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Opportunity Within Failure: Can the Global Pact for the Environment Learn from Responsibility to Protect?

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As the world's population continues to grow, the demand for food, fodder, fibre and bioenergy will increase. In Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has driven the intensification of agriculture, promoting the simplification and specialization of agroecosystems through the decline in landscape heterogeneity, the increased use of chemicals per unit area, and the abandonment of less fertile areas. In combination, these processes have eroded the quantity and quality of habitat for many plants and animals, and hence decreased biodiversity and the abundance of species across a hierarchy of trophic levels and spatial scales within Europe. This biodiversity loss has led to profound changes in the functioning of European agroecosystems over the last 50 years. Here, we synthesize the findings from a large-scale pan-European investigation of the combined effects of agricultural intensification on a range of agroecosystem services. These include (1) the persistence of high conservation value species; (2) the level of biological control of agricultural pests and (3) the functional diversity of a number of taxonomic groups, including birds, beetles and arable weeds. The study encompasses a gradient of geography-bioclimate and agricultural intensification that enables the large-scale measurement of ecological impacts of agricultural intensification across European agroecosystems. We provide an overview of the role of the CAP as a driver of agricultural intensification in the European Union, and we demonstrate compelling negative relationships between the application of pesticides and the various components of biodiversity studied on a pan-European scale.
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Agricultural abandonment is a major driver of change in rural landscapes. Assumed to provide beneficial results to the environment and the conservation of biota, rural abandonment triggers landscape and biotic homogenization and loss of valuable species and habitats. This article focuses on the ecological effects and conservation challenges of shifts in extensive grazing regimes on marginal pastureland of Mediterranean mountains. We conceptualize a navigated socioecological transition toward conservation-oriented management after the collapse of historical land systems. The article provides examples from the LIFE+ project "Higro," developed in mountainous protected areas in Portugal, of how management for conservation could sustain disturbance-dependent habitats. We argue that actively and regularly managing large habitat areas should be envisaged as a short-term approach to limit the immediate effects of rural abandonment. A gradual integration of conservation targets with other activities in changing rural economies is necessary to foster long-term conservation of species and habitats, building on the link between conservation-oriented habitat management and ecosystem services in rural landscapes. Conservation goals should run alongside recovery of social systems and innovation applied to traditional sources of income. This parallel development would contribute to building up social-ecological resilience by maintaining a diversity of social and ecological capital in rural areas.