Farming activity is a key factor in shaping the visual features of rural areas and creating valuable habitats for wildlife. In many areas, farming practices and land management associated with highly valued landscapes are at risk.
Agriculture is the main land user and the resulting high visibility leads to a widespread perception that "rural" matches with "farming". Across the EU, agricultural land management has created a rich landscape diversity, including a mosaic of woodlands, wetlands, and extensive tracts of an open countryside.
Whilst the farming past has shaped the landscape, often the farming activities that helped generating those features have lost their competitiveness. The CAP stresses the importance of preserving the farmed landscape as
- traditional agricultural landscapes form part of the cultural and natural heritage,
- the ecological integrity and the scenic value of landscapes make rural areas attractive for the establishment of enterprises, for places to live, for tourism, and recreation businesses.
The ecological integrity of a landscape is an important element of its attractiveness and perceived value. The fairly recently established concept of High Nature Value Farming recognises the causality between certain types of farming activity and natural values, such as high levels of biodiversity or the presence of species and habitats of conservation concern.
Typically farming practices preserving and enhancing biodiversity are associated with low intensity grazing or mowing practices on semi-natural vegetation.
But also more intensive agricultural landscapes can be beneficial with respect to biodiversity as certain farmland features can provide for nesting and breeding sites, food sources and migratory corridors.
There are also examples of entirely intensively managed farming areas that sustain large populations of species important for nature conservation.
The environmental assets of landscapes generated through agricultural land management have the characteristic of public goods. Policy measures are needed to ensure delivery. Policy measures contributing to the provision of valuable landscapes and its associated assets are notably agri-environment measures.
Measures such as compensatory allowances in Less Favoured Areas or direct payments help to sustain farming, even though they are not primarily targeted towards environmental outcomes.