In Europe, agricultural land use is currently characterised by intensification of farming of better land and abandonment or afforestation of poorer land. More traditional, low-intensity farming systems that support biodiversity, known as High Nature Value (HNV) farmland, continue to disappear.
With an annual budget of roughly EUR 53 billion, the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is an important factor in shaping Europe's agriculture. Its future role and objectives are currently the subject of broad debate.
The EEA technical report 'Distribution and targeting of the CAP budget from a biodiversity perspective' stresses that EU spending could be better targeted to support HNV farmland, thereby boosting biodiversity. Despite recent reforms, most CAP payments still go to the most productive agricultural land and relatively little is spent to support HNV farms, which often have lower incomes.
All policy incentives to conserve HNV farmland, including a possible redesign of the CAP, have to be seen in the wider socio-economic context of agriculture and should take the delivery of ecosystem goods and services into account. These include, for example, food provision, water regulation, carbon storage and landscape amenity value.
Significant differences among Member States
The five case studies included in the report (addressing the Czech Republic, Estonia, Extremadura in Spain, France and the Netherlands) suggest fundamental differences in CAP implementation in EU-15 and EU-12.
- In the three old Member States studied, single farm payments constitute over 85 % of total CAP expenditure and generally favour more intensive production systems.
- In the new Member States studied, single farm payments (in the period under study) amounted to just 60 % of the total and were distributed more evenly across different types of farmland.
- The two new Member States studied provide significant funding for biodiversity-rich grassland and other types of HNV farmland through rural development spending.
- Considerable farmland in some of the new Member States is not registered for CAP support payments. This mainly comprises small farms and marginal land where HNV farming is likely to dominate.
Background on the report
The report reviews whether CAP payments are likely to help maintain High Nature Value farmland. It follows up an earlier assessment, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and EEA in 2004.