With funding erratic and countermeasures seemingly random the European Union (EU) will miss its goal of halting species loss by 2010 unless it does more to prevent the decline of its most nature-rich areas of farmland, the United Nations environmental agency warned today.
"Over recent decades biodiversity on farmland across Europe has declined seriously. Large-scale rationalization and intensification of agricultural production has taken its toll," the Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) regional office for Europe, Frits Schlingemann, said of a new report drafted together with the European Environment Agency (EEA).
“With the common agricultural policy increasingly focused on non-trade concerns, and sustainability now a guiding principle, we hope this report will spur the policy debate and encourage countries and institutions to refine the high nature value farmland concept and further focus their conservation efforts," he told a conference in Dublin, Ireland, on the role of environmental information, co-organized by the Irish government and EEA.
High nature value farmland - usually characterized by low-intensity agriculture that allows wildlife to flourish - is recognized as having a crucial role to play if the 2010 goal is to be met. It includes habitats such as semi-natural grasslands, steppes, grazed uplands and alpine pastures and meadows. Little precise information exists on how well these areas are conserved, but overall the population of bird species found on them, such as the great bustard, black grouse and corncrake, is declining.
With protected sites accounting for less than a third of high nature value farmland, its conservation depends largely on rural development steps that can be taken under the EU common agricultural policy, according to the report. The most relevant are payments to support farmers in less favoured areas, such as hilly or mountainous terrain, and special environmental measures known as agri-environment schemes.
Although less favoured areas and high nature value farmland cover much the same territory, actual spending on less favoured areas bears no relation to how much high nature value farmland a country has, the study finds. Nor do agri-environment schemes appear to be well targeted: agri-environment expenditure in countries with a high share of high nature value farmland, especially in southern Europe, is relatively low.