Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Birds fly in the face of green farming incentive scheme


The Dutch government pays farmers to mow late and use less fertiliser.
© D. Kleijn

Conservation initiatives may leave birds less food.
© D. Kleijn

European subsidies to enhance farmland wildlife may not be working.

The effectiveness of schemes that seek to promote biodiversity by paying farmers to cut back on intensive agriculture could be called into question by some research findings from Holland.

The incentive programmes, which already cost the European Union 1.7 billion euros (US$1.5 billion) each year and are rapidly expanding in scope, are partly motivated by the desire of European governments to subsidize farming without promoting the overproduction of food. But the programmes have been publicly justified by claims that they will help to restore ecological biodiversity on farmland.

In this issue of Nature, David Kleijn and colleagues at Wageningen University report results from one of the first schemes of this kind, operated by the Dutch government since 1981. They find that it has failed to significantly increase biodiversity in fields where farmers were paid to delay mowing or grazing, and to reduce the amount of fertilizer they used1.

The study did not examine how the total biodiversity in the region had changed over time, however. And EU officials and some conservationists are confident that the more sophisticated programmes now being implemented will yield increase biodiversity.

But many ecologists claim that such programmes have not been properly evaluated. "There are far too few studies of this kind," says population biologist Arie van Noordwijk of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology’s Centre for Terrestrial Ecology in Heteren. "We have hardly any good data on the effectiveness of these programmes, and vast amounts of money are spent on them Europe-wide."

Kleijn’s study counted species and numbers of plants, birds, bees and hoverflies in 78 fields last summer. Only bee and hoverfly diversity increased under the scheme. Birds actually seemed to prefer intensively farmed fields, possibly because reductions in fertilizer use lead to smaller invertebrate populations and so less food.

Kleijn thinks the study area is representative of intensively managed farmland across northern Europe, but admits that the effectiveness of such schemes in hill-farm regions, for example, may be quite different.

According to Carlos Martin-Novella, an official at the European Commission’s Development and Environment Unit in Brussels, the European Union has already adjusted its subsidy schemes to increase their effectiveness, and made arrangements to monitor them. For example, the commission’s biodiversity action plan, published earlier this year, requires member states to evaluate their agri-environment schemes. The new research "fits very well into this commitment", says Martin-Novella.

David Gibbons, head of conservation science at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a British conservation group, says that recent environmental subsidy schemes are designed with more scientific input than the Dutch study. Britain’s Arable Stewardship project, for example, which aims to restore farmland bird populations, expressly targets individual species. It will require farmers to leave stubble — an important food source for birds — in fields over the winter, instead of digging it up to plant crops such as winter wheat. The scheme is to be launched in 2002 after a three-year pilot study. "I’d be shocked if we don’t see real benefits over the next 5–10 years," says Gibbons.

  1. Kleijn, D., Berendse, F. Smit, R. & Niels, G. Agri-environment schemes do not effectively protect biodiversity in Dutch agricultural landscapes. Nature 413, 723–725 (2001).

JOHN WHITFIELD | Nature News Service
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>