are Dicks et al. (11), Polakova et al. (16),
and analyses performed by the EU Working Group on Biodiversity and Agriculture (17). As
these support various assessments and recommendations, we do not refer to them specifically
within the text. Figures and tables are based on data from Eurostat
(, as elaborated in section I.
A: Why is the CAP Crucial to Biodiversity Recovery?
Among the EU’s legislation affecting agricultural landscapes, two pieces are of key
importance for biodiversity. The Birds directive (18) and the Habitats Directive (19) create
binding legislation that aims to preserve biodiversity. To ensure Favourable Conservation
Status for listed habitats and species of European importance, these Directives guide the
designation and management of the ‘Natura 2000’, a Europe-wide network of protected sites,
amongst other measures. The CAP provides financial support for farmers and land managers,
partly for the sustainable management of habitats and species, both within and outside Natura
2000 sites. CAP regulations, incentives and finances are essential to sustaining or enhancing
biodiversity and ecosystem services for three main reasons. First, 38% of the area of ‘Natura
2000’ sites is farmland. Secondly, Natura 2000 sites cover 18% of the EU’s terrestrial area,
whereas farmland covers 50% of the EU’s terrestrial area and dominates much of the
landscape surrounding and separating patches of semi-natural and natural habitats. Thirdly,
Natura 2000 sites are supported by a relatively small EU budget, financed partly by co-
funded Natura 2000 payments, Agri-Environment Schemes (AES) and some other measures
under Pillar 2 of the CAP, as well as structural funds, and through projects under the EU
LIFE programme. For comparison, the CAP total expenditure in 2012 was €55.1 billion (20),
out of which €3.23 billion were allocated to agri-environment measures (only partly allocated
to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services). By contrast, Natura 2000 payments
schemes totalled €39.6 million for that year (21), and additionally LIFE+ allocated €139.3 m
to projects contributing to both the implementation of the Birds and Habitat Directives and to
the Natura 2000 network (22, 23).
Other important EU directives in protecting agricultural ecosystems from degradation
are the Nitrates Directive (24) and Water Framework Directive (25). Both focus largely on
chemicals in, or next to, water resources, or on the structure and quality of water bodies. They
have limited capacity to target diffuse surface pollution, and do not protect landscapes (and
biodiversity) from farmland expansion, homogenization, and physical elimination of habitats.
Even with respect to tackling nitrate pollution, Member States (MS) have had mixed success,
partly because of diffuse pollution from agricultural lands (26, 27). As with the Birds and
Habitats Directives, the CAP provides essential mechanisms for implementing the Nitrates
and Water Framework Directives, through its cross compliance requirements and/or agri-
environment payments for specific measures such as buffer strips along water courses. The
Pesticides Directive (28) sets limits primarily in the matrix between protected areas. Other
relevant EU initiatives, such as the Green Infrastructure Strategy (29) are still under
development, so far remain voluntary, and depend on support through the CAP and other
operational programmes for their effective implementation (29).
The CAP, and especially specific measures funded under Pillar 2, has a range of tools
to benefit the farmed environment in general, and biodiversity in particular. It provides
financial support for land managers to take environmental actions to support the objectives of
the Birds, Habitats, Water Framework Directives, as well as the Organic Regulation. It also
sets ‘cross compliance’ control systems to ensure legal compliance with important elements
of the Nitrates, Birds and Habitat Directives (among other topics) (30). It is therefore the
largest single policy affecting biodiversity in the EU, and the dominant governance tool to
address biodiversity and ecosystem services outside the Natura 2000 network.
So far, however, the CAP has failed to effectively protect biodiversity and ecosystems
associated with agriculture. Most habitats and species of European importance that are
dependent on agriculture have been reported by MS as being in “Unfavourable—inadequate”
or “Unfavourable—bad” Conservation Status (2, 31), whereas the Habitats Directive sets the
target to achieve a “Favourable Conservation Status”. Beyond reports from MS, monitoring
schemes, such as of farmland birds and butterflies, show continuous declines (6, 32).
Evidence of the recovery of some taxa is scanty and mostly relates to limited improvements
in areas of North Western Europe (2), measured against an impoverished biodiversity
baseline where a range of species have already shown substantial declines or gone extinct.
Agri-environment schemes (AES) have had only partial success in counteracting the effects
of other CAP incentives (3335). AES that have been well designed, targeted and supported
have been important in maintaining or restoring biodiversity. Other AES have suffered from
low uptake and lack of spatial aggregation of efforts. In some cases, over-simplistic design,
application and control of AES has even yielded adverse effects on species [e.g., (36)].
In the following we examine the new CAP against the current status quo, which
requires effective greening of the CAP to reverse the long decline in the state of biodiversity
in the intensified agricultural landscapes of Western Europe, and to halt the on-going loss of
biodiversity in most other regions in Europe. We further examine the CAP in relation to
target 3A of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2020, which sets the requirement to maximise
the area allocated to biodiversity conservation in farmland areas and so to increase the
contribution of agriculture to the recovery of habitats and species of European importance as
required by the EU Biodiversity Strategy (8).
B: Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs)
Background and Rationale
The protection and sustainable management of habitats of importance to biodiversity on all
farms throughout the EU has been a long-standing need, in view of the increasingly
intensified agricultural landscapes of Europe [see the figure in the text]. Compulsory set-
aside of 10% of farmed area was introduced by the EU in the early 90s (but abolished in
2009). In Switzerland, designation of 7% of farmed area on most farms (3.5% on fruit tree
plantations and vineyards) as Ecological Compensation Areas, recently renamed
“Biodiversity Promoting Areas”, has been compulsory within the agricultural policy since
1993 (37). These areas now comprise 13% of Swiss farmland, mostly consisting of low-input
grasslands (38). In the run-up to the recent CAP Reform, conservation scientists and
professionals recommended that 10% of arable land within each property, excluding
permanent grassland, should be allocated for ecological purposes (39) through the protection
of landscape features such as buffer strips and land left fallow (11). This advice is based upon
ecological models suggesting a nonlinear decrease in species’ viability and ecosystem
functioning with the extent of area lost. Yet following three years of negotiations, the area
has been reduced to 5% and a range of exemptions have been introduced. Whilst the existing
cover of semi-natural habitats on farms is impossible to determine exactly (due to the lack of
mapping and monitoring at the appropriate scale), its share in many MS is likely above the
proportion now required by the EFA measure (5%), especially in the new MS (1, 39, 40)
where semi-natural areas have been maintained by a broad prevalence of traditional
agricultural management [e.g., (41)] . It is in these regions that their decline may be fastest,
due to rapidly changing economic conditions and land-uses [see, e.g., (42, 43) and the figure
in the text (left middle and right middle)]. It is additionally important to note that the selection
and management of the areas that qualify as EFAs will have a decisive impact on the quality
of biodiversity they sustain.
Specific Components and Elements Weakening this Measure
1) The requirement for EFA only applies to farms exceeding 15 ha of arable land. The
threshold is based on arable area, hence all non-arable area (e.g. permanent pasture,
grassland) is de facto exempted. This exemption alone exclude more than 88% of
farm holdings (over 94% in new MS), and at least 48% of the EU’s Utilised
Agricultural Areas (Table S1). This is a highly conservative estimate, because it does
not include farms that are 10-15 ha in size.
2) At the local or regional level, Member States can halve these requirements so that
only 2.5% of the farm is devoted to EFA, under various conditions, such as in the case
of collective implementation or when a MS already reaches 2.5% EFAs at the
regional level.
Table S1: Total number of farm holdings with less than 10 ha of arable land, and total
agricultural area (Utilized Agricultural Area = UAA) exempt from EFA, in the EU28, in
absolute and proportional terms. The area exempt is a combination of arable areas <10 ha in
size and nonarable area. See methods section (I, page 21) for details of data sources and
calculations. Data are divided into four geographic and socioeconomic EU regions: West,
North, South, and Centre+East (new MS). Farm holdings with areas of arable land between
10 and 15 ha in size are also exempt from EFAs, but data were not available to include them
in this analysis. Source: EUROSTAT.
% exempt
<10 ha
UAA exempt
from EFA (ha)
exempt from
10,735,840 87.65% 83,750,890
Austria, Belgium,
Denmark, Germany,
Ireland, Luxemburg,
Netherlands, United
574,350 61.40% 23,944,750
Finland, Sweden
44,230 32.77% 713,130 13.31%
France, Greece, Italy,
Portugal, Spain
3,504,410 84.34% 35,782,640 49.98%
Centre +
Bulgaria, Croatia,
Cyprus, Czech
Republic, Estonia,
Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Malta,
Poland, Romania,
Slovakia, Slovenia
6,612,850 94.17% 23,310,370 46.90%
3) Nitrogen-fixing crops, short rotation coppice, catch crops, green cover and afforested
areas all qualify as EFA. Among these, nitrogen-fixing crops, such as legumes,
contribute primarily to soil quality and to a certain extent also support some wild
species, but the ecological benefits are limited and in some cases even negative
impacts of these crops are documented (44). The potential impacts on biodiversity of
most land-uses that qualify as EFA remain overall poorly studied and their benefits
are likely to depend on spatial context and management. However, no specific
management guidelines are currently required on most of these crops in order to
qualify as EFA. This presents an obstacle to effectively support biodiversity. For
instance, no restrictions were set on the use of pesticides and fertilizers on nitrogen
fixing crops.
4) As EFAs only apply to arable land, permanent crops are exempt from any greening
measure. This exemption includes a range of crops, supporting varying levels of
biodiversity. It covers large areas of permanent cropland especially in Southern EU
Member States (6.47% in 2011, Table S2), some of them in the form of extensive
monocultures. Setting such a general exemption, with no guidelines with respect to
management, therefore hampers efforts to protect biodiversity.
