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Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources

 

 

 

 

Evaluating current European agri-environment schemes to quantify and improve nature conservation efforts in agricultural landscapes

 

 

 

 

EASY

 

(Proposal No. QLRT-2001-01495)

 

 

Technical Annex

 

 

 

 

 

Key Action no. QoL-2001-5.4.2

 

Key action

 

5 -       Sustainable Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

5.4       Support for common policies

 

Thematic Priority

 

5.4.2       CAP measures and related activities including agri-environment schemes and socio-economic aspects

 


1. Objectives and expected achievements

 

Background

In modern agriculture, quality is an increasingly important aspect; quality, not only with respect to the produce, but also of the environment, livestock welfare, biological diversity of the landscape, and possibilities for recreation. With an ever-increasing proportion of the European population working and living in large towns and cities, the agricultural landscape becomes more important for these people to find rest and to recreate. Agricultural areas may thus contribute to their quality of life. However, people prefer to recreate in richly structured and biologically diverse landscapes; the modern intensively used ‘green deserts’ are rarely visited for these purposes. Furthermore, as the European population expands semi-natural habitats decline in number and become increasingly fragmented. Many endangered species of wildlife depend on the quality of their agricultural habitat for survival. This has been acknowledged by the European Commission, who developed the concept of multi-functionality of agriculture, that is, farmers have to produce both agricultural products and they are responsible for the maintenance of the diversity of the agricultural landscape. Farmers may be paid for both services. Currently, agri-environment schemes are the primary tool by which this may be achieved.

     Agri-environment schemes have been implemented in many countries since 1992 in response to EEC regulation 2078/92. In 1998 approximately 20% of the EU’s farmland was under some form of agri-environment scheme. The associated costs represented c. 4%, or 1.7 billion Euro, of the EU’s total expenditure on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Planned modifications formulated in Agenda 2000 indicate that this expenditure will probably rise to a maximum of 10% in the near future. In some countries similar schemes have been existing well before 1992 (e.g. The Netherlands since 1981). A large proportion of these schemes is aimed primarily at the conservation of biodiversity or it is assumed to be a positive side effect of other environmental schemes. Still, there is no conclusive evidence that these schemes actually do contribute to the conservation of particularly biodiversity; one substantial study that has been carried out in one of the member states even indicated that they were not effective. It is clear that these schemes can only be useful with respect to biodiversity conservation when we know what effect they have on biodiversity and when we are able to predict their effects in various agricultural habitats.

     The primary objective of this project is to evaluate the effectiveness of European agri-environment schemes in protecting biodiversity and to determine the primary processes that steer these effects. This is EASY!?

 

Objectives and approach

     We intend to determine the effect of agri-environment schemes by means of a comparison of paired farms with and without agri-environment schemes. Farms within a pair will be situated in close proximity of each-other and experience similar (a-)biotic conditions. Pairs will be clustered first in regions, then in countries. Sampling will be carried out in two years to account for effects of extreme years.

     We aim to determine the effects of agri-environment schemes on various species groups as this might enhance our insight in what causes the observed effects as the species groups inevitably interact with each-other (e.g. most birds eat seeds or insects, predatory insects eat herbivorous insects). We use five species groups occupying different trophic levels as biodiversity indicators. This will give us a reliable estimate of the biodiversity.

     We want to find out at what spatial scales agri-environmental measures will be effective for species groups that have different mobilities and occupy different trophic levels. Relationships between nature conservation measures and species responses inevitably vary with the spatial scale of investigation. This topic will be addressed by experimental studies.

     We will compare the cost-effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in different areas and countries by collecting both biodiversity data and economic data on farms with and without agri-environment schemes throughout Europe. These data may furthermore be used to infer in what way agri-environment schemes may contribute to the maintenance of farming communities in different areas

     We plan to identify the most important factors explaining diversity patterns in agricultural landscapes. Processes, such as pollination and pest control, that are likely to explain diversity patterns in agricultural landscapes are investigated, and hypotheses derived from the continent-wide pair-wise comparison of farms are tested, by means of in-depth field or experimental garden experiments to obtain information on causal relationships.

     We will examine the possible ecological consequences of the introduction of CAP steered agricultural systems by comparing biodiversity on paired farms that have either recently adopted intensive land-use practises or have maintained the traditional low-intensity agriculture in a candidate EU-member.

     Finally, we will construct a framework of simple guidelines that may be used by governmental institutions, researchers and SME’s to evaluate the effectiveness of agri-environmental schemes by interpreting, integrating and extrapolating the observed relationships and underlying processes at the end of the project.

