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  1. Biodiversity Generation and Loss - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science
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Even if the search for self-sufficiency in food production has been focusing on a limited number of plant species and breeds over the last few decades, food security has been achieved primarily through the adaptation and improved germplasm, which allowed agricultural production of suitable quality to develop on an adequate scale in widely varying and at times arduous environments e.

Biodiversity's utilisation in agriculture thus allows the creation of new varieties and breeds for the achievement of economic, health, technical and ecological objectives. The sustainable utilisation of biological diversity in agriculture contributes to changes in certain practices, by reducing the use of insecticides through the action of beneficial insects, reducing ploughing by increasing soil's biological activity, and preserving yields by increasing pollination. Conversely, the evolution of agricultural activity in certain cases enriches biodiversity.

It creates and maintains special ecosystems and habitats, such as the mosaic of cultivated fields and field boundaries demarcated by hedges and ditches providing refuge and sources of food for certain flora and fauna and micro-fauna. Agriculture has moulded a semi-natural environment where endemic and threatened species have often survived. This is the case, for example, of the Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax , whose survival depends on the maintenance of traditional grazing in certain areas of Europe, and the Great Bustard Otis tarda , prospering in the extensive patches of cereal-growing land left fallow and grassland in Spain and Portugal, but also of great numbers of species of plants and insects depending on semi-natural grasslands and other semi-natural habitats.

Non-intensive agriculture thus maintains both wild and domesticated plant and animal species, varieties or breeds, as well as ecosystems, at times under threat of extinction. Thanks to selection and research of domesticated plant and animal species, it also develops their intraspecific variability e. By managing a large part of the Community's territory, agriculture preserves in some cases many specific ecosystems that would disappear if farming activities were abandoned. Clearance of undergrowth and scrub by sheep in areas that are difficult to access, prevention of erosion from the action of water and wind through the growth of plant cover, maintenance of the diversity of flora in semi-natural grassland thanks to pasturage, preservation of biodiversity in Alpine uplands, conservation of wetlands, etc.

Two major changes in agricultural practices have, however, upset the equilibrium between agriculture and biodiversity in certain situations, namely the intensification of production and the under-utilisation of land see also Box 2. There is evidence that, for at least the last five decades, important agricultural changes have dramatically affected land use and farm structures that led directly or indirectly to significant declines and losses in biodiversity features. Semi-natural grasslands have dramatically declined in the Northwest European lowlands but also wetlands under the pressure of the same agricultural intensification drainage and fertilisation.

Looking for the general causes to biodiversity deterioration that can be related to inappropriate agricultural farming, a series of interrelations with direct and indirect effects at various levels, as those cited below as examples, become clear:. On the other hand, the gradual marginalisation and abandonment of farmland, particularly in certain areas where farming conditions are particularly arduous, leads to an impoverishment of ecosystems that are highly dependent on the continuation of such agricultural activities.

Under-utilisation of land may lead to the progressive disappearance of the abundant flora of extensive medium-altitude pastures and pastures in northern latitudes, to the overrunning of environments and their colonisation by semi-ligneous species, for example. Furthermore, pollution resulting from excessive application of nutrients, agrochemicals from agricultural sources has fundamental indirect effects on all the above.

The main points needed for the drawing-up of the plan of action for the agricultural sector were outlined in the Commission Communication "Directions towards sustainable agriculture" [8] and confirmed by the final decisions on Agenda The environmental components play an important role in this new framework, as mentioned before, notably as regards the introduction of agricultural practices preserving the environment and safeguarding the countryside. The goal of Agenda is to foster a truly sustainable agriculture within the socio-economic challenges generating competitiveness in the sector, the sustainable management of natural resources, and society's expectations in terms of quality of the environment and of the countryside.

Agenda - and in particular the provisions on rural development - thus provides the framework to integrate environmental and in particular biodiversity considerations into the agricultural policy. Following this operational framework, the measures and directions to be given priority when plans of action for biodiversity are drawn up can be identified on the basis of progress which have been made to date.

Biodiversity Generation and Loss - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science

Ensuring the development of current intensive farming practices towards the achievement of a reasonable or rational degree of intensification. This involves:. Maintaining an economically viable and socially acceptable agricultural activity, by targeted and tailored measures aiming at safeguarding biodiversity, in particular in biodiversity-rich regions where such activity has been weakened.

Use the potential of agri-environmental measures for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity:. Ensuring that an ecological infrastructure exists throughout the area. This is essential for conservation policies. Two complementary approaches should be favoured:.

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Such areas also have other advantages for the environment in terms of reduced pollution and landscape value added. It is also vital to maintain certain open environments. Supporting specific measures related to the use of genetic resources, to the maintenance of local, traditional and rustic breeds and varieties and the diversity of varieties used in agriculture.

Introducing specific measures for encouraging the marketing of landraces and varieties that are naturally adapted to the local and regional conditions. Benefits are in terms of diversity of farming systems and resistance to pests and diseases. Implementing measures to prevent the abundance and spreading of non-native species introduced and favoured by agriculture.