5) Organic farming is exempt from greening as well, presumably based on the
assumption that it is “green by definition”. While organic farming does provide a
range of environmental benefits, including some to biodiversity (45), many of these
benefits relate to extensive, often traditional small-scale farming practices, that
maintain landscape heterogeneity and especially retain a mix of crops with non-crop
habitats (42, 46, 47). Organically grown, but intensively management crops can be
very poor in terms of biodiversity (17, 48), especially if uninterrupted by semi-natural
habitat patches (49, 50). Thus, in the absence of further specifications, one cannot
assume that organic farming supports biodiversity.
6) On top of all other exemptions, the CAP exempts from this measure also arable lands
below 30 ha in places where grassland or other herbaceous forage areas, forest,
leguminous crops, fallow land, crops under water, areas of so-called ‘natural
constraints’, or a combination of those, predominates the landscape [(51), Article 46,
chapter 3]. The extent of EU area affected by this exemption is unknown, as no
analysis has yet evaluated it. We contend that this exemption will decrease EFAs in
those very areas where they are most essential, namely where they could form
corridors, stepping stones or buffers next to, or among, existing natural and semi-
natural habitats (including Natura 2000 sites). This stands in stark contrast to the
principles for designing an effective green infrastructure, which explicitly aim at
increasing connectivity and establishing habitat mosaics at the landscape scale, in
conformity with the Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy (29).
Table S2: Percentage coverage of total agricultural area, arable land, permanent crops and
meadows in EU MS as per 2011, divided into four geographic and socio-economic EU
regions: West, North, South, and Centre+East (new MS). Source: FAOSTAT.
% of total EU land area which is…
Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg,
Netherlands, United Kingdom
55.66 29.14 0.44 16.00
Finland, Sweden
France, Greece, Italy, Portugal,
52.75 26.44 6.47 15.25
Central + East
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech
Republic, Estonia, Hungary,
Latvia, Lithuania, Malta,
Poland, Romania, Slovakia,
48.78 34.60 1.31 17.74
To summarize, a substantial proportion of EU’s farmers and farmland area will either be
exempt from the EFA greening requirement or entitled to receive subsidies under this
measure without implementing any specific management prescription that could provide
benefits to biodiversity (11, 52). This measure is therefore unlikely to contribute to improving
the status of farmland biodiversity given that the majority of farmers would not be required to
perform any changes of current farming practices to comply with it.
C: Permanent Grasslands
Background and Rationale
Grasslands that are extensively farmed, notably by mowing and extensive grazing with low or
no agri-chemical input, support a large proportion of Europe’s biodiversity and its threatened
species (2, 53). Permanent grasslands (meadows and pastures) in the EU decreased by 6.4%
between 1993 and 2011, with a particularly rapid decline in the new Member States (11.8%,
Table S3) (54). Among the causes of decline, estimated through temporal analyses of
CORINE land-cover maps between 2000 and 2006, the conversion from pasture to arable and
permanent crops (32%) was the most significant source of change. Additionally, 17% of
changes were due to farmland abandonment [Fig. S1 (2)], leading to natural vegetation
succession (e.g., scrub encroachment, reforestation) that negatively affects farmland
The permanent pasture ‘greening’ measure defined in the new CAP aims at halting
the loss of grasslands, thereby supporting biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions
since grasslands store larger carbon stocks than farmlands. However, a further reduction of
5% of the national or regional total coverage of permanent grassland is still allowed, against
the year 2012 as a baseline (2013 in Croatia). This measure, however, is not applied at farm
Table S3: Changes in the total area of permanent meadows and pastures between 1993 and
2011, divided to four EU regions: West, North, South, and Centre+East (new MS). Source:
Change in area
(1000 ha)
Change in %
Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg,
Netherlands, United Kingdom
-1,656.4 -6.95
Finland, Sweden
France, Greece, Italy, Portugal,
-904 -2.84
Centre +
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech
Republic, Estonia, Hungary,
Latvia, Lithuania, Malta,
Poland, Romania, Slovakia,
-1,819.5 -11.81
Fig. S1: Causes of grassland loss across the EU in 2000-2006. Copyright holder: European
Environment Agency (EEA), Copenhagen.
Specific Components and Elements Weakening this Measure
1) The definition of permanent grassland for the purposes of ‘greening’ Pillar 1 payments
combines all grasslands. This includes reseeded grassland and grassland monocultures
that have little value for biodiversity, together with semi-natural (‘unimproved’)
grasslands, which are valuable for biodiversity, support many rare and endangered
species, and provide a range of ecosystem services. Outside Natura 2000 sites, this
greening measure can thus be fulfilled by farms with valuable, often ancient grasslands,
even if converting them into highly intensified, uniform and species-poor swards (6).
Notably, stricter rules apply within Natura 2000 areas, where Member States will have to
designate areas of “environmentally sensitive permanent grassland” (including peatlands
and wetlands), which may not be converted or ploughed. Member States may decide to
extend these requirements beyond protected areas, to cover all High Nature Value
(HNV) grasslands. If they do not, valuable permanent grasslands that are not designated
under the Habitats Directive will remain at a very high risk of degradation or loss.
2) While many MS are putting intensive efforts into mapping grassland, many still lack
appropriate grassland inventories (e.g., Greece, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, Portugal) (55)
and thus the necessary reference baseline to enable their effective protection.
“Appropriate”, in this context, entails spatial and thematic resolutions that are detailed
enough to enable farm-level regulation, and evaluation of habitat type and quality.
Deficiencies in mapping and resulting misclassifications can have significant
consequences for biodiversity. For example, between 2003 and 2009, such deficiencies
have led to the loss of 35% of lowland hay meadows in Natura 2000 sites in South-
western Germany, although these should be strictly protected under the Habitat Directive
3) The CAP refers to the year 2012 as a reference baseline for permanent grassland
coverage estimates (2013 in Croatia). Yet there are no clear requirements as to grassland
quality criteria. This enables various forms of intensification or degradation of semi-
natural, biodiversity-rich grassland.
4) The measure only requires maintaining overall area, but not the maintenance of existing
parcels of semi-natural grassland. Thus, there is no means to prevent farmers from
ploughing and replanting, or relocating, grassland within their land (except within Natura
2000 sites), thereby losing the species characterizing permanent semi-natural grasslands
5) While allowing up to 5% loss of grasslands at the regional or national level, it is
noteworthy that this threshold is above current annual rates of loss in some regions
(Table S3). Additionally, this measure will be hard to control because it does not apply
at the farm level.
To summarise, this greening measure allows both direct losses of valuable semi-natural
grasslands and indirect losses by setting too few requirements regarding their quality,
management and continuity.
D: Crop Diversification
Background and Rationale
Landscape heterogeneity is a key factor in maintaining biodiversity. Mosaic landscapes, with
a range of different habitats, can better support the needs of a diverse collection of different
species (4, 58). There are growing concerns about the loss of such heterogeneity due to the
increase in monocultures covering large areas. A well-designed crop diversification measure
could potentially help in maintaining some level of heterogeneity (4, 53), but in its current
form it falls far short of what is required.
Specific Components and Elements Weakening the Measure
1. The new CAP crop diversification ‘greening’ measure requires farm holdings with arable
land of 10-30 ha to cultivate at least two crops, and farms exceeding 30 ha must have at
least three crops, with no more than 75% of the farmed area assigned to one crop. With
merely 3 crops, or, in fact, only two when considering that winter and spring plantings of
the same crop count as two different crops, this requirement sets a threshold that differs
only marginally from complete homogenization. This measure is furthermore based on
virtually no evidence that such a limited number of crops on large, intensively-managed
farmed areas could enhance biodiversity (11).
2. Farms below 10 ha are exempt from this measure. This accounts for 81% of holdings, or
13% of EU Utilised Agricultural Area that have an arable area <10 ha, with a particularly
high share of exempted farmers in new Member States (Table S4). This means that a
vast proportion of farmers can receive Pillar 1 payments for a monoculture or even for
converting their farm into one.
3. A comparison of the set targets to current crop diversity at the farm level indicates that
the targets are lower than the current average (country level) diversity in 50% of the MS
in Western EU MS and as many as 81% of the new MS. This means that the measure
leaves ample room for onward reduction in crop diversity, especially in the new Member
4. Crop rotation is not required. This is in stark contrast to original proposals for this
measure to focus primarily on crop rotation, due to the potential benefits of temporal
heterogeneity to soil quality and biodiversity [e.g., bird assemblages (58)]. Furthermore,
no requirements are set with respect to the nature of the crops contributing to crop
diversity, e.g., by consideration of the potential contribution of legumes for nitrogen-
5. MS can define a range of practices as being ‘equivalent’ to one of the greening measures,
either through a certification scheme or an AES (paid through Pillar 2), and hence
replacing it. In the context of this measure, crop rotation can be deemed equivalent to
crop diversification, but so do winter soil cover or catch crops [(51), Annex IX]. The
latter two entail that monocultures can obtain certification under this greening measure,
or receive AES subsidies. This enables exempting monocultures from a measure that was
originally designated for them.
