FORUM: Landscape-scale conservation: collaborative agri-environment schemes could benefit both biodiversity and ecosystem services, but will farmers be willing to participate?
Correspondence author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The primary aim of many agri-environment schemes (AES) is to enhance biodiversity; however, the results of AES designed for this purpose have, to date, been largely underwhelming. One reason for this may be because AES tend to be administered at the farm scale.
- We argue that collaborative AES (cAES) – single environmental management agreements for multiple farm units – can benefit biodiversity. We then discuss how a shift to this type of scheme may impact upon ecosystem services (ES).
- Evidence gathered from studies carried out across European farmland demonstrated that more than a third (18 of 52; 35%) of the bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian and bumblebee species important in English farmland operate at scales larger than the typical English farm (146 ha) in the breeding season. While this study relates ranging behaviour specifically to England and the English AES system, the estimates of ranging behaviour presented in this study could also be used (with caution) to compare with farm sizes elsewhere in Europe, making the results of wider geographical relevance.
- Data were obtained from face-to-face interviews with 32 farmers with differing AES backgrounds [current participants at either low or high level (entry-level Stewardship or higher-level Stewardship/countryside Stewardship scheme), or current non-participants]. Eighty-one per cent of interviewees were found to be willing, in principle, to participate in a collaborative AES (cAES) programme. However, they viewed less extensive options (e.g. management of existing hedgerows) more favourably than extensive or cooperatively demanding land management options (e.g. large-scale habitat creation). Data from an online consultation of a further 122 farmers supported the principal finding, with 75% of respondents willing, in theory, to participate in collaborative schemes.
- Synthesis and applications. Well-designed landscape-scale schemes are likely to be more beneficial than farm-scale schemes for a small but significant number of key farmland species and ES, such as bats, mammals and some important pollinators, while unlikely to harm species operating at smaller scales. These schemes can be expected to attract widespread participation from landowners. Thus, policymakers may be heartened that collaborative AES are a potential multifaceted solution to environmental management on farmland.