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High Nature Value Farmland

Farming is often seen as a threat to biodiversity in Europe, but in fact certain types of farming are major benefactors of biodiversity. Traditional or extensive farmed landscapes can even be real biodiversity hotspots. Such areas or pockets are called "high nature value farmland". By definition, in HNV farmland agriculture supports, or is associated with, either a high species and habitat diversity or the presence of species of European conservation concern, or both. Typical high nature value farmland areas are extensively grazed uplands, alpine meadows and pasture, steppic areas in eastern and southern Europe and agro-forestry areas ("dehesas" and "montados") in Spain and Portugal. Certain more intensively farmed areas in lowland Western Europe can also host concentrations of species of particular conservation interest, such as the migratory waterfowl. HNV farmland has been subjected to dramatic losses in the past decades, with consequent biodiversity decline, due to intensification trends in agriculture. Nowadays abandonment of agricultural land represents a threat as well, since these precious habitats cannot survive without a moderate human intervention. The need for measures to prevent the loss of high nature value farmland is widely acknowledged. Conservation of biodiversity on agricultural land is an explicit objective of the Pan-European Biodiversity and Landscape Strategy (PEBLDS), the Bern Convention, the European Landscape Convention, and, at EU level, the Habitats and Birds Directives and Rural Development Policy (Community Strategic Guidelines for Rural Development, Programming Period 2007-2013). In its 6th Environment Action Programme, the EU committed itself to halting biodiversity decline by 2010. Conserving High Nature Value farmland is key to achieving this 2010 biodiversity target. Pan-European data on distribution and conservation status of HNV farmland, however, were largely lacking.

High Nature Value farmland map

  In their 2003 "Kyiv" declaration, the European Environment Ministers have therefore set the goal to fill this data gap and take adequate conservation measures. In support of this policy process the Joint Research Centre (JRC) - Institute for Environment and Sustainability and the European Environment Agency (EEA) have released the first European map of High Nature Value farmland. The mapping exercise is the result of a three-years cooperation, was supported by numerous national experts, and underwent a formal Member State's consultation via the EEA's EIONET. The preliminary result was published in the Belgrade Report as an input into the Pan-European conference of Environment Ministers in Belgrade (10-12 October 2007); final results are published in the report "High Nature Value Farmland in Europe - An estimate of the distribution patterns on the basis of land cover and biodiversity data" (Report EUR 23480 EN. 87 p.), a joint JRC/EEA publication to which BirdLife International and the Dutch Butterfly Conservation substantially contributed. The overall mapping effort is based as much as possible on existing Europe-wide datasets and consistent selection rules. The applied methodology provides consistent results across the European Union and the possibility of an update when new data become available. HNV farmland represents about one third of farmed areas in the EU, distributed mostly in marginal areas, in the Mediterranean region and in the Eastern Countries. The risk for HNV farmland loss due to agricultural intensification and land abandonment is high. In general terms what appears clearly from the mapping exercise is the outstanding role of grasslands in the EU HNV farmland context which, as the sum of semi-natural grasslands and pastures, represent at least one third of the whole HNV farmland surface of the EU. Considering the constraints given by the mapping requirements of the applied methodology this result has to be taken as a very conservative estimate.

Paracchini M.L., J.-E.Petersen, Y.Hoogeveen, C.Bamps, I.Burfield, C.van Swaay (2008): High Nature Value Farmland in Europe - An estimate of the distribution patterns on the basis of land cover and biodiversity data, Report EUR 23480 EN. 87 p. (download PDF file - 4.5 Mb)


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