Topic: The social ecology of HNV Farmland: Evaluating the role of farmer and farm characteristics and the implications for agricultural policy
Keywords: High Nature Value farmland; socio-economic characteristics; agricultural and rural restructuring; agri-environmental policy
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 seeks to halt biodiversity loss by protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. The EU has committed to supporting this objective through the implementation of a Biodiversity Strategy (2011) with the objective of halting all biodiversity loss by 2020. In support of this objective, the Common Agriculture Policy incentivises the preservation of habitats and biodiversity through various instruments including cross-compliance, direct payments rewarding the delivery of environmental public goods and the Rural Development Regulation which provides for Natura 2000 and agri-environment payments. As part of the latter, the EU supports High Nature Value farmland (HNVf), i.e. certain types of farming activity and practices, and land use and land use management, that produce environmental outcomes, including high levels of biodiversity and the presence of environmentally valuable habitats and species. To support policy makers and stakeholders in the design and implementation of agri-environmental measures, significant attention has been given to understanding the ecological characteristics and distribution of HNVf. Limited attention has been paid to understanding the social systems underpinning areas with higher levels of HNVf, i.e. the characteristics of the communities living in these areas, particularly the farmers, farm households, their farms and farm enterprises. Within this literature, a number of contributors have drawn attention to the socio-ecological dimensions of HNVf, i.e. the relationships between people, places and their governance, by way of explaining the inherent instability of HNVf and hence the need for human intervention at a variety of scales, e.g. individual, community and national and international agri-governance. This paper contributes to the further development of research in this area by describing the socio-economic characteristics of areas with higher levels of HNVf, summarize and assess the implications of key (demographic) trends shaping these areas and evaluate the extent to which contemporary agricultural policy frameworks are tacking these issues.