1. European agri-environment schemes (AESs) have so far delivered only moderate biodiversity gains. However, recent work has demonstrated that under a range of circumstances AESs can return substantial benefit both to biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery. This Special Profile brings together 13 papers that point the way to greater effectiveness.
2. One study in this Special Profile suggests that AES options modified by experience of working on the ground (i.e. guided by adaptive management) and applied to small fragmented pieces of land can have population level effects on a farmland bird species. Such adaptive management has been shown to correlate with increased levels of biodiversity for a range of taxa in a variety of situations, and thus demonstrates the potential of AESs to achieve significant biodiversity benefits.
3. Examples from this Special Profile provide evidence that AESs can improve ecosystem service provision, such as pollination services, biological control and carbon storage. However, AESs located in heterogeneous landscapes and in areas supporting high levels of biodiversity are likely to yield greater benefits than those in more homogeneous landscapes.
4. Estimating both the economic and non-economic value of ecosystem services is complex. A range of caveats need to be borne in mind if and when management strategies and policies are formulated based upon economics. These are well described in another paper in this Special Profile.
5. Synthesis and applications. Agri-environment schemes are more likely to deliver substantial benefit if: (i) they are implemented with clear guidance to land managers, and (ii) they are located in landscapes with high levels of biodiversity. Greater biodiversity on farmland is likely to increase the provision of a range of ecosystem services, which, in turn, should buffer agricultural land against likely future environmental changes.