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Farmers with experience of agri-environment schemes develop more wildlife-friendly habitats

Science for Environment Policy - Thematic Issue 57 - June 2017

Researchers have found that farmer experience, concerns and motivation influence environmental outcomes for agri-environment schemes (AES), in a study in southern England. Farmers with more environmental management experience and/or concern for wildlife created habitats that provided more pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and winter seed for birds. The results suggest that supporting environmental learning among farmers may increase the success of AES.

Agri-environment schemes (AES) provide farmers with financial incentives to adopt wildlife-friendly management practices. Despite considerable expenditure — the EU allocated a budget of €22.2 billion for AES from 2007 to 2013 — a number of studies have highlighted variable success rates of AES in terms of providing environmental benefits.

Limited farmer engagement with the aims of AES is one possible reason for the limited success of some schemes. In this study, researchers examined the associations between farmer experience and environmental understanding, as well as landscape and local environmental factors, and the biodiversity and habitat benefits of AES in England.

The Environmental Stewardship (Entry Level Stewardship – ELS) scheme, a type of AES in England, gives farmers the option of sowing selected plant species at field edges to provide habitat for species of conservation concern. Options include planting nectar- and pollen-rich plant species for bees and butterflies, and seed-bearing species for farmland birds. This study assessed variations in the habitats created on farms participating in this scheme in relation to social, ecological and environmental factors.

The study looked at 48 arable and mixed farms in southern England, including an even mix of the nectar- and seed-rich habitat enhancements. The researchers assessed the quality of created habitats in terms of the availability of nectar, pollen and winter-seed resources. The number of flowering heads (clusters of flowers) as well as bumblebee and butterfly numbers were recorded within the nectar-rich habitats, while  seed resources and bird activity were measured in the seed-rich habitats. As a control, nearby field edges not planted with nectar rich or seed-rich species were also measured for habitat quality and species of conservation interest…

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SOURCE: EC – Science for Environment Policy