Table S4: Arable farm holdings and arable area exempt from the crop diversification measure in
absolute terms and as a percentage of of the total number of arable farms or area of arable land in the
EU28 and EU regions in2010). Source: EUROSTAT
of arable
with <10
Total area
of arable
land in
<10 ha
% of all
from this
% of total
arable area
exempt from
this measure
6,618,400 13,557,980 81.40 13.05
Austria, Denmark,
Germany, Ireland,
Netherlands, United
230,530 996,380 38.96 4.06
Finland, Sweden
France, Greece, Italy,
Portugal, Spain
1,522,250 3,812,950 70.06 9.62
Centre + East
Bulgaria, Cyprus,
Croatia, Czech
Republic, Estonia,
Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Malta,
Poland, Romania,
Slovakia, Slovenia
4,824,860 8,527,900 92.17 24.42
E: Rural Development Regulation (‘Pillar 2’)
Background and Rationale
Pillar 2 supports a range of management activities by farmers in some of the most important
landscapes for biodiversity in the EU, especially in rural and economically-marginal
landscapes. 30% of Pillar 2 payments will now be allocated to a range of measures including
environment and climate measures, thus including agri-environment schemes—now
referred to as “agri-environment-climate schemes” under the new CAP. These budgets can be
used to support small-scale, traditional farming practices, including extensive “High Nature
Value” farming methods, in many Member States. Such measures, which farmers can take up
voluntarily, are essential for sustaining biodiversity as they go beyond the minimum legal
requirements set by the cross compliance mechanism, as well as the 1
pillar’s greening
measures. They are also potentially available to the majority of the EU’s farmers who
manage small holdings and are otherwise exempted from compulsory greening measures.
This, however, requires both sufficient budgets and effective AES that are well designed and
targeted to maintaining and restoring habitats and their characteristic species (12, 33).
Elements Weakening Pillar 2:
1. The budget allocated to Pillar 2 will be reduced by 18% by 2020, from €13.9 billion in
2013 to €11.4 billion per annum (in 2011 prices)—a disproportionate reduction
compared to an overall 13% cut of the Pillar 1 budget, from €43.2 per annum in 2013 to
€37.6 billion by 2020 (7). Although 30% of Pillar 2 is now earmarked for environmental
measures (compared to 25% in the previous CAP), this funding needs to cover not only
biodiversity and support for farming in least favoured areas but also climate change
mitigation, support for organic farming, and so-called environment and climate-related
investmentswith potentially both positive and negative impacts on biodiversity.
2. Few new or improved measures have been added to Pillar 2 to rectify and enhance the
protection of biodiversity through voluntary schemes, although there are good examples
of the benefits this approach can deliver for biodiversity (33, 59). In particular, no focus
was given to developing target-oriented measures. One important advancement in some
MS, however, is to allow for support to groups of farmers who collectively implement
complementary measures in concert at the landscape scale; an approach which can
enhance biodiversity if adopted sufficiently by MS and farmers and implemented at an
appropriate spatial scale (60).
3. Member States have the flexibility to shift budgets from the first to the second pillar
(“Modulation”) or vice versa (“Reverse Modulation”). This flexibility does not imply
“greening”, as it allows substantial erosion of Pillar 2 through reverse modulation – as
already approved in some MS (e.g., Poland, Slovakia, Croatia). Essentially, this transfer
of political responsibility from the European Commission to Member States risks
weakening the delivery of the environmental objectives of the CAP even further,
especially in MS with less ambitious biodiversity goals (10).
4. Furthermore, MS may decide to shift budgets to elements in Pillar 2 that benefit
intensification in rural areas rather than supporting environmental public goods, with
risks of particularly damaging outcomes for biodiversity. Combined with reduced budget
availability for biodiversity support, this exacerbates the risk of reducing the overall
coherence of the CAP with the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
5. Member States must co-finance the second pillar to an extent ranging from 15% to 47%.
Alterations of the co-financing rules from the previous CAP could improve the finances
for Pillar 2 in some countries where the national co-financing requirement has been
reduced compared to the previous CAP, as this would enable them to allocate more funds
to Pillar 2 than the minimum required (as some MS have done in the past). However, the
risk remains that many MS may still lack the budgets required to unlock EU AES co-
financing. Furthermore, for some MS, increased EU co-financing, within a declining
overall budget, eventually translates into less area that can receive Pillar 2 support.
Consequently, the uptake and overall area supported by AES is likely to remain
insufficient for maintaining and restoring biodiversity or may even decline under the
reformed CAP.
Additional deficiencies in the overall structure of the CAP voluntary measures, some of
which remain from the previous CAP, include:
6. Preference for short term contracts, which are counterproductive both in terms of uptake
(due to lack of reliability of the funding source for a given management) and from an
ecological perspective, since habitat stability enhances a range of ecological processes
supporting biodiversity, such as colonization, species viability, or soil building processes
7. Lack of guidelines regarding the targeting of regions or habitats, to enhance the benefits
for biodiversity. For instance, maintenance or enhancement of habitat connectivity
should be an explicit target.
8. Lack of sufficient financial support for labour-intensive measures, or incentives for
improved planning and coordination of activities across spatial scales (61).
9. The goals of decentralization and policy simplification need to be complemented by
mechanisms that ensure the maintenance of landscape heterogeneity at larger scales. One
cannot assume that transferring decisions to lower levels would create more diversity:
under homogenous financial incentives, as well as pressures from global markets,
independent actors may favour the same land-uses and apply similar management
practices. This retains the risk that homogenization of agricultural practices would
continue threatening biodiversity [see, e.g., (62)].
It is noteworthy that the effectiveness of Pillar 2 measures, and especially Agri-Environment
Schemes (AESs) in contributing to biodiversity, remains poorly assessed (63), especially in
the new Member States. Oversimplified measures, lack of clear requirements to deliver
biodiversity improvements, and misconceived control measures may lead to undesired
outcomes [e.g., (36)] or even perverse use of budgets (Fig. S2). Therefore, even in MS which
will not decrease Pillar 2 budgets by reverse modulation, risks remain that budgets are used
for practices that bring no benefits to biodiversity.
Fig. S2: Perverse use of Pillar 2 payments: thousands of nest boxes installed, at exceptional
density, at the fringes of small forest parcels in Hungary and at a cost of 45 per box. Given
the natural density and behaviour of any relevant bird species, provision of these nests is
probably of benefit mostly to the farmers. Pictures: Sándor Boldogh
F: Overall Summary of the CAP’s Weaknesses from a Biodiversity Perspective
Most EU farmers in the EU own or operate in holdings smaller than 10 ha, but 2% of farmers
manage at least a third of the EU’s total UAA (Figure S3). The absence of prescriptions
which address different farm sizes, and especially recognize very large farms (>80 ha),
implies that over 60% of the arable area in the EU will have to abide to very limited
environmental requirements. On the other hand, the exemption of small farms and non-arable
land (especially permanent crops and grasslands) from compulsory greening measures means
that biodiversity targets need to be supported primarily through Pillar 2, to address the vast
majority of the EU’s farmers.
Fig. S3: Relative number of EU farms and share of agricultural area with respect to holding
size as of 2010. We divide between holdings according to size of arable area, noting that non-
arable land could not be broken by size. Non-arable areas included here are Permanent
Grasslands (PG), Permanent Crops (PC) and Kitchen gardens (Kitchen). See Table S1 for
arable area alone. Source: EUROSTAT.
Against this background, the compulsory greening measures of the CAP share the following
1. Most compulsory measures are uniform throughout the European Union. This sometimes
imposes limitations on farmers in places where this may not be beneficial while exempting
others in areas where the protection of biodiversity may be essential (64, 65). This is
counterproductive not only due to a lack of consideration for geographic variability but
also because the efficacy of biodiversity measures is highly context-specific, depending on
climate, species pool, landscape configuration, and land-use intensity (64, 66, 67).
2. Measures are oversimplified also in terms of lumping together habitat types, or large land-
use categories. This includes grouping together extensive, biodiversity-friendly practices
with highly intensive ones.
3. The large number of exemptions made to the compulsory measures, especially on the basis
of farm size, exempts most farmers in the EU or requires no change in management
toward a more biodiversity-friendly direction.
4. An equivalence mechanism, either through ‘national certification schemesor AES,
enables Member States to approve alternatives for the greening measures (see also Section
D). Even if payments must be adjusted to avoid double-funding, Pillar 2 funds (AES) can
be used to fund measures that should be compulsory ‘greening’ measures under Pillar 1.
5. A Farm Advisory System (FAS) was proposed in the previous CAP period and became
mandatory in the new CAP, to “help farmers to assess the performance of their agricultural
holding and to identify the necessary improvements as regards cross compliance and
greening requirements for direct payments”, as well as potential improvements with
respect to the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), the Pesticide Directive
(2009/128/EC) and Regulation (1107/2009), and some measures financed under Pillar 2,
e.g., for farm modernization, innovation etc. (51). A Farm Advisory System can
potentially support effective implementation of greening measures and protecting
biodiversity, especially if financed under Pillar 2 and designated to support these targets.
However, it is up to the MS to what extent the FAS will be implemented and what
proportion of it will be allocated to environmental issues in general, and biodiversity in
particular. A risk therefore remains that the Farm Advisory System can become a missed
opportunity for improvements from a biodiversity perspective.
Beyond the compulsory measures, weaknesses of Pillar 2 identified during the previous
funding period have been largely maintained in the new CAP (see above, section E). There
are also no clear guidelines on how to maximise coherence between Pillar 1 and 2, especially
given that small holdings are exempt from any compulsory greening measures. The absence
of appropriate guidelines for prioritization and regulation may lead to low uptake of Pillar 2
payments, also in areas where AES may be both desirable and beneficial.
To summarize, funding and measures under the CAP have so far failed to halt the
decline in farmland biodiversity in the EU (2, 6, 68), with only limited ameliorations (3) in
biodiversity-impoverished areas where flora and fauna have already severely declined or
even disappeared. AES have shown only partial, limited or mixed success (3335), partly due
to a low uptake by farmers and a lack of spatial aggregation of efforts; some have even
harmed species due to over-simplistic regulations (36). The new CAP seems to offer only
limited improvements to this status quo, requiring very little change in farming practice
towards greening. It also sets thresholds for greening measures that are below levels of
existing practices or habitat availability. In total, the new CAP therefore fails to meet the
basic requirement of target 3A of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2020, namely to
maximise the area allocated to biodiversity in EU’s farmland.
