Since joining the EU in 1995, Austria has implemented a well-accepted management-based agri-environmental scheme (ÖPUL). The forthcoming agri-environment programme for 2015-2020 includes for the first time a results-based payment scheme aimed at farmers who manage high nature value farmland, called the “Results-based nature conservation plan” (Ergebnisorientierter Naturschutzplan, ENP).
The ENP targets farmers who already are experienced in the management of high nature value farmland, for example farmers who take part in biodiversity-monitoring projects. During a field visit with the farmer an ecological advisor defines objectives and related indicators for each parcel with high nature value. The objectives have to be expressed in a way that is comprehensible to the farmer and can be measured and examined by both the advisor and the farmer. The objectives and indicators are defined according to the following steps:
The objectives need to be as targeted as possible, for example “Existence of vertical structures like fence posts” is more understandable and measurable than “Improvement of feeding habitats for the whinchat”.
There is no obligation to carry out any specific management actions (as long as cross-compliance requirements are met); each farmer is free to choose the type of management he or she decides is most suitable to meet the objectives set for the parcel. In order to make the objectives as clear and understandable to the farmer as possible, they are always represented visually by photos and sketches.
In addition to the objectives set for each parcel, the advisor defines around three specific control criteria during the field visit. These criteria serve to indicate potential unfavourable developments on parcels where the nature conservation objectives can no longer be achieved. Examples of control criteria include: “On a minimum of 5 % of the parcel the vegetation has to be higher than 40 centimetres between May and August” or “Himalayan Balsam may not produce seeds”. It must be possible to measure these for control purposes and they must be independent of external factors which the farmer cannot influence. This is particularly important as the control criteria are the relevant indicators for the paying agency and farmers who do not meet the control criteria are obliged to refund part of the payments.
The payment calculations from ÖPUL are used as the basis for the calculation of the premia for the ENP. For every parcel the advisor chooses from an existing list1 suitable management actions for meeting the agreed objectives , and adds up the corresponding payment rates/hectare. These theoretical management actions are of no relevance to the farmer as he or she is free to choose other management actions to meet the defined objectives on the respective parcel, they are simply used as a means of calculating the payment rate. Because of the higher flexibility in managing ENP parcels the premium is reduced by 5 %. Due to the fact that the farmer has to monitor the objectives and control criteria and has to take part in a midterm-evaluation and workshops with other farmers, an additional premium of 70 € / ha is added.
An example of a premium calculation is set out in the box below:
|Meadow is mowed maximally one time per year||
|Meadow must not be mowed before 1st July||
|Minus 5% because of higher flexibility||
|Additional premium for monitoring and planning efforts||
The added value of the ENP is the identification of clear objectives at the parcel level in conjunction with farmers and that the farmers then have the flexibility to manage the land in the way that they see fit to meet these objectives. The focus on specific objectives helps farmers to understand how their management actions influence target species and habitats. Instead of fulfilling management obligations without often knowing what the purpose is, farmers in the results-based nature conservation plan are aware of their responsibility for protected species and habitats on their land. To support and increase this awareness, training and education actions are an important part of the ENP. The ecological advisors need to be trained to be able to formulate clear objectives on parcel-level. Farmers need to be trained to be able to identify the indicators in order to meet these objectives. The higher the understanding of the interactions between indicators and activities, the more likely it is that farmers will use their practical expertise in the formulation of suitable measures.
The objectives for each parcel are summarised and presented in visual form in a “Farmer’s Logbook” which may also include helpful tips on how to achieve specific objectives, for example how to reduce white hellebore on alpine meadows. The “ENP Farmer’s Logbook” also serves as the place where farmers document the management activities they have carried out, which then can help with the evaluation of the results-based nature conservation plan.
Farmers who take part in the ENP can contact their ecological advisors any time they have concerns about progress on their ENP-parcels. In the third year of the project period there is a mid-term evaluation where potential difficulties or needs in adapting management activities are discussed with the farmers. Regional workshops are also held where farmers can to discuss their experiences with other ENP-farmers. At the end of the funding period in 2020 a final evaluation will be carried out to assess the experiences from the pilot project and to inform any changes needed to the scheme for possible continuation in the subsequent rural development programming period.
For regularly updated information about the pilot project click here or visit: https://www.suske.at/index.php?channel=357&content=16416.