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Tailoring agri-environment schemes to species and habitats could improve cost-effectiveness

Science for Environment Policy - Thematic Issue 57 - June 2017

The cost-effectiveness of agri-environment schemes to conserve species and habitats under the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) has been assessed by a recent study. Cost-effectiveness was found to vary widely between schemes. Improvements in cost-effectiveness relative to specific conservation objectives might be achieved with increased geographical targeting, advice and monitoring of impacts.

Improving the efficiency of conservation programmes is desirable in order to make the most of limited conservation funding. However, effectiveness depends on a large number of complex factors, such as the suitability of the intervention to the species or habitat being targeted; assessing the cost-effectiveness of such programmes is difficult due to limited data about the economic returns from biodiversity programmes. Expert knowledge can be useful, though, in understanding the outcomes of conservation policies, as demonstrated by this study.

In this study, researchers analysed the cost-effectiveness of a variety of species and habitat-protection programmes under the SRDP 2007–2013, which delivers Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy and was approved by the European Commission in 2006. Agrienvironment schemes under the SRDP are designed to encourage farmers to manage their land for the benefit of wildlife and the environment.

Species examined in the study were selected from Scottish Natural Heritage’s Species Action Framework (SAF), which includes 32 species targeted for management actions by the SRDP between 2007 and 20121,2. Species assessed included five native birds, two mammals, one fungus and a plant species of conservation interest. The three habitats assessed (hedgerows, arable fields and wetlands) were selected, as they were deemed important for biodiversity and for the UK’s future land-management requirements. Information on spending was extracted from Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (RPID) data, maintained by the Scottish Government.

The conservation success and cost-effectiveness of the schemes was assessed through interviews with 28 species and habitat advisers from public agencies (Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission), conservation NGOs (RSPB, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation Scotland), landowners and other stakeholder groups (Scottish Land and Estates, SAC Consulting). Assessments of conservation success were related to the specific conservation objectives for each species, taken from the SAF, and habitat objectives taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Reporting System. Cost-effectiveness analysis was then used to analyse outcomes in relation to total spending for the schemes…

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SOURCE: EC – Science for Environment Policy