If adopted by Member States in its minimum form, the CAP will also not support
targets of the 2011–2020 global Strategy Plan for Biodiversity (Aichi Targets;, which include
strategic targets on sustainable agricultural production and consumption (goal A). In
particular, targets 3, 4, and 7 will not be met:
Target 3: “By 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity
are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative
impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of
biodiversity are developed and applied”.
Target 4: “By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels
have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and
consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe
ecological limits. “
Target 7: “By 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed
sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.
An Unnecessary Compromise
The CAP reform reflects the outcomes of a complex political process across a diversity of
nations, balancing a range of societal, economic and environmental values (10). Its
negotiation was influenced by arguments stressing global uncertainty in providing sufficient,
affordable food for a steadily growing European and global population. Clearly, there are
short-term economic gains for farmers and the food industry by intensifying agricultural
productivity. But these private benefits have to be weighed against the loss of public goods
such as biodiversity, climate stability, landscape quality and ecosystem services, whose long-
term provision is negatively affected by agricultural intensification. Also other
environmental, health and societal costs are largely externalised from the farming economy.
They include the degradation of ecosystem services within farmland (13, 14), erosion of
culturally and recreationally important landscapes, and cascading effects on human health
and climate regulation (13). Creating jobs in the farming sector, and ensuring the life quality
of farmers, are legitimate societal and political interests, especially in light of the steady
decline in agricultural employment (Fig. S4). But instead of reaching these goals by
supporting agricultural intensification, these objectives could be achieved with more side-
benefits by supporting labour employed on farms, or supporting existing extensive farm
enterprises in rural, often economically weaker areas.
Finally, rather than by promoting food production (9, 69), food security should ideally
be addressed through a package of measures including optimizing supply chains, reducing
food-waste, stimulating changes in consumption behaviour (70), and applying targeted
policies to maintain both the production capacity of the agricultural sector and the resilience
of agro-ecosystems (15).
We therefore argue that CAP subsidies could be used much more effectively by
seeking measures that optimise both public and private goods, building on the evidence that
benefits accrued from maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem functionality and resilience exceed
the inclusive, long-term costs of losing them (15). A range of recently-developed decision-
support tools and recommendations are available to maximize the cost-effectiveness of AES
(17, 33), evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative policies (1, 71), and account for
biodiversity-based ecosystem services (14). Applying these in an integrated manner would
better support food security, the maintenance of small traditional farms, rural employment
and livelihoods, and ecosystem services.
Fig. S4: Employment in the agricultural sector, with respect to EU regions. In relative terms,
decreases in all four regions range from -16 to -19% of farmers. Source: EUROSTAT.
G: Guidelines for Immediate Action by MS
The new CAP reform offers novel flexibility but also requires MS to develop sound
implementation plans at the national and regional level. Considering the abovementioned
weaknesses, we propose six recommendations to MS for implementation that could maximize
the benefits to biodiversity, making use of the remaining flexibility. Guideline numbers are
the same as in the main text [Pe’er et al. Science 344, 1090 (2014)].
Guideline 1: Maintain or enhance the Agri-Environment Schemes (AES) budget in Pillar
2, using the ‘modulation’ option to transfer budgets from Pillar 1 to 2; avoid ‘reverse
modulation’ from Pillar 2 to 1; and direct budgets within Pillar 2 to AES that are effective
from a biodiversity perspective and coherent with the EU biodiversity strategy.
For effective implementation of this guideline, it is important to:
1.1 Set clear, context-specific and measurable targets in the Rural Development
Programmes that explicitly help deliver Target 3A of the EU Biodiversity Strategy,
namely, to increase the contribution of agriculture to biodiversity recovery and bring
habitats and species dependent on agro-ecosystems up to the same level of conservation
status as other habitats and species (according to Habitats Directive Article 17 Reports).
1.2 Support measures that have been empirically shown to effectively support
biodiversity and ecosystem services (so-called “Dark Green measures”). Such
2005 2007 2010
New MS
Num. Agricultural Employees [10
measures have been well-characterized, especially for grassland management, but so far
have received merely 0.2% of CAP expenditure (17).
1.3 Financing should particularly support conservation measures within Natura 2000
sites and aim at improving their quality and connectivity. It should also contribute to
sustainable management of High Nature Value grasslands.
1.4 Measures should be as spatially targeted as possible, aiming to improve overall habitat
quality and connectivity at the landscape level. They can thus contribute more
effectively to developing a multi-functional Green Infrastructure across Europe (29).
Appropriate targets should be set at the different spatial and governance levels,
considering that drivers of biodiversity change are strongly space- and scale-sensitive
1.4.1 At the EU level, support farms contributing to large-scale connectivity.
1.4.2 At the National level, one approach could be to focus on mosaic landscapes and
regions with medium or high cover of semi-natural, sensitive habitats.
1.4.3 At the landscape level, seek to maintain spatial heterogeneity and/or landscape
mosaics; maintain semi-natural habitats at a size that meets the minimum area
requirements of relevant species (72); enhance connectivity between them; and target
buffer areas next to or between existing protected areas or other sensitive areas, so as to
reduce spill-over effects and maximise ecosystem service provision.
1.5 Explore the options for outcome-based payments that are contingent on achieving a
certain ecological outcome or the persistence of certain species that are typical for
relevant habitats.
Guideline 2: Use AES to allow specific target groups (e.g., small holdings in marginal
areas, young farmers, co-operating farmer groups) to offer, and profit from,
environmentally-friendly practices or jointly provide landscape-scale benefits.
For effective implementation of this guideline, it is important to:
2.1 Ensure AES help economically vulnerable enterprises to operate extensive and
sustainable farmland management, especially in High Nature Value land, by fitting
them to existing farming activities, and allowing flexibility in scheme commitments
(73). This should help to reduce the adverse effects of intensification and abandonment.
2.2 Ensure that AES are attractive in terms of the overall benefits for farmers taking
them up, e.g., by reducing transaction costs or fully covering implementation costs.
This is particularly important for complex measures (74).
2.3 Provide additional incentives to groups of farmers to jointly provide landscape-
scale benefits to biodiversity and ecosystem services, through improving habitat
connectivity and diverse habitat mosaics at the landscape scale. Some guidance on how
to do this effectively is provided by (75, 76).
Guideline 3: Ensure that eligible land uses for EFAs include, or even prioritize, elements
that enhance benefits to biodiversity and ecosystem services [e.g., (11)] alongside other
environmental objectives. Additionally, introduce or refine the management prescriptions for
eligible land uses and crops, with particular focus on those that may otherwise not benefit
biodiversity. This should be done this year, as MS must still define what types of land uses
and crops qualify as EFA.
For effective implementation of this guideline, it is important to:
3.1 Collaborate with experts to reconsider what elements can qualify as EFA in a given
ecological context typical of each MS.
3.2 For land uses that contribute primarily to overall environment protection (air, water,
soil) but not directly to biodiversity or ecosystem services, ensure the addition of
specific management criteria to ensure comprehensive environmental benefits
including biodiversity. This particularly concerns green cover, which offers no
biodiversity benefits and is already part of the requirements for cross-compliance (77).
3.3 MS will need to decide this year whether to use equivalent practices and, if so, how to
design them within the boundaries imposed by Annex 9 of the Direct Payment
Regulation (78). We recommend either avoiding them in order to prevent further
weakening of the compulsory greening measures, or using them only to seek additional
benefits, especially with respect to strengthening Ecological Focus Areas.
Guideline 4: Complete the identification and mapping of grasslands, with clear
differentiation into types, qualities, and required management to ensure effective protection
and sustainable management of environmentally sensitive grasslands beyond protected
For effective implementation of this guideline, it is important that MS:
4.1 Continue and complete the mapping of semi-natural grasslands at the regional
level, using a spatial resolution that is sufficient for assessing both extent and quality of
relevant grasslands.
4.2 Provide management guidelines that are specific enough to maintain extensive
management and prevent intensification of species rich, semi-natural grasslands, or
their abandonment.
4.3 Extend the designation of “environmentally sensitive permanent grasslandsbeyond
Natura 2000 sites, to include habitats that are at risk from abandonment or widespread
conversion to more intensive use, including habitats that are not necessarily listed in the
Habitats Directive, such as the “Calthion grasslands” (wet grassland) in central and
eastern Europe.
4.4 Introduce a High Nature Value (HNV) grassland or an “environmentally sensitive
permanent grasslands” category into the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS)
(79). This category could be derived from maps of grassland habitats of High Nature
Value (80).
4.5 Provide support for the integration of hay from species-rich grasslands into regular
farming operations, including by agri-environment payments that cover the full cost of
hay use (equipment, storage facilities and feeding operations), to halt the degradation of
semi-natural grasslands.
Guideline 5: Allocate sufficient funding and efforts within the now-compulsory Farm
Advisory System to increase the availability of ecological expertise to farmers, in order to
improve the implementation of measures that maximize benefits for biodiversity.
For effective implementation of this guideline, it is important to:
5.1 Strengthen the ecological expertise of the advisors within the Farm Advisory
System, notably via a systematic reliance on the best available evidence and
knowledge, in order to implement the most profitable measures for biodiversity and
ecosystem services. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)
offers an excellent platform to do so, thereby bridging the well-recognized knowledge-
implementation gap (81).
5.2 Make this knowledge and expertise easily available to relevant farmers in a way that
is adapted to context-specific biodiversity and farming conditions, as done for instance
in the Austria, the UK, and Switzerland.
Guideline 6: Institute comprehensive provisions for monitoring biodiversity outcomes as
soon as possible, in order to enable evaluating the effectiveness of the agricultural policy
against the targets set in the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and establish an important baseline for
the future.
For effective implementation of this guideline, it is important that MS support and fund
cost-effective biodiversity monitoring schemes, in collaboration with expert voluntary
nature conservation networks and relying upon state-of-the-art methodologies that fully
support policy targets and needs, including for instance the obligations set by EU the Habitats
and Bird Directives (82).
