SEO BIRDLIFE

SEO/BirdLife considers that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should better address biodiversity and farmers.

  • After the assessment carried out by the Government and autonomous communities on the first year of implementation of the CAP, the NGO acknowledges that progress has been made in measures. Eco-schemes benefit the environment, but they are insufficient, and some of their conditions hinder implementation by farmers.
  • SEO/BirdLife considers it necessary to redesign the eco-scheme “biodiversity spaces” taking into account the potential impact of the designed measures and with monitoring and evaluation systems for the real effect on biodiversity.
  • From its experience as farmers with Riet Vell and through demonstrative projects like LIFE Olivares Vivos+, the NGO has submitted and will continue to submit proposals to improve agricultural policies benefiting biodiversity and farmers’ profitability.

Following the meeting of the coordination body of the Strategic Plan for the CAP (PEPAC), the Government and the autonomous communities published their assessment of the first year of application of the new CAP, concluding “that the combination of reinforced conditionality, eco-schemes, and agri-environmental commitments of rural development has represented a significant advance in the environmental ambition of the new CAP.” This conclusion is based on the number of applications for eco-schemes by farmers and the number of applications for organic production, which have far exceeded expectations.

SEO/BirdLife considers that, to evaluate the impact on the environmental objectives of the CAP, apart from the area covered by the different measures, it is also necessary to take into account the potential impact of the designed measures and establish monitoring and evaluation systems for the real effect on biodiversity conservation. And, both in the design of the measures and in the assessment of their impact, there is room for improvement and much progress to be made.

Biodiversity, the great forgotten in the PEPAC
One of the main strategic objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy is “to stop and reverse the process of biodiversity loss, improve its ecosystem services, and conserve habitats and landscapes.” Beyond its alignment with the purposes of Agenda 2030 and the “Farm to Fork” and “Biodiversity 2030” strategies, increasing biodiversity in cultivated fields and recovering their ecosystem services is an essential objective to improve the standard of living of farmers and keep the rural economy of the EU alive. However, considering the final design of eco-schemes and rural development interventions, as well as the data on uptake from this first year, SEO/BirdLife considers that we are still far from making progress in meeting the biodiversity objectives of the CAP.

 

A single ill-adapted and underpaid eco-scheme

Although some other objectives may have indirect benefits, there is only one eco-scheme specifically aimed at improving biodiversity: Agroecology: Biodiversity Spaces. An eco-scheme initially designed for arable land and later extended to woody crops without adapting it to the evident agronomic and landscape differences between the two types. This, among other reasons, may have contributed to its limited uptake in woody crops, also important for biodiversity conservation, due to their extent (woody crops cover more than 5 million hectares in Spain) and their distribution in the most important biodiversity hotspot in Europe, the Mediterranean basin.

If we add to these limitations for implementation and effectiveness the much lower economic allocation, the low success of this measure is a logical result. In fact, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, for the two only eco-schemes that farmers can join in woody crops (only one of them can be requested), in Andalusia—the region with the largest area of this type of crops—of the total area covered by both eco-schemes, more than 97% of the area has been covered by the herbaceous or inert cover scheme, compared to less than 3% that did the same in biodiversity spaces. And, although at the national level, it improves slightly, it still remains at 80% and 20% respectively.

On the other hand, in the case of grasslands, uptake has been even more minimal. Of more than 6.5 million hectares that have applied for one of the available eco-schemes for pastures and grasslands, only 85,000 hectares have adhered to practices associated with biodiversity (almost all in wet pastures). It is noteworthy that these figures represent an uptake of 80% of the total area of existing pastures and grasslands in Spain, being the productive orientation with the highest participation in these aids, which may reflect the need for support from the extensive livestock sector, and the possible positive effect of these new schemes for the viability of the sector. However, the conditions associated with payments for extensive grazing also do not guarantee the benefit for biodiversity.

