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Agriculture and environment

Agriculture and the environment: Introduction

Integrating environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy aims to head off the risks of environmental degradation and enhancing the sustainability of agro-ecosystems.

Around half the EU's land is farmed. Farming is important for the EU's natural environment. Farming and nature influence each other:

  • Farming has contributed over the centuries to creating and maintaining a unique countryside. Agricultural land management has been a positive force for the development of the rich variety of landscapes and habitats, including a mosaic of woodlands, wetlands, and extensive tracts of an open countryside.
  • The ecological integrity and the scenic value of landscapes make rural areas attractive for the establishment of enterprises, for places to live, and for the tourist and recreation businesses.

The links between the richness of the natural environment and farming practices are complex. Many valuable habitats in Europe are maintained by extensive farming, and a wide range of wild species rely on this for their survival. But inappropriate agricultural practices and land use can also have an adverse impact on natural resources, like

  • pollution of soil, water and air,
  • fragmentation of habitats and
  • loss of wildlife.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has identified three priority areas for action to protect and enhance the EU's rural heritage:

  • Biodiversity and the preservation and development of 'natural' farming and forestry systems, and traditional agricultural landscapes;
  • water management and use;
  • dealing with climate change.

The CAP ensures that its rules are compatible with environmental requirements and that CAP measures promote the development of agricultural practices preserving the environment and safeguarding the countryside. Farmers are encouraged to continue playing a positive role in the maintenance of the countryside and the environment.

This is achieved by:

  • targeting aid at rural development measures promoting environmentally sustainable farming practices, like agri-environment schemes;

  • enhancing compliance with environmental laws by sanctioning the non-respect for these laws by farmers through a reduction in support payments from the CAP.