H: Recommendations for the Next Review of the CAP
Some of the weaknesses of the new CAP may be buffered by the decisions made by
individual MS, but many aspects call for a more substantial review at the nearest possible
point. Currently, it is suggested that in 2017 the area allocated to EFAs should be re-
discussed, with the potential to extend the requirements to 7% of farm area. We recommend
the EU to extend these discussions into a mid-term review of the CAP. Such a review, as
well as the next reform of the CAP, should consider the following elements:
Recommendation i: Publish an evidence-based assessment of the CAP’s impacts on
farmland habitats, species, and ecosystem services, drawing on national-level monitoring
as a base for improvement.
To that endeavor, the EU should constitute a panel of internationally recognized agro-
ecologists and biodiversity experts that sets a realistic research agenda, defines the
appropriate analytical methodology, identifies priorities and expected scientific outcomes,
and delivers a synthesis of the available evidence in a format that is readily available to
policy-makers. Note that this approach should identify and list best practices, as well as gaps
in knowledge that would set the stage for further research, monitoring and action (see also
Recommendation vi). This could be done in close cooperation with the Standing Committee
on Agricultural Research (SCAR) and the European Innovation Partnership (EIP).
Recommendation ii: Strengthen AES further by increasing the EU-wide budget and
directing it to more effective incentives, based on targets that are outcomerather than
area—based, and tied to promoting biodiversity at the farm and landscape scales (83).
More specifically, we recommend to:
ii.1 Increase the finances to enable attracting more farmers to take up voluntary measures
under Pillar 2 to support biodiversity and ecosystem services.
ii.2 Shift toward outcome-based AES measures, making payments contingent on
achieving a certain ecological outcome or the persistence of certain species that are
typical for relevant habitats. The objective should be to seek a measurable enhancement
of conditions for biodiversity to the level defined in targets 1 and 3 of the EU
Biodiversity strategy. It would be important to give full consideration, in addition to
species richness and population abundances, to habitat complementarity and integral
ecosystem functionalities. This requests a focus on the protection of a sufficient area of
the various species-specific habitat types (72) relevant to a region and on the
availability of a heterogeneous habitat matrix at both farm and landscape scale (66, 84).
ii.3 Develop an EU overarching strategy to enhance AES uptake with clearly formulated
quantitative targets as regards implementation per region and/or country, in line with
the biodiversity recovery targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The effectiveness of
longer management contracts should be considered, as these could enhance AES
uptake and support the continuity and stability of valuable habitats and appropriate
management practices (73).
ii.4 Sustain or extend the effort for supporting extensive management in small farms,
especially young farmers and/or those operating in difficult, marginal terrain. The idea
is to combat both land abandonment and farming intensification aimed at maintaining
economic viability despite adverse circumstances, two land-use changes that generate
highly detrimental cascading effects upon farmland biodiversity.
ii.5 Continue promoting landscape scale delivery (see recommendation 2)
ii.6 Ensure the use of control measures that do not inadvertently lead to biodiversity losses
due to deficiencies in coordination, transaction costs, or ineffective implementation of
Recommendation iii: Improve the effectiveness of EFAs by reducing or excluding
exemptions, refining management criteria for qualification, and expanding their total area,
building on country-level evidence and experience (see recommendations 3 and 6 to MS).
More specifically, there is a need to:
iii.1 Develop overarching, context-specific and cost-effective guidelines for local, regional
and national-scale decision-making about qualification and exemptions. Particular
attention should be given to the broad exemption of permanent crops, nitrogen-fixing
crops, green cover, organic farming and grasslands, which are unjustified from a
biodiversity perspective unless tied to specific management criteria.
iii.2 Increase the total area of high quality EFAs to support the broad range of
environmental objectives that this greening measure aims to fulfil, while complying
with target 3A of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 that explicitly requires
maximising the area allocated to biodiversity conservation within farmland.
Recommendation iv: Develop longer-term perspectives for more effective and
comprehensive protection and restoration of grasslands and peatlands.
This recommendation at the EU complements Guideline 4 to MS, and more specifically
iv.1 Protecting extent parcels of High Nature Value semi-natural grassland and its
characteristic species from loss in extent and quality due to excessive fertilisation, over-
grazing, ploughing and re-seeding, and conversion into arable land.
iv.2 Support, potentially through long term contracts in the Rural Development
Programmes, sustainable management of biodiversity-rich grasslands through hay
making (instead of silo grass), extensive grazing, and/or an appropriate combination of
both, depending on locally prevailing environmental and socio-economic conditions, to
prevent both land-use abandonment and resulting vegetation succession, as well as
grassland over-intensification.
iv.3 Support the continuation of existing, extensive grazing enterprises and the
recreation of such enterprises and relevant local infrastructure to improve the viability
of extensive farming. Concomitantly, improve consideration of the socio-economic and
environmental aspects of livestock farming, whose extent and management affect large
proportions of EU’s grasslands.
iv.4 Allocate specific resources to restoration of former biodiversity-rich semi-natural
grasslands where sustainable management has ceased, to bring them back into good
condition. Thereafter, support their long-term sustainable management.
Recommendation v: Re-evaluate the usefulness of the crop diversity measure.
This measure was originally proposed by some NGOs and agro-ecologists to focus on crop
rotation as a key element which can promote soil conditions, and under certain conditions
also farmland biodiversity. Evidence is lacking to determine whether, even in a revised form,
this measure could yield substantial benefits to biodiversity.
Potential options for improvement may be:
v.1 Identify and promote the inclusion of crops that contribute positively for maintaining
biodiversity within this measure, and promote crop rotation, especially those
including legumes (for effective contribution to soil quality), with clear management
v.2 Provide targets also for very large farms (>100 ha), potentially building on land-sparing
approaches, and very small farms (<10) based on land-sharing principles (85).
v.3 Consider spatial guidelines for compliance or exemptions based on the potential
effectiveness of this measure within their landscape context.
v.4 Consider setting guidelines against current, real baselines within the farm level where
Recommendation vi: Sustain the effort toward closing important knowledge gaps by
practice-oriented research— including controlled experiments, monitoring and exploratory
(adaptive) managementin close collaboration with scientists, farmers, and other citizens.
Among other things, there is a need to:
vi.1 Extend monitoring efforts among farmland, to cover a broader range of habitats and
taxonomic groups, with two main objectives: to assess the appropriateness/suitability of
the CAP to promote both biodiversity and ecosystem services (63, 82); and to evaluate
the cost-effectiveness of all measures.
vi.2 Continue mapping grasslands and peatlands, at the farm level, using in a
standardized approach across the EU, and with appropriate differentiation into habitat
types, qualities, and optimal management criteria.
vi.3 Carry out practice-oriented research on pragmatic solutions to optimize the
outcomes of agri-environment measures for biodiversity and the delivery of ecosystem
services, both from a purely ecological perspective and a cost-benefit perspective [see,
e.g., (86, 87)], within the current CAP (see recommendation i) as well as into the next
reform beyond 2020.
vi.4 Allow experimental management within the current schemes, testing for alternative
management options at the farm and landscape levels, accepting a learning-by-doing
where possible, to increase the cost-efficiency and efficacy of measures and contribute
to capacity building.
To conclude, the EU should strive to design the CAP as a long-term policy that
addresses both environmental and societal issues. Beyond food security, biodiversity and
ecosystem resilience, higher emphasis should be put on ameliorating losses along the food
chain production and supply, reducing food-waste, and eliciting changes in consumption
behaviour and patterns (14). Thereby, the CAP can support a shift toward maintaining both
the production capacity of the agricultural sector and the sustainability and resilience of agro-
ecosystems into the future.
I: Details of Methodologies and Data Sources Underpinning Figure in the Policy
Fertiliser Use [Figure in main text (middle-left)]
Fertiliser use was downloaded from FAOSTAT for the years 2002 to 2011, as these years
contained the best coverage of data. Data were separated into the following European
regions: West: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, United
Kingdom; South: France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain; North: Finland, Sweden; New
Member States: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania,
Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.
For each country, we summarized fertilizer use in terms of phosphate and nitrogen (million
tons). Presented results sum the total fertilizer use for all countries in a region.
Land Uses (Table S2)
Land use data (agricultural area, permanent crops and meadows, and permanent grassland)
were downloaded from FAOSTAT for the years 1993 to 2011, as these years contained the
best coverage of data. Data were separated into the following European regions: West:
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, United Kingdom;
South: France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain; North: Finland, Sweden; New Member States:
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland,
Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia. Total percentage coverage for agriculture land, permanent
crops, and meadows for each of these regions was calculated (Table S2), and changes in total
permanent grassland were calculated for these areas between 1993 and 2011.
Agricultural Indicators [figure in the text (leftmost and rightmost), Table S3 and Fig. S3]
To measure the mean number of crops per agricultural holding, mean farm size, agricultural
employees, and proportion of agricultural holdings (= farms) by size, we used the Eurostat
database: Data
were extracted for the following countries: West: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany,
Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom; South: France, Greece, Italy, Portugal,
Spain; North: Finland, Sweden; Centre and East: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia,
Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia where
possible and relevant.
Exemptions from EFA (Table S1)
To estimate the number of holdings affected by the exemption of farms with <15 ha arable
land from the EFA measure, we used Eurostat data for the EU 28 countries in 2010 from the
following data set, entitled “Arable crops: number of farms and areas of different arable crops
by agricultural size of farm (UAA) and size of arable area”
Using INDIC-EF and ARABLE variables, we extracted the total numbers of farm holdings
(INDIC_EF = Total number of holdings) in size categories 0 (no arable land, e.g., farms with
permanent pasture or grassland only), <1, 1 to 1.9, 2 to 4.9, 5 to 9.9 ha arable land. We
summed up the small size categories (0 to 10 ha) together and divided it by the overall
number of holdings. This estimation excludes farms with between 10 and 15 ha of arable
land, because Eurostat only offers a size category of 10 to 20 ha. It also excludes further
exemptions mentioned in section B.