For herbaceous crops, the figures are somewhat different. They have a more balanced uptake between rotation practices (in the eco-scheme of carbon agriculture and agroecology) and biodiversity spaces, with about 5.5 and 2.4 million hectares respectively. However, this means that less than 25% of the total arable land area has applied biodiversity practices, and below the area declared as fallow in recent years.

On the other hand, there has also been a significant increase in the area applying direct sowing, another of the available eco-schemes, which SEO/BirdLife has already disagreed with on several occasions due to its association with herbicide use and, therefore, being inconsistent with the objectives justifying these aids, with biodiversity again losing out.

The situation varies by autonomous communities, related to the different weight of the CAP and the main productive orientations in each of them. But eco-schemes also suffer, conditioning their potential uptake, from amounts that are again higher for the most productive crops, based on the concept of “lost profit”, thus dragging the lower level of support through direct aids for the most extensive or lower-yielding farms, which are thus trapped in a loop of poor profitability.

 

Combining eco-schemes: key to conservation

It is evident that the implementation of herbaceous cover, crop rotation, fallow land, and extensive livestock farming, if well managed, can have very positive effects on biodiversity, but if combined with an increase in landscape complexity, the potential is even greater. SEO/BirdLife considers it necessary, therefore, to create flora and fauna spaces that act as biodiversity sources so that the rest of the actions have a significant impact on species recovery. In fact, the combination of both factors is decisive for recovering biodiversity in crops and agricultural areas. Thus, it has been scientifically proven, for example, in studies by the University of Jaén and the CSIC in the LIFE Olivares Vivos project: combining the increase in biodiversity spaces with the management of herbaceous cover results in a potential increase of more than 33%.

Therefore, SEO/BirdLife has requested that it be allowed to request multiple eco-schemes and, in particular, that biodiversity spaces be compatible with all others so that they are truly effective in this environmental objective and contribute to improving the profitability of farms. In any case, the redesign of the Agroecology eco-scheme is essential. It is necessary to differentiate the requirements between arable land and permanent crops (woody), as well as to allocate an adequate budget.

 

Biodiversity, also absent in Rural Development Interventions

SEO/BirdLife also considers that agri-environmental measures do not include enough options to contribute to biodiversity objectives, with few measures aimed at this end or with scant budgets allocated. Likewise, the importance of the Natura 2000 Network has not been adequately integrated into this new PEPAC, with hardly any specific support for farmers in these areas. In relation to the latter, SEO/BirdLife has requested on numerous occasions an additional complement, in addition to priority in the granting of aids for farms in Natura 2000 areas.

In this analysis, SEO/BirdLife considers that the assessment of results cannot be based solely on surface area and applications. As stated in the Environmental Strategic Declaration of the PEPAC, it is essential to monitor the effects of measures regarding the intended impact objectives and to establish adequate indicator and evaluation systems, also regarding biodiversity.

 

SEO/BirdLife Projects for Generalized and Profitable Sustainability

All this so-called “green architecture” of the CAP (conditionality, eco-schemes, and agri-environmental measures) has great potential and has represented some progress compared to the previous period, at least in theory. But for it to become a reality in the field requires much more ambition in its implementation and support to farmers. To contribute to this, SEO/BirdLife has initiated projects to demonstrate with real actions that this transition to more sustainable and profitable agri-food systems is possible, and to learn how to translate the experience into public policies that accompany it. Thus, in addition to the LIFE Olivares Vivos project, the organization is developing others such as Secanos Vivos or the LIFE Agrosteppes Ibéricas, as well as numerous agreements and smaller projects in various types of productions, such as olive groves, citrus fruits, dairy cattle, or fruit trees.

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CONÓCENOS

La Sociedad Española de Ornitología es la entidad conservacionista decana de España. Desde 1954, sigue teniendo como misión conservar la biodiversidad, con la participación e implicación de la sociedad, siempre con las aves como bandera.

SEO/BirdLife es la representante en España de BirdLife International, una federación que agrupa a las asociaciones dedicadas a la conservación de las aves y sus hábitats en todo el mundo, con representación en más de 100 países y más de 13 millones de socios.

Es el socio coordinador del LIFE Olivares Vivos+.