 

The proposed work integrates a large number of scientific fields, e.g. vegetation ecology, landscape ecology, agronomy, entomology, ornithology, agricultural economics and environmental policy. Furthermore the work has to be carried out in close co-operation with farmers. This puts a very high demand on the scientific and communicative skills of the participating research groups as each consortium participant has to carry out part of the work in a broad range of scientific fields and combine this with cutting edge studies in his/her main field of expertise. However, all members of the project have extensive experience in agro-ecological research. They combine excellent investigative and analytical skills with a broad experience in carrying out research in agricultural landscapes and/or in collaboration with farmers and have proven to produce scientific output of high quality in high quantities. Under these circumstances such a broad-scale approach is the most productive way to obtain results that have both a sound scientific basis and have widespread practical applications

 

Expected main achievements

We propose to evaluate the effectiveness of European agri-environment schemes in protecting biodiversity and to determine the primary processes that steer these effects by means of:

  Determining the effect in terms of species richness and landscape diversity of the most common types of agri-environment schemes in five countries.

  Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of each evaluated type of agri-environment scheme.

  Determining the spatial scales that have to be covered by agri-environment schemes to effectively conserve species groups with different mobility.

  Determining in what way species groups of different trophic levels respond to agri-environment schemes and how they interact.

 

Additional achievements:

       Recommendations how to improve the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes.

  Quantitative ecological comparison of conservation accomplishments and biodiversity levels in a range of European countries.

  Developing a framework by which authorities can evaluate the ecological effects of agri-environment schemes now and in the future in an efficient and scientifically sound manner.


2. Project workplan

 

2.1 Introduction - Overall Methodology

 

Work package 1 is the core element and addresses the main question of the project: how effective are agri-environment schemes in a range of European countries? It consists of an extensive survey of five species groups (each positioned at a different trophic level in the food chain) on paired fields with and without agri-environment schemes in 15 areas in five countries. The other workpackages address detailed questions that are needed to explain and extrapolate the findings of WP 1.

          Investigating the effects of nature conservation efforts in agricultural landscapes at various spatial scales is important because, first, agri-environmental measures are usually taken at the field level but the overall aim of these schemes is to enhance landscape diversity. The effects of agri-environment schemes on fields may be negatively affected by conditions on neighbouring fields. Alternatively, agri-environment schemes may enhance the species richness on neighbouring fields. Second, different species groups experience the landscape at different spatial scales. Thus WP 2 aims to determine the proper spatial scales for conservation efforts for species-groups of different mobilities.

          The effects of agri-environmental measures are strongly dependent on the local or regional species pool. For instance, the absence of significant increases in plant species richness following the introduction of agri-environment schemes on agricultural fields may partly be the result of the absence of nearby seed sources. However, the geographical range that contains the ‘local’ species pool varies considerably with the (mobility of) the species group under study. In WP 3 we will investigate how the species pool in the surrounding landscape affects the outcome of agri-environmental measures for a selection of species groups.

          The structural complexity of the landscape may have major influences on the species composition and richness of habitats. Therefore, landscape structure can be expected to interfere with the effects of agri-environment schemes. Particularly in intensively used landscapes the amount and configuration of non-agricultural landscape elements are important as the distribution of virtually all non-domesticated species is limited to these structures. In extensively used agricultural habitats landscape structure is also important as species groups often need particular structures to reproduce (e.g. hedgerows, ditches) and others to feed upon (e.g. arable fields, meadows). Again, the demands with respect to the optimal landscape will vary between species and between the trophic level the species occupy. WP 4 determines in what way the effects of agri-environment schemes depend on the structure of the surrounding landscape for a selection of representative species groups

          Loss of biodiversity may result in reduced efficiency of vital ecosystem processes. Recent studies emphasise the importance of analysing not only biodiversity patterns but also biotic interactions of the organisms involved. In agricultural ecosystems the importance of particularly pollination and pest-control are obvious. In WP 5 we aim to establish whether pollination and pest-control are enhanced on fields with agri-environment schemes

          A nagging problem with respect to the conservation and restoration of intensively used agricultural landscapes is that we do not have reference data or sites. Thus, it is difficult to formulate what types and levels of biodiversity should be restored by means of agri-environment schemes. This problem may be partially solved by examining entomological collections of universities and museums in north-western Europe for specimens of wild bees (and their pollen load) that were collected before c. 1950 in areas that are currently under intensive agricultural use. Areas that are represented well in collections will be resampled. Comparison of data of past and present bee species diversity and the pollen collected by these individuals will inform us of the relative decline in species richness and diversity of bee and plant species as well as their functional interactions. Thus WP 6 we construct (partially) an historical reference point of the diversity of pollinating insects in agricultural countries.

          Farmers that participate in agri-environment schemes adapt their management to the benefit of the environment. In return, they are being financially compensated for any loss of income that might be associated with change in farm management. There are large differences throughout Europe in the levels of biodiversity that are being sustained by agricultural activities. At the same time, there are large differences in the level of financial compensation that governments have to pay farmers in compensation. There is currently no data available that might be used to compare the environmental benefits and financial costs of agri-environment schemes. WP 7 will perform an economic analysis of farms with and without agri-environment schemes and will evaluate the cost-effectiveness of a range of schemes in five countries.

