Bringing together Agriculture and Biodiversity

December 8, 2020

Agriculture and biodiversity are currently both in the spotlights, but mostly as opposites. This must change, but how? A new EU project will investigate how agriculture and biodiversity can best go hand in hand and what this brings in return for the farmer as well as for biodiversity. The long-term objective is to find out how nature-inclusive agriculture can lead to a viable business model.

Five-year EU project

Last week marked the start of a five-year EU project with 21 partners from 15 countries. More than 50 participants gathered online to kick off the project, that is led by Wageningen University. Showcasing synergies between agriculture and biodiversity is its mission.

Arable land in the South of Limburg, opportunities for biodiversity (Source: Femke Kleisterlee)
Arable land in the South of Limburg, opportunities for biodiversity (Source: Femke Kleisterlee)

The problem of declining populations of farmland birds and butterflies, amongst others, lies not so much in a lack of knowledge about measures to restore biodiversity. The heart of the problem is rather that the solutions often do not match well with the motivations and possibilities of the farmers. Moreover, the current practice relies too much on a top-down implementation of regulations, without allowing the stakeholders – besides farmers also many other people caring for the countryside – to contribute their ideas. This has not produced the intended result. By adopting a participative approach right from the start, we should be able to do better. Farmers can indicate what appeals to them or hampers them to make room for biodiversity. By capitalizing on ecosystem services, such as pollination, soil amelioration and pest control by natural enemies, farmers may also benefit.

Farmers and volunteers work together

But biodiversity also needs to become more visible. Farmers can participate in this, as well as citizen scientists. Dutch Butterfly Conservation has experience in this field: her volunteers collect hundreds of thousands of butterfly records each year, producing reliable trends about changes in butterfly populations. Elsewhere in Europe, butterfly monitoring is expanding as well. In the project, both farmers and volunteers will be encouraged to count butterflies and bees on farmland to provide evidence about farming practices that benefit not only farmers but also biodiversity.

The wall, a species that benefits from nature-inclusive agriculture (Source: Kars Veling)
The wall, a species that benefits from nature-inclusive agriculture (Source: Kars Veling)

The EU project will put this collaboration into practice and study it in ten countries. In the Netherlands, this will take place in the southernmost hilly countryside surrounding the river Geul, where habitat restoration for butterflies and bees is already underway. Here, the approach of the Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery is being implemented and bee monitoring is taking place to evaluate biodiversity impacts.

The EU project builds on this initiative and will not only broaden the scope on biodiversity but also consider impacts on crop yields and financial benefits and costs for the farmer. The challenge is to achieve that after five years this approach will provide an example how farmers, citizen scientists, researchers, public authorities and other parties can work together to improve biodiversity in the countryside.