Request > Biodiversity and the Common Agricultural Policy

Understanding Farmer Uptake: What measures are most promising to deliver on supporting biodiversity and ecosystem services in the next round of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)?

Requester: International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN Regional Office in Europe, and Swedish Board of Agriculture.

Type of request: Knowledge synthesis
This  request aimed to assess the factors that influence the uptake of some CAP measures that enhance biodiversity at a different scales (EU, Member States and farmer level), seeking to develop recommendations for the CAP to improve biodiversity and related ecosystem services (ES).  The outputs from this request are expected to support policy development for the post-2020 CAP while taking into account administrative feasibility, social implications and farm economics.

Reference: Request CfR.1/2016/1

Expert Working Group
  • Eszter Kovacs (Corvinus University of Budapest/ University of Cambridge) (Co-chair)
  • Calum Brown (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) (Co-chair)
  • Yves Zinngrebe (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) (Co-chair)
  • Amaia Albizua (Basque Centre for Climate Change)
  • Antonia Galanaki
  • Ioanna Grammatikopoulou (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic)
  • Irina Herzon (University of Helsinki)
  • Doris Marquardt (European Environment Agency)
  • Davy McCracken (Scotland’s Rural College)
  • Juliana Dänhardt & Johanna Alkan Olsson (Lund University – replacing Juliana Dänhardt))
  • Sergio Villamayor (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
Contact points
  • KCB Focal Point: Flore Jeanmart and Rania Spyropoulou (Deputy)
  • EMB Contact Point: Florian Koch and Marie Vandewalle
Final outputs

The CAP may prove an inadequate tool, subject to too many competing pressures and objectives. Nevertheless, the CAP does represent a crucial opportunity for the European Union to effectively intervene and deliver general societal benefits. The EWG built on all of the evidence and knowledge available to derive generally-relevant conclusions, independently of the political considerations that will ultimately determine implementation.

The EWG also developed a number of recommendations for improving the uptake of measures supporting biodiversity (and associated ecosystem services) within the CAP.

  • Strengthening transparency and participation in the decision-making process related to CAP design and implementation can increase legitimacy and ensure consistency with societal interests.
  • A clear distinction should be made between those measures that are effective in protecting or enhancing biodiversity, and those that primarily serve other purposes such as nitrogen fixation or soil protection. Subsidies allocated to biodiversity-friendly measures should be restricted to the first group
  • Tailored grouping and concerted implementation of measures that assure connectivity at farm and landscape scales should be encouraged to maximise general benefits to biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services.
  • Expected benefits of interventions to biodiversity should be clearly defined, effects measured and transparently communicated (where possible), ensuring that any new measures have recognisable impacts on biodiversity. This would be likely to increase their acceptability and uptake; it would also form a basis for designing and implementing robust results-oriented payments.
  • In order to make the potential effects of interventions more tangible, the transparent use of scientific evidence and varied stakeholder perspectives to inform policy-making should be increased.
  • The rationale for and requirements of measures should be communicated to farmers through place specific trusted sources rather than political channels.
  • Policy changes should proceed concurrently with further research into the benefits of different measures and their applicability in under-researched regions and with other policy goals.
  • Notwithstanding these changes, evidence about policy development and farmer uptake suggests that reversing the long-term trend of biodiversity loss on European farmland may require a comprehensive transformation of the CAP from area-based subsidies towards the provision of biodiversity conservation.
Impacts in Science
Impacts in Horizon 2020 projects

Recent scientific research highlights the urgent need to protect Europe’s remaining – and rapidly declining – biological diversity. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the major tools with which policymakers in the European Union (EU) can achieve this aim. However, so far, the CAP has proved largely ineffective – or even detrimental – to this goal:

  • The original regulations proposed by the EU Commission for the CAP in the period 2014-2020 were weakened during negotiations with the European Parliament and Council as agro-economic interests dominated over biodiversity interests.
  • Member States further reduced the scope for measures to benefit biodiversity by prioritising ease of administration, consistency with existing agricultural practices and political acceptability over environmental impacts or effectiveness.
  • Farmers tended to adopt measures that required the least management change and that were most aligned to agricultural production, and these were usually the measures with the least benefits for biodiversity.

The European Commission (EC) proposes the “preservation of landscapes and biodiversity as one of nine general objectives” for the CAP post-2020 and specifies eco-schemes (Pillar 1) and agri-environment climate measures (Pillar 2) as instruments to support biodiversity measures (EC, 2018). Existing studies and expertise on the implementation of such instruments are therefore highly relevant to ongoing policy development, and it is on these that we build in this report.

