Biodiversity in European agricultural landscapes

Jonathan Gerlach
10. Februar 2023
10 Minuten
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Reversing the decline of biodiversity in European agricultural land-scapes is urgent. We suggest eight measures addressing politics, economics, and civil society to instigate transformative changes in agricultural landscapes. We emphasize the need for a well-informed society and political measures promoting sustainable farming by combining food production and biodiversity conservation.

The rationale behind biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes

European agriculture has a long tradition of arable and livestock farming, with a rich bio-diversity specifically adapted to agricultural landscapes. Agricultural practice has continuously increased in efficiency, producing more crops or livestock per unit area while reducing the diversity of nontarget species.

At the same time, sustainable agricultural production relies on biodiversity providing fertile soils and regulating ecosystem services [1]. Beyond the value that biodiversity has in sustaining food production, multiple other values motivate the conservation of biodiversity and these values are the foundation of well-developed ethics of conservation. Accordingly, protecting biodiversity has been a commitment on the national and international political agenda for decades, but farmland biodiversity is still severely declining [2]. By considering societal commitments, in particular recent civil society initiatives, such as ‘Save the bees’ on anEU-wide level, we ask with new urgency how policy-making can achieve the dual objectives of food production and conservation in agricultural landscapes.

Drivers of biodiversity decline

Direct drivers leading to species declines in agricultural landscapes are generally linked to decreasing habitat quality and quantity.Drivers are, for example, the reduced number of crop varieties grown, the area-wide use of pesticides, more intensive fertilization due to changed livestock farming, the loss of structural diversity through increased field size, and a lack of well-connected protected areas (e.g., [3]).

Indirect drivers are the scope and context in which direct drivers in agricultural practice are embedded. Farming activities depend on subsidies, market prices, legal frameworks, and societal acceptance. Subsidies in many countries are organized by agricultural policies. In the EU, the common agricultural policy (CAP) is still largely focused on increasing productivity, supporting farm in-comes, and stabilizing agricultural markets†.Support of environmental objectives is an established part of the CAP, however, the protection of biodiversity remains insufficient to halt biodiversity declines [4]. The global market steers agricultural production and is influenced, amongst others, by subsidies, supply, and demand. Biodiversity is an external effect and has thus no market value. At the same time, it is a public good and external benefits of pollinators, for example, sum up to several thousandUS dollars per ha at the global scale [5].Biological diversity is legally protected at international, European, and national levels by agreements, such as the Convention onBiological Diversity (valid for all signatory states worldwide), the EU Habitats Directive, and national nature conservation laws. In many cases, however, these laws miss concrete implementation measures and there is a lack of enforcement. Further, the societal acceptance of, and public perception supporting, specific agricultural practices and conservation measures can have a large influence on the political actions needed to overcome such deficits.

Measures instigating transformation to mitigate biodiversity decline

The use of various leverage points from policy and society is required to mitigate the impacts of direct and indirect drivers simultaneously and reverse biodiversity de-clines. There is evidence that food security can be achieved, even with the expected growth in demand in agricultural commodities, while at the same time preserving bio-diversity and even reversing biodiversity loss [6]. Given the fact that national and international food systems are complex interacting systems, a transformative approach, meaning a fundamental and system-wide reorganization across techno-logical, economic, and social factors [1], should address the complex and conflicting targets and trigger changes addressing several leverage points simultaneously [7].In the following, we give key recommendations for eight action areas that can together enable such a transformation (Figure 1):

Find the complete publication by Mupepele et al. here.

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