Are Ecological Focus Areas delivering for biodiversity?  [PDF version]

Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) are intended to safeguard and improve biodiversity on arable farms in the EU. What evidence is there that they are actually delivering biodiversity on farmland?


Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), part of greening in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), are intended to safeguard and improve biodiversity on arable farms in the EU. IEEP’s study for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife looked at how EFAs are being implemented in the EU and what evidence there is in the published literature on the potential biodiversity impacts on farmland, taking into account how the areas are being managed. 

Implementation data show that, in 2015, two-thirds of EFA area comprised of nitrogen-fixing crops, catch crops or cover crops, with land lying fallow on a fifth of the area. The literature shows that under current EFA rules and conventional farming practices, it is unlikely that most nitrogen-fixing crops and catch and cover crops grown on EFAs provide much benefit for farmland biodiversity. In contrast, under typical management regimes, the EFA options of land lying fallow, hedges and field margins generally have more potential to provide greater and more diverse and reliable biodiversity benefits.

The biodiversity benefits of EFA crops and fallow could be considerably increased through changes in the incentives and implementation rules. Firstly, the uptake of EFA options that provide the greatest biodiversity benefits could be increased. Secondly, farmers could be encouraged to sow species mixes that benefit wildlife on fallow, field margins and buffer strips and grow them long enough to flower and set seed without agro-chemical use. Finally, three key changes to implementation rules would greatly increase the ability of EFAs to meet their biodiversity policy objectives: avoiding the use of fertilisers and pesticides; ensuring the periods over which they are established and removed are suited to biodiversity as well as production cycles; and ensuring key farming operations (such as cutting of vegetation) are carried out at appropriate times.

IEEP’s Evelyn Underwood presented the results to a group of Member State representatives on agriculture and members of the DG AGRI greening unit in Brussels on 29 November 2016. The study aims to contribute to the evidence base for the forthcoming revision of CAP greening regulation and implementation, building on a previous IEEP study on Member States greening choices. The Institute will continue working on the evaluation of greening in the upcoming year.

For more information on the project, please contact Evelyn Underwood.