Agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that includes all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture, and all components of biological diversity that constitute the agro-ecosystem: the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms, at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which are necessary to sustain key functions of the agro-ecosystem, its structure and processes.

Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, COP Decision V/5

Agricultural biodiversity in the EU

Agriculture and biodiversity are strongly interrelated:

  • Biodiversity relies on agriculture: In the EU, agriculture supports and shapes a wide variety of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms. According to the European environment agency (EEA), 50% of all species in the EU rely upon on agricultural habitats. The EEA identified 63 habitat types that depend upon, or can profit from, agricultural activities – mainly low-intensity grazing and mowing.
  • Agriculture relies on biodiversity: The production of food and fibre depend upon a variety of genetic resources and the services they provide, such as soil and water conservation, maintenance of soil fertility, resistance to pests and diseases, and pollination. A number of these services are also essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change and environmental pressures.

However, agricultural biodiversity is in decline across the EU. While there are several contributing factors – including land use change, pollution, climate change, and the impact of invasive species – much of the decline is directly related to agriculture:

  • the abandonment of agricultural activity is a major risk for biodiversity decline, leading to the disintegration of farmland features, landscape homogenisation, and soil degradation;
  • practices associated with intensive farming systems can be harmful to biodiversity, e.g., specialisation; under-rotation; overuse of fertilisers and pesticides; heavy mechanisation;
  • the removal of landscape features and loss of habitats such as hedges, stone walls, terraces, rough grass margins, woodlots, trees, ponds, old buildings.

Through the common agricultural policy (CAP), the European Commission aims to help farmers:

  • restore, conserve and enhance biodiversity in their farms;
  • preserve and maintain landscape features;
  • conserve and valorise diverse genetic resources;
  • facilitate the wide array of ecosystem services made possible by biodiversity.

EU biodiversity strategy

The European Commission aims to ensure that agriculture can make a strong contribution to the EU’s biodiversity strategy, one of the central components of the European Green Deal. The biodiversity strategy sets out a number of key targets related to agriculture:

  • expanding the Natura 2000 network so that 30% of EU’s land is protected;
  • placing at least 10% of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features;
  • placing at least 25% of agricultural land under organic farming;
  • reducing nutrient loss from fertilisers by at least 50% and reducing the risk and use of chemical pesticides by 50%.

Enhancing agricultural biodiversity is also essential when it comes to achieving a sustainable food system for the EU, as set out in the farm to fork strategy.

Current CAP actions

The CAP promotes sustainable agricultural systems in the EU, enabling farmers to

  • provide safe, healthy, and sustainably-produced food for society;
  • earn a stable and fair income, taking into account the full range of public goods they provide;
  • protect natural resources, enhance biodiversity, and contribute to the fight against climate change.

The current rules and measures of the CAP – extended until the end of 2022 by the CAP transitional regulation – help farmers to protect local agroecosystems and encourage the uptake of biodiversity-friendly practices.

Cross-compliance

Under cross-compliance rules, all beneficiaries of the CAP must meet a set of statutory management requirements (SMRs) and good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAECs). A number of these rules focus on protecting farmland ecosystems:

  • farmers must comply with EU directives on the conservation of wild birds (SMR 2) and natural habitats (SMR 3), which involves protecting Natura 2000 areas;
  • requirements to comply with EU directives on nitrates (SMR 1) and pesticides (SMR 10) also protect biodiversity;
  • under GAEC 7, farmers must ensure the retention of landscape features such as walls, hedges, banks, watercourses and trees; other GAECs safeguard soil and water, bringing knock-on benefits for biodiversity.

Green direct payments

Under current CAP rules, farmers receive green direct payments when they maintain permanent grassland, undertake crop diversification, and dedicate 5% of arable land to ecological focus areas (EFAs). While all three practices have relevance for biodiversity, EFAs can bring particular benefits, depending on the type of area selected by farmers: landscape features such as fallow land, field margins, hedges, ponds, terraces and trees can facilitate a variety of habitats and ecosystem services.

From 2023, the most effective aspects of green direct payments will be adapted and incorporated within the reformed CAP. Direct payments will continue contributing to environment and climate objectives through the new “eco-schemes” instrument.

Rural development

One of the focus areas of rural development (the so-called “second pillar” of the CAP) is to restore, preserve and enhance biodiversity in farms and forests across the EU.

Through their rural development programmes, EU countries can utilise a number of measures that enable farmers to enhance biodiversity on their land:

  • through agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs), farmers commit to practices such as maintaining high nature value grassland, adopting extensive grazing, breeding traditional plant varieties, and preserving wetlands as important biodiversity habitats;
  • Natura 2000 payments compensate farmers and foresters for additional costs and  income foregone when implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives;
  • investment measures can be used towards establishing landscape features, drawing up nature management plans, and purchasing biodiversity-friendly machinery;
  • measures to support organic farming and forestry can help to improve the state of ecosystems.

The European network for rural development also facilitates the sharing of ideas and good practices for agricultural ecosystems through thematic work on greening the rural economy.

The new CAP: 2023-27

Due to start in 2023, the new CAP will boost agriculture’s contribution to the goals of the EU’s biodiversity strategy.

CAP specific objective

One of the nine specific objectives of the new CAP will focus on restoring biodiversity through enhancing landscape features, ecosystem services, and genetic resources.

CAP strategic plans

In designing their CAP strategic plans, EU countries will have more flexibility to meet the needs of local ecosystems while contributing to shared EU goals for biodiversity.

New green architecture

A new green architecture for the CAP will incorporate stronger rules and offer more opportunities for biodiversity-friendly farming. For example, an extra portion of the CAP’s budget will be set aside for eco-schemes, which can support voluntary practices undertaken by farmers. In January 2021, the Commission published an indicative list of eco-schemes, including several practices beneficial for biodiversity.

Monitoring progress

As part of the common monitoring and evaluation framework (CMEF), the Commission collects a wide range of indicators and undertakes frequent policy evaluations and studies, which can help to determine the success of the CAP in reaching its objectives for biodiversity:

Under the Commission’s proposals, the new CAP will include a reinforced performance monitoring and evaluation framework, which will facilitate greater accountability and the transition to a performance-based delivery model.

Knowledge, research, and innovation

The Commission supports research and innovation on ecological approaches and organic farming to unlock modern systems of farming that can be productive, profitable, and biodiversity-friendly.

The farm advisory system advises farmers how to comply with rules and requirements to protect biodiversity on their farms, while also spreading knowledge of new methods and technology that can benefit biodiversity.

Innovation in action

The agricultural European innovation partnership (EIP-AGRI) supports projects, focus groups, and operational groups that transform innovative ideas into practical solutions. The EIP-AGRI focus group on high nature value farming examined how improved cooperation, technology, and management systems could improve the social and economic sustainability of HNV farming without losing its environmental value.

Legal bases

Cross compliance is governed by rules on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy EU Regulation 1306/2013, EU Implementing Regulation 809/2014, EU Delegated Regulation 640/2014.

The rules for green direct payments are set out in EU Regulation 1307/2013, EU Delegated Regulation 639/2014, EU Implementing Regulation 641/2014.

EU support for rural development comes from the European agricultural fund for rural development (EAFRD) – EU Regulation 1305/2013

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