The role of agri-environment schemes in conservation and environmental management

Péter Batáry, Lynn V. Dicks, David Kleijn, William J. Sutherland

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Over half of the European landscape is under agricultural management and has been for millennia. Many species and ecosystems of conservation concern in Europe depend on agricultural management and are showing ongoing declines. Agri-environment schemes (AES) are designed partly to address this. They are a major source of nature conservation funding within the European Union (EU) and the highest conservation expenditure in Europe. We reviewed the structure of current AES across Europe. Since a 2003 review questioned the overall effectiveness of AES for biodiversity, there has been a plethora of case studies and meta-analyses examining their effectiveness. Most syntheses demonstrate general increases in farmland biodiversity in response to AES, with the size of the effect depending on the structure and management of the surrounding landscape. This is important in the light of successive EU enlargement and ongoing reforms of AES. We examined the change in effect size over time by merging the data sets of 3 recent meta-analyses and found that schemes implemented after revision of the EU's agri-environmental programs in 2007 were not more effective than schemes implemented before revision. Furthermore, schemes aimed at areas out of production (such as field margins and hedgerows) are more effective at enhancing species richness than those aimed at productive areas (such as arable crops or grasslands). Outstanding research questions include whether AES enhance ecosystem services, whether they are more effective in agriculturally marginal areas than in intensively farmed areas, whether they are more or less cost-effective for farmland biodiversity than protected areas, and how much their effectiveness is influenced by farmer training and advice? The general lesson from the European experience is that AES can be effective for conserving wildlife on farmland, but they are expensive and need to be carefully designed and targeted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1006-1016
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
Early online date21 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


  • agricultural intensification
  • Common Agricultural Policy
  • Europe
  • European Union
  • farmland
  • field margin
  • grassland
  • organic management
  • Europa
  • intensificacion agricola
  • margen del campo
  • manejo organico
  • pastizal
  • Politica Agricola Comun
  • tierra de cultivo
  • Union Europea

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