The experience gained notably with agri-environment measures allows the identification of certain essential principles for the drawing-up of a plan of action:. Commission for Sustainable Development. Therefore the methods and instruments may vary from area to area; this calls for an approach on the one hand overcoming the strict logic of "protected areas" in order to involve close co-operation with all local players, on the other hand enabling the agricultural sector to fulfil its task of sustainable intensification of production. The approach must be better co-ordinated than in the past.

Such co-ordination must have the following aims :. The agri-environmental strategy put forward by the Agenda is largely aimed at enhancing the sustainability of agro-ecosystems, mainly through the rural development measures including agri-environment scheme and common rules applicable to direct payments within the common market organisations.

It is based on the idea that farmers must be willing to respect a basic set of environmental rules without receiving any corresponding compensation. Where they supply goods or services involving more than just compliance with usual good farming practices [12], they could receive a payment to offset at least the costs and income losses incurred. Member States shall set out verifiable standards in their rural development plans.

In any case, these standards shall entail compliance with general mandatory environmental requirements. The Plan of Action is based on the optimal use of the following instruments for the benefit of biodiversity:. The rural development plans provided for in the Regulation on Rural Development should form the priority framework to integrate environmental considerations related to biodiversity, taking into account the type of supported measures and their geographical coverage.

The integrated rural development plans can also contribute to the coherence of different measures and to avoiding conflicting measures in the same zone. When drawing up rural development plans, it is therefore essential for the Member States to take into account the need to fulfil commitments regarding biodiversity. Hence, the last indent of point 6. A summary of the main rural development measures put forward by Agenda -- and those of the common agricultural policy more generally -- that can be utilised for the benefit of biodiversity is given in Table 1.

Details of the main instruments and their relevance to the achievement of sectoral and horizontal objectives identified by the European Biodiversity Strategy17 are given in the following chapter. The Community Biodiversity Strategy COM 98 42 has been built around four major themes, also called "horizontal objectives" because, in order to be attained, they need the combined effort of a multiplicity of sectoral activities. These themes are:. Sectoral objectives are on the other hand linked to each single policy area of the Strategy [18].

However, some of them such as, e. This is mainly due to the cross-sectors expertise required and to the political delicacy of the issues.

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The Strategy COM 98 42 listed three groups of sectoral objectives in agriculture. The first group refers to genetic resources, the second to the conservation and sustainable use of agro-ecosystems and the third one to the impact of trade policies on agricultural production and land use See Box 3. The following sub-chapters will analyse how the main relevant agricultural instruments are facing the challenges posed by the implementation of the sectoral objectives of the Strategy.

A separate sub-chapter will then assess the achievement of horizontal objectives. Article 3 of Reg. These measures may include:. Member States which choose to apply the third of these options may, in the event of a failure to comply with environmental provisions, allocate the resources which are freed to CAP "accompanying measures" agri-environmental measures, early retirement, less favoured areas and afforestation.

The application of so-called "cross-compliance" by Member States is one possible tool for ensuring a balance between intensive agriculture and the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

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There is a need to prevent biodiversity improvements achieved for certain holdings and regions, from being wiped out by other production practices generating degradation in the same area. Plant and Animal Genetic resources. Objectives are: 1. Conservation and sustainable use of agro-ecosystems.

Objectives are: 2. This includes the development of integrated and sustainable strategies for the e use of plant protection products. Impact of trade on agriculture. Objectives are: 3. Despite an uneven distribution and sometimes modest results, the agri-environment programmes has proved to generate substantial environmental benefits and in particular on biodiversity.

There are many examples as the Corncrake in Ireland which testify that the active maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity and landscapes may not prejudice the farm incomes and to the contrary may give a concrete illustration of the "joint products" that agriculture is able to deliver. The agri-environment measures cover ways of using agricultural land, which are compatible with the protection and improvement of the environment, the landscape and its features, natural resources, the soil and genetic resources.

This includes several options benefiting the biodiversity, among which special nature protecting schemes e. They offer payments [20] to farmers who, on a voluntary and contractual basis, undertake an environmental service for a 5 years period. Payments based on the costs incurred and income foregone will only be made for the measures, which go beyond the application of usual good agricultural practices, entailing at least compliance with general mandatory environmental requirements. The development of guidelines or codes highlighting what should be the good agricultural practices as regards biodiversity in a given region could be explored and might become an essential task for the EU Member States.

The implementation of targeted agri-environmental measures on the whole EU's territory constitutes now the core of the Community's environmental strategy. As the only compulsory element in each of the Rural Development Plans, designed by the Member States, these measures play an essential role in the achievement of Community's biodiversity objectives.

The move towards greater subsidiarity allowing each Member State to develop a decentralised system of management has authorised a flexible administrative framework and fits with the need for a targeted approach. This can truly enable to issue appropriate and well-tailored schemes for the very site-specific biodiversity challenges. Moreover, they also seek to accomplish some of the objectives grouped within the "Genetic resources" heading, i. Outside the agri-environment measures, the Regulation on Rural Development provides several possibilities for action in favour of biodiversity.

The compensatory allowance is, in this respect, the most significant of such support schemes.