To estimate how much of the Utilized Agricultural Area (UAA) in Europe is exempt from the
EFA measure, we extracted the total areas of arable land in farms with < 10 ha (0, <1, 1 to
1.9, 2 to 4.9, and 5 to 9.9 ha arable land) from the Eurostat “Arable crops” data set mentioned
above, for 2010 and the EU28 countries (INDIC_EF = ha: Arable land). For the non-arable
land, we used the Eurostat data set entitled “Land use: number of farms and areas of different
crops by type of farming
Under the INDIC_EF variable, for 2010 and the EU28, we extracted the total areas in
hectares of total Utilized Agricultural Area, and each of the following land use types: kitchen
gardens (B2), permanent grasslands and meadows (B3) and permanent crops (B4). We
added the sum of the major nonarable land use types to the total arable area in small size
categories, and divided it by the total Utilized Agricultural Area, for each Member State, and
for the EU28. This gives us the proportion of Utilized Agricultural Area that is exempt from
EFAs, because it is either not arable land, or it is arable land in parcels smaller than <10 ha.
These calculations do not include farms with areas of arable land between 10 and 15 ha in
size, or the areas under the categories energy crops, short rotation coppice, mushroom
cultivation and other land use categories (categories B5 and B6 in the INDIC_EF variable of
the Eurostat Land Use data set).
Mean farm size [figure in the text (leftmost)]
Data for the total Utilised Agricultural Area and the total number of agricultural holdings for
each EU MS by size class, were extracted from Eurostat (as above) for 2005, 2007 and 2010.
The data were categorized into North, South, Centre+East and West EU (as above), and mean
farm size for each region was calculated by dividing the Utilised Agricultural Area by the
number of holdings. These data were used to calculate farm sizes as presented in the text
Exemptions from Crop Diversification Measure (Table S4)
To estimate the number and proportion of arable holdings and arable area exempt from the
crop diversification measure, we used Eurostat data for the EU 28 countries in 2010, from the
data set entitled “Arable crops: number of farms and areas of different arable crops by
agricultural size of farm (UAA) and size of arable area” (link provided above). The number
of arable holdings exempt is the sum of the numbers of farm holdings (INDIC_EF = Total
number of holdings) in size categories <1, 1 to 1.9, 2 to 4.9 and 5 to 9.9 ha under the
ARABLE variable. This is presented as a proportion of the total number of arable holdings
(the sum of all the size categories apart from 0 ha). The area of arable land exempt is the sum
of areas of arable land in size categories <1, 1 to 1.9, 2 to 4.9 and 5 to 9.9 ha, under the
ARABLE variable (INDIC_EF = ha: Arable land). This is presented as a proportion of the
total area of arable land (ARABLE = TOTAL).
Crop Diversity [figure in the text (rightmost)]
Data were extracted from the Eurostat data (as above) for 2007. The following crops were
included in the analysis:Common wheat and spelt’, ‘Durum wheat’, ‘Rye’, ‘Barley’, ‘Oats’,
‘Grain maize’, ‘Rice’, ‘Other cereals’, ‘Potatoes’, ‘Sugar beet’, ‘Fodder roots and
brassicas’, ‘Tobacco’, ‘Hops’, ‘Cotton’, ‘Rape and turnip: Other oil-seed or fibre plants’,
‘Sunflower: Other oil-seed or fibre plants’, ‘Soya: Other oil-seed or fibre plants’, ‘Others:
Other oil-seed or fibre plants’, ‘Aromatic-, medicinal and culinary plants’, ‘Industrial plants
– Others’, ‘Outdoor: Fresh vegetables, melons, strawberries’, ‘Outdoor: Flowers and
ornamental plants’, ‘Green maize: Other green fodder: Forage plants’, and ‘Other crops’.
Data for the number of holdings containing each crop were obtained along with the total
number of arable holdings. The mean average number of crops per arable holding was
calculated for North, Centre+East, South, and Western EU. Finally, the average number of
crops per arable holding was calculated by the size of the holding and split into holdings <10
ha, 10 to 30 ha, and >30 ha.
We plotted the average crop diversity for each of the Member States as a point along the 3
types of holding sizes. On the same figure we plotted the values proposed by the “crop
diversification” greening measure (horizontal lines). We note that this comparison is highly
conservative, as the values obtained from the Eurostats database do not separate winter and
summer crops as the greening measure does.
Agricultural Employment (Fig. S4)
Data were derived from Eurostats for the years 2005, 2007, and 2010 as described above.
This was combined with data on farm size from the same source to calculate the number of
agricultural employees on agricultural holdings less than 10 ha in size.
Analyzing Farmland Bird Trends in Europe [figure in the text (right middle)]
The Farmland bird indicators originate from the European Bird Census Council’s Pan-
European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS;
The scheme aims to deliver policy-relevant biodiversity indicators in Europe using
information on bird population trends. It comprises twenty seven countries with land bird
monitoring schemes for common and widespread bird species. Field methods and sampling
strategies vary among schemes, but all involve standardized surveys of the breeding bird
assemblage. National coordinators assess all-site totals per species across their national
sample of count squares (from hundreds to thousands of sites) using a Poisson-regression
based technique to impute missing values in count data (88), as implemented in the TRIM
software [TRends and Indices for Monitoring data (89, 90)].
To produce supranational indices, we combined the national all-sites totals per species as
assessed in the national monitoring schemes (5, 89). The national European monitoring
schemes started in different years, leading to missing national all-sites totals. Again, we used
TRIM to estimate the missing country totals, in the same way we imputed missing counts for
particular sites. We combined the all-sites totals in five regional groupings (West: Ireland ,
United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, former West Germany,
Belgium, Luxembourg; North: Sweden, Finland, Norway; South: France, Spain, Portugal,
Italy; New Member States: former East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic,
Hungary, Slovakia). Any missing year totals were estimated from other countries in the same
region on the assumption that those countries shared similar population changes and were
subject to similar environmental pressures. In addition, the all-sites totals were weighted to
allow for the fact that different countries hold different proportions of the European
population. The yearly scheme totals were first converted into yearly national population
sizes, using the latest information on national population sizes from BirdLife International
(91). These population sizes were assumed to reflect the situation in or around the year 2000.
A weighting factor was calculated as the national population size divided by the average of
the estimated yearly scheme total for 1999–2001. This weighting factor was applied to all
other years of the scheme in order to obtain yearly national population sizes for each year.
This means a change in a larger national population has greater impact on the overall trend
than a change in a smaller population.
We used a slightly adapted version of TRIM tailored to combine all-sites totals per
country and their standard errors instead of raw counts per site. Instead of deriving the
standard errors in the usual statistical way from count data and model fit, we applied the
standard errors (and the year-year covariances) that resulted from the calculation of the all-
sites totals per country. Van Strien et al. (92) demonstrated that the procedure to combine
country all-sites totals yields similar mean and standard errors of the index when aggregating
country-data figures compared with using site-based figures.
At a European scale, wild bird indicators for particular species groups are calculated as
the geometric mean of the supranational species’ indices and species are weighted equally (5,
89). We defined habitat specialists through consultation with bird experts across Europe
against agreed criteria ( Thirty nine species were
classified as characteristic farmland bird species and included in the farmland bird indicators:
Alauda arvensis, Alectoris rufa, Anthus campestris, Anthus pratensis, Bubulcus ibis,
Burhinus oedicnemus, Calandrella brachydactyla, Carduelis cannabina, Ciconia ciconia,
Corvus frugilegus, Emberiza cirlus, Emberiza citronella, Emberiza hortulana, Emberiza
melanocephala, Falco tinnunculus, Galerida cristata, Galerida theklae, Hirundo rustica,
Lanius collurio, Lanius minor, Lanius senator, Limosa limosa, Melanocorypha calandra,
Miliaria calandra, Motacilla flava, Oenanthe hispanica, Passer montanus, Perdix perdix,
Petronia petronia, Saxicola rubetra, Saxicola torquata, Serinus serinus, Streptopelia turtur,
Sturnus unicolor, Sturnus vulgaris, Sylvia communis, Tetrax tetrax, Upupa epops, and
Vanellus vanellus.
Supplementary Text: Affiliations
Guy Pe’er,
* Lynn V. Dicks,
Piero Visconti,
Raphaël Arlettaz,
Adrás Báldi,
Tim G. Benton,
Martin Dieterich,
Richard D. Gregory,
Florian Hartig,
Klaus Henle,
Peter R. Hobson,
Rosmarie K. Neumann,
Trees Robijns,
Jenny A. Schmidt,
Assaf Shwartz,
William J.
Anne Turbé,
Friedrich Wulf,
Anna V. Scott
*Corresponding author. E-mail:
Author affiliations:
UFZHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Conservation Biology, 04318 Leipzig,
Society for Conservation BiologyEurope Section, 1017 O St. NW, 20001 Washington D.C., USA.
University of Cambridge, Department of Zoology, CB2 3EJ Cambridge, UK.
Microsoft ResearchComputational
Science Laboratory Cambridge, Cambridge CB12FB UK.
University of Bern, Institute of Ecology and Evolution,
Department of Conservation Biology, Bern, Switzerland.
MTA Centre for Ecological Research, 2163 Vácrátót,
University of Leeds, School of Biology, Leeds LS29JT UK.
Butterfly Conservation Europe, Wageningen,
University of Hohenheim, Institute for Landscape and Plant Ecology, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany.
RSPB Centre
for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK.
University of Freiburg, Department of
Biometry and Environmental System Analysis, 79085 Freiburg, Germany.
