Are Ecological Focus Areas delivering for biodiversity?

Ecological Focus Areas 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?

Evelyn Underwood presented the results of an IEEP study, carried out for EEB and BirdLife, to a group of Member State representatives on agriculture and members of the DG AGRI greening unit in Brussels on 29 November. The study looked at how Ecological Focus Areas are being implemented in the EU and what evidence there is in the published literature on the potential biodiversity impacts on farmland – focusing on nitrogen-fixing crops, catch and cover crops, fallow, hedges and field margins, and taking into account how the areas are being managed.

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

IEEP will continue working on the evaluation of greening in the next year. The IEEP study can be found here, or please contact Evelyn Underwood (eunderwood@ieep.eu).