Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) and High Nature Value (HNV) farmland
In many areas across Europe, agricultural productivity is geographically and economically marginalised due to natural disadvantages. Such areas are defined as ‘Less Favoured Area’ (LFA). Farmers in LFAs are supported by payments from the EU Rural Development Regulations, with the aim to ‘contribute, through continued use of agricultural land, to maintaining the countryside as well as to maintaining and promoting sustainable farming systems’ (EC No. 1698/2005).
At the same time, High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems often occur in LFAs, and are characterised by traditional agricultural practices that maintain countryside features and support high levels of biodiversity. Andersen (2003) distinguished three types of HNV farming systems in Europe. They are:
- Farming system with a high proportion of semi-natural vegetation.
- Farming system dominated by low intensity agriculture or a mosaic of semi-natural and cultivated land and small-scale features.
- Farming system supporting rare species or a high proportion of European or world populations.
Low intensity farming in HNV farmland is important for wildlife, especially birds, because it creates a varied habitat consisting of a mosaic of small fields of different permanent and non-permanent crops, together with much non-crop and crop edge habitats such as hedges, ponds, ditches, drystone walls and remnant patches of nature vegetation. Pesticide, herbicide and artificial fertiliser use is low and land is regularly left fallow. In such HNV farming system, birds find an abundance of seed and invertebrate food, as well as plenty of shelter and nesting sites (Pain & Pienkowski, 1997).
Sadly, this type of traditional HNV farming system is at risk across Europe. Intensification and abandonment have caused the disappearance of extensive farming practices, both leading to farmland biodiversity decline and associate environmental concerns.
See also: Report from Butterfly Conservation Europe - 'Reversing the decline in butterflies annd moths across Europe - the importance of particular farming practices and the implications for CAP reform' (PDF 218KB)
LFA payments aim to address the problem of land abandonment, preserve farmland landscapes as well as supporting the rural community. However, current LFA measures have a number of weaknesses which, as a result, do not differentiate between non-HNV farming systems and HNV farming that delivers public benefits. BirdLife urges a reform of LFA support so that it could be targeted to farmers practising HNV farming, in order to safeguard Europe’s biodiversity and cultural heritage in the future.
- BirdLife’s review of the LFA scheme in response to the European Commission consultation (full version - PDF 182KB)
- BirdLife's review of the LFA scheme (summary - PDF 203KB)
Andersen, E. (ed.) (2003) Developing a high nature value farming area indicator. International report. EEA, Copenhagen.
EC Regulation 1968/2005, Article 33. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2005:277:0001:0040:EN:PDF
EEA (2004b) Agriculture and the environment in the EU accession countries – Implications of applying the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Environmental issue report No. 37. Available at: http://reports.eea.europa.eu/environmental_issue_report_2004_37/en/index_html
Pain, D.J. & Pienkowski, M.W. (Eds,) (1997) Birds and farming in Europe: The Common Agricultural Policy and its implications for bird conservation. Academic Press, San Diego, California.