The European Union spends about A$5.6 billion a year on schemes aimed at encouraging less-intensive farming in order to increase biodiversity, improve water quality etcetera on farm. But it has delivered very little tangible environmental benefit according to a recent news feature in Nature by John Whitfield titled ‘How green was my subsidy’.
One of the problems according to the feature article is that “most of Europe’s agi-environmental schemes have very vague goals.”
And sometimes research results indicate that wildlife is not adverse to a bit of farming. For example, one of the first scientific audits of an agri-environment scheme, showed that in Holland a project intended to help ground-nesting meadow birds by delaying the mowing of fields was having no effect – in this region some birds actually seemed to prefer intensively farmed fields.
David Kleijn, an ecologist from Wageningen University in Holland, has spearheaded the research effort to document the benefits in a rigorous way.
This work has concluded that:
“Plants showed the most widespread benefits, with higher diversity on scheme fields in
every country except the Netherlands. Bees benefited in Germany and Switzerland, grasshoppers and crickets in Britain, and spiders in Spain. In cases where the biodiversity went up, nearly all the beneficiaries were common species; only one scheme – a Spanish programme aimed at making arable fields bird-friendly by leaving winter stubble – showed a positive effect on endangered species, one of which was the thekla lark (Galerida theklae).”
The Nature news feature article really emphasis the extent to which Europeans like to mix their nature and farming with the conclusion:
“Such schemes may not be the best way to promote the preservation of endangered species. … Europe might do better to allow some areas to revert to a state close to wilderness while others are intensively farmed, and then to manage the whole system so as to maximize leisure, flood protection, and water quality.
… biodiversity benefits would accrue even if not particularly targeted. But Europeans like farmland landscapes, and will probably continue to try and convince themselves that there are practical ways to keep areas that are rich in wildlife and pleasing to the eye, which also produce cheap food and don