Eberswalde University for Sustainable
Development, Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, 16225 Eberswalde, Germany.
University, Resource Ecology Group, 6708 PB Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Alterra, Animal Ecology Team, 6700
AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Stichting BirdLife Europe, 1060 Brussels, Belgium.
UFZHelmholtz Centre for
Environmental Research, Department of Environmental Politics, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.
Technion Israel
Institute of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, 32000 Haifa, Israel.
University of Kent,
Durrell Institute Conservation and Ecology, CT2 7NZ Canterbury, UK.
BIO Intelligence Service, 9200 Neuilly-sur-
Seine, France.
Pro NaturaFriends of the Earth Switzerland, 4018 Basel, Switzerland.
The University of
Reading, School of Agriculture, policy and development, Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER), RG6 6AR
Reading, UK.
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... Prominent examples are the European Commission's Green Deal and its Biodiversity Strategy in particular (European Commission, 2020a) and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF -CBD/COP/15/L25, 2022) both targeting 30% protection of lands and seas by 2030 and restoration of degraded ecosystems, among other objectives. The need for such decisive initiatives was called upon after not a single of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has been met (CBD, 2020), and, similarly, biodiversity and ecosystem services continued to decline in the EU member states despite the "greener" reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (Pe'er et al., 2014(Pe'er et al., , 2022. Furthermore, such ambitious and vital initiatives are requested and highly supported by the scientific community, which calls for urgent and integrated actions to bend the curve of biodiversity loss (Leadley et al., 2022;Pe'er et al., 2023). ...
... As a contrast, there is strong evidence that multiple-use areas, including nonintensively farmed agricultural landscapes, can support high levels of biodiversity, similar to strictly protected areas (Elleason et al., 2021). Despite harbouring threatened species and providing further contributions to people, habitats associated with agriculture have the worst conservation status among ecosystems (Pe'er et al., 2014;Rigal et al., 2023). ...
... After decades of inefficient and harmful policies (Kleijn et al., 2007;Pe'er et al., 2014Pe'er et al., , 2022, the European Commission changed course through its Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, setting ambitious targets to transform agriculture (see details later). These strategies are operationalised in the Nature Restoration Law, which defines legally binding targets for the EU member states. ...
Full-text available
Agriculture needs to be fundamentally transformed to be able to live up to and achieve Sustainable Development Goals and thereby improve its contribution to human well-being, as its outputs recently crossed global and European planetary boundaries. Reducing the use of agrochemicals by 75–86%, restoring 2/3 of the land to biodiversity rich habitats and achieving net zero emissions are the key measures to return to the path within the boundaries. Some recent policy initiatives, such as the EU Green Deal and the Kunming–Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, set targets for such transformations by 2030. However, if these are not fully applied, no more progress can be expected than from previous failed environmental policies. We identified knowledge gaps, imbalances and other challenges, and we propose a roadmap to transform agriculture: fill knowledge gaps with research that links yield and income with ecosystem services; improve diet and nutrition; improve water retention; develop farming for both biodiversity and carbon sequestration. We argue that traditional farming systems and their knowledge holders can provide key information for setting the baselines of transformative agriculture. As a second step, capacities for a well-functioning science–policy interface need to be strengthened, where diverse evidence is used and harmonised to achieve an overarching nature-positive policy framework. Finally, we stress that implementation should be coherent by 2030 and set the path for transformation so that by 2050, European agriculture can provide healthy food and fair livelihoods in a healthy environment.
... Low-productive semi-natural grasslands with a long history of grazing or mowing are very important for the preservation of biodiversity since they include some of the most species-rich habitats in agricultural landscapes [5,16,[20][21][22][23]. Despite their importance for biodiversity, many semi-natural grasslands in Europe and other parts of the world have disappeared or deteriorated due to abandonment, over-fertilization, overgrazing, or insufficient grazing [2,3,13,17,21,[24][25][26][27][28]. In Sweden, earlier evaluations of factors that influence the use of semi-natural grasslands have mainly focused on general environmental factors and management types [29][30][31][32] and less on variation between farmers, farms, and regions. ...
... Several studies [25,32,35,73,99] have concluded that agri-environmental payments and other guidelines for management would be much more cost-effective if they more clearly addressed the grasslands that are most valuable and that are most in need of support for maintaining appropriate grazing. ...
... Some of the evaluation studies also emphasised that a large proportion of the payments went to farms in regions with the most intensive and productive agriculture, where grazing would be economically sustainable and where farmers, to a large extent, would manage the grasslands without such payments [25,32,73]. Brady et al. [32] concluded that a crude area-based payment scheme would counteract land abandonment in regions with marginal agriculture but would have much less effect in productive regions. ...
Full-text available
Despite their importance for biodiversity and other ecosystem services, many semi-natural grasslands deteriorate or have even disappeared due to insufficient grazing and neglect. Preservation of grassland habitats depends on a good understanding of sustainable grazing management as well as effective agricultural policy measures that ensure long-term economic sustainability for the farmer. Through meta-evaluation and synthesis of previous investigations and discussion of scientific literature, we aimed to evaluate factors that determine the extent to which cattle and sheep in Sweden graze semi-natural grasslands instead of more productive land and what this means for biodiversity and sustainability. We also aimed to propose which practises and policy measures may be the most cost-effective to promote habitat quality and the sustainable use of grasslands. Results from a nationwide survey of Swedish farmers’ attitudes towards agri-environmental payment schemes are discussed in relation to farm characteristics and other factors influencing the use of cattle and sheep for sustainable grazing. This study supports recommendations by environmental economists that payments should be targeted more strongly at the most valuable grasslands, emphasising the need for a more detailed and nuanced framework for classifying grasslands in Europe. A comparison with independent estimates of the area of agricultural land from nation-wide, sample-based monitoring shows that the data from official statistics normally used for nationwide evaluations are partly biased and of insufficient quality, underscoring the need for more sophisticated and precise methods for monitoring both overall trends and detailed environmental effects related to the preservation of semi-natural grasslands.
... Wet meadows and calcareous grasslands of northwestern Europe are considered an important habitat for many plants and animals. Their biological diversity is renowned, including a variety of species listed under the habitat directives [Van Swaay 2002;Pe'er et al. 2014]. In Central Europe, various protected insects, birds and plants rely on such management, including mowing and cattle grazing. ...
... Mowed or grazed meadows are also vital for the survival of threatened plants such as orchids, Iris sibirica (Linneus, 1753), or other plants such as Trollius europaeus (Linneus, 1753) [Evans 2012]. Unfortunately, despite significance of the grassland habitats, these mostly agriculture-associated habitats currently have the poorest conservation status among all ecosystems [Pe'er et al. 2014]. Conservation efforts additionally hamper biological invasions, which are one of the most serious environmental problems threatening biodiversity on a global scale. ...
Full-text available
The Natura 2000 initiative and National Parks are the most important forms of nature protection in European countries. However, conservation efforts are often hampered by biological invasions, which are some of the most serious environmental problems. The aim of this study was to assess, in protected areas, the impacts of invasive plants – alien Solidago spp. on Phengaris butterflies and Heracleum mantegazzianum on Heteroptera true bugs. Ph. teleius and Ph. nausithous were surveyed in the Jaworzno Meadows Natura 2000 site using the Capture-Mark-Recapture method. Heteroptera were surveyed using transect captures in Magurski National Park. The sizes of local populations of the butterflies were lower in patches with higher goldenrod cover. A high cover of the host plant may mitigate the negative impact of goldenrod during the early stage of invasion. In the case of poor habitat quality, nearby unprotected habitat patches act as ecological traps for butterflies due to the application of mowing during the butterfly flight period. The invasive giant hogweed had the most significant impact on reducing the number of Heteroptera individuals. Its influence was also observed at the assemblage level. The negative impact of hogweed has been detected despite the application of the first eradication treatments of this plant. Success in eradicating hogweed may be limited due to the spread of the plants from locations where removal is not applied.
... Agricultural and food systems are main sources of environmental degradation and biodiversity decline globally, and also in Europe (e.g., Foley et al., 2011;Leclère et al., 2020;Pe'er et al., 2014). A shift in farmers' behavior towards sustainable agricultural production is key in reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture and meeting policy goals such as those formulated in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the EU Farm to Fork strategy (e.g., Schebesta & Candel, 2020). ...
... Most AES in Europe provide payments to farmers to reward their provision of ecosystem services, and to compensate for the income foregone and additional cost incurred in order to comply with higher environmental and ecological standards. Despite a history of over three decades of AES and large government expenditure in Europe, the effects of such schemes in improving environmental quality remain mixed (e.g., Cullen et al., 2018;Mann, 2018;Pe'er et al., 2014;Uthes & Matzdorf, 2013;Wuepper & Huber, 2021). ...
... Since the industrialization of agriculture, scholars, policymakers, as well as groups of farmers have been asking whether we can produce food efficiently with reduced environmental harm or, going further, in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem. In a related line of thought, if we need to produce more food for a growing population, what combination of protecting natural areas and improving environmental management of working lands will enable us to achieve our biodiversity needs in different regions (Perfecto and Vandermeer, 2010;Pearce, 2018)? The question above takes this longstanding conversation and frames it within a longer historical and evolutionary context. ...
... One of the measures asked farms to meet crop diversification standards, with an aim of enhancing biodiversity in member states. However, the bar was set far too low, with medium to large farms only required to cultivate 2 or 3 crops, respectively, and small farms exempt all together (Pe'er et al., 2014). ...
