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Keywords:

  • biodiversity;
  • European policy;
  • grazing;
  • low-intensity agriculture

SUMMARY

The recent trend in the European Union for environmental objectives to be incorporated into agriculture policy is not simply because policy-makers in Brussels have been convinced of the important biological value of farmland. Environmental payments to farmers have become a mechanism for supporting farmers whilst at the same time not generating increased production. There are two important reasons why production must be controlled: (i) because former production policies have been so successful, many sectors have over-produced (for example, there are currently 700 000 tons of beef held in EU intervention stores) and this cannot continue; (ii) because the EU has agreed with its world trading partners (through GATT) virtually to remove production subsidies to farmers by the turn of the century. The danger, already apparent, is that environmental objectives will be misused to provide financial support to farms that are of intrinsically low biodiversity and nature conservation value. This will not be admissible under GATT and there is a danger that the misuse of environmental payments will cause major problems in the next round of GATT negotiations. There are therefore good political as well as ecological reasons for much better targeting of environmental support for farmland. Ecological studies that help us to understand the biological processes on farmland may therefore have to be used, not only for developing a more targeted environmental policy but also in the GATT negotiations.