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Farmers with knowledge of environmental policy are more willing to create wetland habitats

Science for Environment Policy - Thematic Issue 57 - June 2017

The willingness of farmers to create wetlands within agri-environment schemes (AES) has been assessed as part of a new study in Sweden. Land-owning farmers and those with prior knowledge of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) were more likely to create wetlands than leasehold farmers or those with no prior knowledge of WFD. Common reasons for not wanting to take part in the scheme included the farmers’ senior age, that wetlands would not be suitable on the farm and high costs — leading the researchers to suggest that changes in subsidy payments may increase wetland creation.

Drainage for agriculture — whereby excess water is removed from soil to aid crop production — has led to major losses of wetlands throughout Europe. In Europe, 35% of wetland loss between 2000 and 2006 was due to conversion to agriculture1, and in south-western Sweden, almost 70% of wetlands have been lost due to drainage over the last 50 years. As wetlands provide important ecosystem services in relation to enhancing biodiversity and improving water quality, their restoration has been a focus of environmental efforts.

This study focused on Sweden, where AES, such as those under the Swedish Rural Development Programme, are used to encourage landowners to create wetlands as a means of reducing eutrophication – the release of nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilisers) into waterways, which causes excessive growth of algae and reduces the amount of oxygen in the water. Wetlands created on farmland can mitigate against excessive nutrients entering rivers, lakes and the sea.

Attracting farmers to participate in wetland creation has, however, been challenging, with only two thirds of the national target of 12 000 hectares (ha) of new wetland between 2000 and 2010 being met.2 Lack of participation could be for several reasons, including inadequate financial incentives as well as aspects of scheme design, such as long contracts, lack of flexibility and a high administrative burden.

The study focused on Himmerfjärden, a eutrophic bay in southern Stockholm, which has been identified as a priority area for reduction of both nitrogen and phosphorus in the EU’s WFD, as well as by Stockholm County, which has designated the area a ‘hot spot’ for wetland creation.

The researchers devised a questionnaire examining the importance of a farm (e.g. farm type and size) and farmer characteristics (e.g. age, education and gender) in relation to willingness to create new wetlands. In total, 135 farmers in the region responded to the questionnaire. The researchers also devised a choice experiment, which analysed the likelihood of farmers participating in a scheme to create a new wetland by changing various elements of the scheme, including time frame, level of practical support and economic compensation…

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SOURCE: EC – Science for Environment Policy