          The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU has been leading to a steady increase in the intensity of the agricultural production process. As a result biodiversity in agricultural landscapes of non EU-member countries is considerably higher than that in EU-member countries. If appropriate measures will not be taken, these high levels of biodiversity will rapidly disappear in countries that join the EU and become part of the CAP. It will be more efficient, both ecologically and financially, to anticipate these changes in advance, and devise ways to introduce the CAP in an environment-friendly way, than to first introduce the CAP and later try to counteract its adverse effects on the environment. WP 8 aims to examine the impact of agricultural intensification on biodiversity in a candidate EU-member, thus anticipating the effects of CAP induced agricultural changes.          

     WP 9 involves project management and functions as the cement between the workpackage-bricks. The project has a hierarchical project structure: work plans and progress will be established and discussed during plenary meetings of the entire research consortium. However, in between meetings, individual participants of workpackages plan their common studies in strict consultation with the lead-participant of the workpackage. Ad hoc decisions about (significant) changes in research plans within workpackages will be discussed between lead-participant and co-ordinator. Special attention will be paid by the co-ordinator to the efficient assimilation of the activities of WP 4 and 5 into WP 1 and the collection and transfer of the economic data from WP 1 to WP 7. Furthermore, the co-ordinator and the lead-participant of WP 8 will communicate intensively to ensure that study design of WP 1 and WP 8 are similar so that meaningful comparisons can be made. The co-ordinator will check progress of all work packages regularly based upon the timeschedules provided and will discuss it during plenary meetings. Data management: central management of common studies and experiments in Workpackages 1, 4, 5 and 7 will be a powerful tool to enable quality control and free use of data within the project team. The data will be analysed by sophisticated and advanced statistical methods that will provide uniform analyses for interim and final reports. This also facilitates the production of multi-authored papers that bring together data from different, yet complementary backgrounds. Use of data and (co-)authorships will be discussed during plenary meetings of the project team. Dissemination:  The co-ordinator will stimulate rapid dissemination of results by each participant in his/her country by means of congress participation and, specifically, the popular press. Dissemination to authorities, institutions and popular press at a European level and in European countries that are not included in the research consortium will be initiated by the co-ordinator. Dissemination through scientific papers will be done by the main contributor to the specific part of the research, as will be agreed upon during project meetings.  Future dissemination plans/strategies and past activities will be an agenda point during all consortium meetings. The EASY-website will be used to attract attention of interested parties even before results are available as well as to provide an up to date overview of all available results once the project is underway.

 

 

2.2 Project structure, planning and timetable

2.2.1 List of participants

 

1. (WU) Prof. Dr. Frank Berendse and Dr. Ir. David Kleijn.

Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Wageningen University. Bornsesteeg 69, 6708 PD, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

E-mail: Frank.Berendse@staf.ton.wau.nl; David.Kleijn@staf.ton.wau.nl. Phone (++31) 317 485423, fax (++31) 317 484845.

 

2. (WSL) Prof. Dr. Peter Duelli.

Biodiversity Department, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.

E-mail: peter.duelli@wsl.ch. Phone: (++41) 1 7392376 fax: (++41) 1 7392215

 

3. (FAL) Dr. Felix Herzog.

Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture, Reckenholzstrasse 191, CH-8046 Zürich

E-mail: Felix.Herzog@fal.admin.ch. Phone: (++41) 1 377 74 45, fax: (++41) 1 377 72 01

 

4. (UNIGOE) Prof. Dr. Teja Tscharntke.

Agroecology, University of Göttingen, Waldweg 26, D-37073 Göttingen, Germany.

E-mail: ttschar@gwdg.de. Phone (++49) 551 399205, fax (++49) 551 398806.

 

5. (UCLM) Dr. Mario Diaz

Departamento de ciencas ambientales, Avenida Carlos III, S/N, E-45071, Toledo, Spain.

E-mail: mariod@amb-to.uclm.es. Phone: (++34) 925 268800 ext. 5417, fax: (++34) 925 268840.

 

6. (UCRE.DE) Prof. Dr. Joseph Lekakis

Department of Economics, University of Crete, Rethimno 74100, Greece

E-mail: lekakis@ermis.soc.uoc.gr. Phone (++30) 831 77413, Fax: (++30) 831 77413.

 

7. (HNHM) Dr. Andras Baldi.

Animal Ecology Research Group, Hungarian Natural History Museum, Ludovika tér 2 HU-1083, Budapest, Hungary.

E-mail: baldi@ludovika.nhmus.hu. Phone: (36-1)2101075, Fax: (36-1)3342785.

 

 

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