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Flowering plants once drove a global shift in insect–plant–animal relationships and supported an increase in biodiversity, energy flux, and productivity throughout terrestrial ecosystems. We argue here that angiosperms could once again contribute to biodiversity within landscapes, if agroecosystems, and the plants within them, can be managed for multifunctional benefits. The potential for farmland to support biological diversity is understood and well-argued in the literature. We take this long-standing conversation and frame it within a longer evolutionary context, bringing attention to how modification in 2 key areas of our current food production system could support this goal. First, a move toward crop and grazing landscapes that more closely align with regional food webs can lead to observable improvements in community wildlife abundance. Second, we can re-expand the genetic base of our food, fodder, and cover crops, in particular by using crop wild relatives, through the use of wide crosses, genome-assisted selection, and participatory breeding. Agriculture as it is now widely practiced utilizes a narrow sliver of total angiosperm species diversity and within-species genetic diversity on a large amount of land. Change to this status quo requires coordination across tightly interlinked policy areas. It will also require social change. Farmers should be supported to transition through nudges throughout their social network. This necessitates a significant shift in our collective culture to value growing and consuming the flowering crops that can trigger an angiosperm revolution of the Anthropocene.
... In turn, the renewed reform of the CAP in 2013 led to a weakening of the second pillar. In particular, agriculturally favourable areas were further intensified (Kirchner et al., 2016;Pe'er et al., 2014). As a result, the situation has deteriorated further, which is also supported by our results. ...
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Landscape appearance is controlled by a range of different environmental and human-induced factors, although there is still a lack of knowledge about the significance of individual factors. Our goal was to identify the factors that were significant for landscape change in the European Alps and to rank them according to their importance. Therefore, we mapped landscape change with a standardized survey methodology in six typical socio-ecological regions with strongly differing socioeconomic and natural conditions. The results clearly showed that significant landscape change has taken place in all regions over the last 150-200 years, affecting biodiversity and ecosystem services (ES). In general, the areas used for agriculture have decreased in all regions, particularly the traditionally used forms (− 72.7 % to − 6.9 %). The greatest decrease took place in the high elevation, agriculturally unfavourable areas (-72.6 % to − 41.6 %) and regions with weak economic conditions (− 62.9 % to − 20.9 %). The forest has spread on a large scale on the abandoned land in economically strong regions but also settlements and monotone and intensively used cultures. As a consequence of the landscape changes, plant species diversity declined, particularly in favourable regions with a good site and economic conditions (− 62.7 % to − 7.2 %), while it decreased far less in the economically unfavourable regions (− 20.1 % to − 0.7 %). Regulation & maintenance and cultural ESs have also decreased, whereas provisioning ES generally increased. Our results also showed that the regional framework conditions play a much more important role in landscape development in the European Alps than national frameworks. Higher "green subsidies" reduced the intensification trend in agriculture, but also led to increased abandonment. In addition, the landscape also remained more diverse, biodiversity declined less and many ecosystem services increased. This demonstrates that interpreting historical landscape dynamics and analysing impacts on ecosystem services can be a valuable guide to sustainable decision-making processes.
... Agriculture is one major driver causing biodiversity decline (Foley et al., 2005, Kehoe et al., 2017, Maxwell et al., 2016, Pe'er et al., 2014, Tilman et al., 2001. Due to human physical disturbance, monocropping and fertilization, agricultural land-use alters and filters regional species pools that leads to biodiversity loss of plants, birds, insects, and terrestrial vertebrates, at continental and global scales (Kehoe et al., 2017;Maxwell et al., 2016;Outhwaite et al., 2022). ...
A central aim of community ecology is to understand how local species diversity is shaped. Agricultural activities are reshaping and filtering soil biodiversity and communities; however, ecological processes that structure agricultural communities have often overlooked the role of the regional species pool, mainly owing to the lack of large datasets across several regions. Here, we conducted a soil survey of 941 plots of agricultural and adjacent natural ecosystems (e.g., forest, wetland, grassland, and desert) in 38 regions across diverse climatic and soil gradients to evaluate whether the regional species pool of soil microbes from adjacent natural ecosystems is important in shaping agricultural soil microbial diversity and completeness. Using a framework of multiscales community assembly, we revealed that the regional species pool was an important predictor of agricultural bacterial diversity and explained a unique variation that cannot be predicted by historical legacy, large‐scale environmental factors, and local community assembly processes. Moreover, the species pool effects were associated with microbial dormancy potential, where taxa with higher dormancy potential exhibited stronger species pool effects. Bacterial diversity in regions with higher agricultural intensity was more influenced by species pool effects than that in regions with low intensity, indicating that the maintenance of agricultural biodiversity in high‐intensity regions strongly depends on species present in the surrounding landscape. Models for community completeness indicated the positive effect of regional species pool, further implying the community unsaturation and increased potential in bacterial diversity of agricultural ecosystems. Overall, our study reveals the indubitable role of regional species pool from adjacent natural ecosystems in predicting bacterial diversity, which has useful implication for biodiversity management and conservation in agricultural systems.
... Many agroecosystems are characterized by simplification of biological communities and high inputs of chemicals to fertilize soils and control crop pests, resulting in negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity (Pe'er et al. 2014;Tilman et al. 2002). These simplified systems might also be poorly adapted in the context of climate change (Brisson et al. 2010;Howden et al. 2007;van Etten et al. 2019). ...
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In face of the current environmental challenges, developing multifunctional cropping systems is increasingly needed, and crop variety mixtures are particularly interesting since they can deliver diverse services including grain production, yield stability, N 2 O production regulation, disease control, and reduction of N-fertilizer losses. However, the relationships between intraspecific diversity and ecosystem multifunctionality are poorly understood so far, and practitioners lack science-based guidance to design mixtures. We used a pool of 16 bread wheat varieties classified into 4 functional groups based on 26 below- and aboveground functional traits, to conduct a field trial (88 large plots cultivated with single varieties or mixtures of 2, 4, or 8 varieties), quantifying 15 provisioning and regulating services for each plot. To assess yield stability between local conditions and years, the trial was replicated at 4 other locations and for 2 years, using 2 managements each time. We analyzed how variety number and functional groups predicted the variance in services, and applied in an innovative manner the RLQ co-inertia analysis to relate the (variety × traits) matrix Q to a (plot × services) matrix R , using a (plot × variety) composition matrix L as a link. Our results show that using variety mixtures allowed delivery of baskets of services not reachable when cultivating single varieties, and that mixtures mitigated tradeoffs between different pairs of services. Variety number or functional groups poorly predicted the variance in services, but the RLQ approach allowed the identification of groups of plots delivering consistent baskets of services. Moreover, we demonstrated for the first-time significant relationships between specific baskets of services and bundles of variety traits. We discuss how our results increase our understanding of intraspecific diversity–agroecosystem multifunctionality relationships, and propose the next steps using our new approach to support practitioners for designing variety mixtures that provide particular baskets of services.
... This approach resulted in significant negative consequences such as habitat destruction, food overproduction, intensified farming practices, and the decline of farming cultural values [63]. In response, in 2003 the policy incorporated environmental and biodiversity values [64], although with varied biodiversity impacts across Europe [65]. In this sense, if policies and instruments are to foster transformative changes, they need to be aware of epistemic injustices and thus allow for the inclusion of non-hegemonic worldviews, knowledge systems, and values in decision-making [13,49]. ...
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YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE ARTICLE UNTIL 8Th NOVEMBER 2023 WITH THIS LINK: Transformative changes toward sustainability are political because the aim, the ‘how’, and the speed of such transformations are constantly disputed across diverse actors with varying degrees of power and operational scales. A key political question of transformative changes is which (and whose) human-nature relationships and values are legitimized for/against sustainability and justice. In this context, we aim to analyze how power dimensions can operate in a values-based approach toward the transformative changes required to address the current nature crisis. We analyzed how structural power — that involves rule-making and operational power — and discursive power — that involves framing power — may challenge or catalyze value-centered leverage points upon which society can act toward designing just and sustainable futures.
... The replacement of traditional natural forage habitats with short-rotation crop areas is considered the most visible cause of pollinator declines (Biesmeijer et al., 2006;Scheper et al., 2014;Jones et al., 2021). European agri-environmental policy aims to reduce land use damage by implementing nature-oriented solutions Pe'er et al., 2014;Geijzendorffer et al., 2017), including measures to recover the forage basis for pollinators, such as flower-rich field margins or fields of melliferous flower crops (also called bee-crops) (Haaland et al., 2011;Buhk et al., 2018;Kolkman et al., 2022). In Estonia, the earlier agrienvironmental measures program (2015)(2016)(2017)(2018)(2019)(2020)(2021)(2022) and the present ecoschemes program (since 2023) include an optional contract for farmers to establish flower-crop fields for honey bees (Runge et al., 2022). ...
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Agri-environmental policies aim to reverse the degradation of ecosystem services in rural landscapes by implementing biodiversity-based land-use solutions. One such agri-environmental measure is the contract for bee-forage fields in Estonia. We developed a multi-site experiment to estimate the effect of plant diversity on the quality properties of flower-based services, such as flowering duration (indicating functional stability) and the foraging activity of insect pollinators (indicating functional intensity). Each site consisted of eight randomly ordered strip-segments forming a flower diversity gradient. The period of abundant flowering was longer in all kinds of species mixture than in monocultures. However, the foraging activity of honey bees and bumblebees was greatest in monocultures and in a low-diversity mixture, while a balanced high-diversity mixture was least attractive. Foraging activity was lowered when an abundant melliferous plant species was flowering within a high-diversity mixture (i.e. high species richness, but low evenness). The extended flowering of species mixtures did not compensate for the lower daily visitation rate. We challenge the largely biodiversity-oriented agricultural policy designs. This case study provides evidence that plant species richness is not a comprehensive indicator of the service provision quality of an ecosystem. Specifically, low-diversity flower areas are the best foraging sites for bees and other flower visitors. A field mosaic of various monocultures and low-diversity mixtures seems to be the ecologically most efficient rural landscape design to support bees and other potential pollinators. Suggested and marketed pollinator-oriented seed mixtures should be quantitatively tested for ecological efficiency.