Science: ‘greener’ agricultural policy does not benefit biodiversity

Published on
June 10, 2014

For years now, the new European agricultural policy had been announced as a 'greening' of the agricultural sector, as it would compel farmers to implement measures which are beneficial to nature and the environment. However, following the dilution of the policy during the negotiations on the definitive version, the policy is now of very little benefit to nature, according to an international group of 21 scientists from eight European countries (including David Kleijn, from Alterra Wageningen UR) writing in the leading scientific journal Science.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is of material importance to Europe's nature. The EU's annual funding of 180 million euros for nature management contrasts sharply with the 55 billion euros allocated to agriculture. Modern agricultural practices are a major cause of the deterioration of biodiversity in both agricultural areas and nature areas. Significant numbers of Europe's flora and fauna live in agricultural areas. The implementation of measures to limit the harmful effects of agricultural activities is essential if the deterioration of biodiversity is to be halted, which is also the intention of the European policy.

Ecological Focus Areas

For this reason, the European Commission originally drew up an ambitious new agricultural policy for the 2014-2020 period. The proposals included plans for the management of 10% of the land of each arable farm with attention to ecological objectives (the ‘Ecological Focus Areas’). Alterra scientist David Kleijn comments, 'However, this percentage was halved in the version which was ultimately adopted. No less than 88% of all farms and half of all agricultural land now fall outside the scope of these Ecological Focus Areas. Moreover, numerous forms of regular land use are now classified as "ecological measures". These include the cultivation of green fertilisers and nitrogen-fixing crops, the presence of small woods and the like. As a result, very few farmers will be obliged to conduct their day-to-day operations in a more nature-friendly manner – whilst this is of essential importance to biodiversity. With the large number of exceptions that are now permitted, farmers' customary operating practices will not change to any significant extent.'

Ecological substantiation and effectiveness

Individual Member States have been granted more discretion in their implementation of measures to retain biodiversity in the agricultural landscape, although EU funding has also been reduced. For this reason the retention of biodiversity will be largely dependent on the individual Member States' ambitions. David Kleijn is of the opinion that the Netherlands' new agricultural nature management policy constitutes a favourable exception. 'The Netherlands, in contrast to other Member States, focuses on ecological substantiation and effectiveness.'

David Kleijn recommends that the Dutch implementation of the policy make maximum use in any case of the option to transfer funds from the first pillar (agricultural grants) to the second pillar (agricultural nature management). In addition, the Netherlands should decide to restrict the classification of areas as Ecological Focus Areas to those types of areas that make a material contribution to maintaining biodiversity.