Farmers remain some of the most important stakeholders in implementing nature conservation actions and LIFE projects are continuing to demonstrate new ways that show how agriculture can find feasible solutions to wildlife challenges in key habitats like grasslands.
LIFE was allocated €3.2 billion in the European Commission’s recent proposal for a new financial framework (that set outs how EU’s activities could be funded from 2014 to 2020), which amongst others emphasises a complementary approach between the different financial instruments.
A great many LIFE projects have been already involved with actions that complement the aims of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). These projects are often the pioneers of new wildlife-friendly and resource-efficient approaches to farm and forest practices that can be used to further green the CAP.
This can be particularly useful in situations where new agri-environment schemes are needed to help provide ‘public goods’ and ecosystems services, especially in regions with relatively limited experience of these schemes. For example, LIFE projects have been successful at helping organisations in different countries develop and test different farming practices that are compatible with biodiversity, in very specific and very diverse contexts. Once demonstrated by LIFE, these innovations can then be rolled out on a more established and wider basis by mainstream Rural Development Programme (RDP) support measures, such as the agri-environment budgets.
LIFE’s work to help conserve Europe’s grasslands habitats typifies the good practice approaches that could be better integrated within a greener CAP. Grasslands are often species-rich habitats but their biodiversity continues to remain under threat and as many as 89 of Europe’s 152 grassland bird species (59%) have an unfavourable conservation status.
LIFE’s involvement with farm-based nature conservation actions in grasslands (and other habitats) has not only helped introduce new environmentally-sensitive and resource-efficient agricultural systems but LIFE has also underscored the importance that green approaches can play in diversifying and sustaining rural communities. Nature conservation approaches both help to safeguard the productivity of farmland for future generations and they also provide the basis for agricultural communities to take advantage of growing markets in eco-tourism services or traditional and organic food products. These help farmers to secure new forms of stable income which has positive knock-on benefits throughout the countryside. Such win-win benefits for Europe’s environment and rural economy fit well with the EU’s 2014-202 budget proposal.
LIFE’s potential as a source of new techniques for conserving grassland birds in farmland habitats can be shown by Hungary’s LIFE06 NAT/H/000096, LIFE09 NAT/HU/000384 and LIFE05 NAT/H/000122 projects, which have demonstrated best practices in grassland management supporting endangered falcon species. Another Hungarian project LIFE04 NAT/HU/000109 forms part of a group of LIFE actions (see Britain’s LIFE09 NAT/UK/000020 and Slovakia’s LIFE05 NAT/SK/000115) focused on finding on-farm solutions for Europe’s largest grassland bird, the great bustard.
Other new rural development approaches are being progressed by LIFE through Spain’s LIFE08 NAT/E/000068 project which is forging new forms of cooperation between farmers and nature conservation bodies in order to protect steppic birds like stone curlew and Montagu's Harrier among others. Over the border in Portugal, and covering several locations, LIFE02 NAT/P/008481 has shown how agricultural stakeholders can have a favourable impact on populations of rare kestrels. Similar approaches involving Portuguese farmers led LIFE02 NAT/P/008476 to test a novel territorial scheme in grassland areas, which was effective in providing habitat for threatened little bustards.
More detailed case studies of win-win outcomes for farmers and farm wildlife are featured in the following articles. LIFE’s publication series (like the Focus brochures on grassland and farm projects) provide further examples to help raise awareness about the resource-efficient outcomes that can be achieved by Europe’s agricultural stakeholders .