  • Date request received: 30/09/2016
  • End of Call for Knowledge (CfK): 08/04/2017
  • End of Call for Experts (CfE): 25/06/2017
  • Date of experts selection: 07/07/2017
  • Date of first Expert Working Group (EWG) meeting: 08/2017
  • Date of the first meeting with the requesters and EKLIPSE Knowledge Coordination Body (KCB) and Methods Expert Groups (MEG): 02/02/2017

This report is the outcome of a direct policy request from IUCN and the Swedish Board of Agriculture in September 2016 and was developed by invited experts that joined the EWG. This work is to promote the wider adoption of measures with demonstrable socio-ecological positives for biodiversity, society, and farmers; whereby the “label” of the final intervention (be it greening or agricultural environment and climate measures) is not the most important aspect, but rather the objective and effects of implemented measures.

Scoping phase

This initial request was entitled “What are the effects of CAP greening measures on biodiversity and related ecosystem services?”

In order to refine the request, scoping activities have been carried out :

  • Call for Knowledge to identify already existing work on the request. It was launched in March 2017 inviting scientists, policy-makers, practitioners, and other societal actors to share their knowledge on the topic.
  • A stakeholder workshop (26th April 2017, Brussels) with other participants involved in European policies and biodiversity issues to ensure the policy relevance of the request detailed below and to refine the request. 

Based on the results of the stakeholder workshop and the Call for Knowledge, it was agreed to refine the request question: Understanding Farmer Uptake: What measures are most promising to deliver on supporting biodiversity and ecosystem services in the next round of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)? Especially the question of uptake of measures seemed to be the most adequate for the work of an EKLIPSE EWG. 

During the scoping phase, the EKLIPSE MEG and the KCB Agri group discussed potential methods of knowledge synthesis which can be applied to this request, and they proposed an integrated framework to be carried out by the EWG (see the DoW). This included the following methods:

  • Summary of reviews
  • Non-systematic literature reviews
  • Focus groups with extension agents or farmer groups, and
  • Delphi process, synthesis evaluation matrix, or Bayesian belief network.

The Document of Work (DoW) described the results of the scoping activities as well as the background of the request and was the basis for the call for experts. 

Answering the request

Selection of an Expert Working Group

EKLIPSE sent out a Call for Experts (CfE.2/2017) in May 2017 inviting various kinds of societal actors to apply to join an Expert Working Group to answer the question: Understanding Farmer Uptake: What measures are most promising to deliver on supporting biodiversity and ecosystem services in the next round of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)? 

The EWG (see above) was established with a focus on Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), a policy instrument introduced to the CAP in the period 2014 – 2020, who broadened this remit also to consider evidence from other measures. The EWG gathers 12 European experts covering nine countries (Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, UK):

Methods protocol 

In December 2017, the expert group had elaborated their draft method protocol to assess the uptake of agricultural policy measures that improve biodiversity. The review of this draft protocol was public and has been broadly disseminated. Anyone was free to comment or give the expert group feedback.

The review process resulted in 8 individuals or organisations giving feedback on the draft protocol. The expert working group worked hard to include as many relevant comments as possible. The final methods protocol was finalised in November 2017.

 The suggested knowledge synthesis framework is based on three main parts derived from the request and adapted by the EWG (Fig. 1):

 A. Compile a list of biodiversity measures (EFAs as well as other measures that are proven to enhance biodiversity in farmland effectively) and a summary of the evidence that   these options contribute to biodiversity:
        a. review the summary of evidence that these specific measures work,
        b. understand which measures are the most effective for biodiversity with consideration to different farming/geographic/management conditions
        c. list other important aspects affecting the ‘effectiveness’ of measures.

B. Assess factors that influence the uptake of these interventions under existing and potential future contexts. Both administrative and socio‐economic factors should be analysed:
        a. at the EU level
        b. at MS or other relevant sub-level 
        c. at farm level

C. Provide recommendations to improve the delivery and uptake of the measures, and thus the benefits for biodiversity. The recommendations should address at least European and MS levels.

Figure 1: Suggested knowledge synthesis framework to be used to address the request. Step B will be addressed at three different levels. *The MS-level (B2) differs between MS and can in some cases include sub-levels (such as the federal state level in Germany).

 The specific research questions considered in this project are:

  1. Which of the measures available to farmers through the CAP are most beneficial for biodiversity? (Step A)
  1. What are the factors influencing the design and selection of these measures at the EU level? (Step B1)
  1. What are the factors influencing the selection of these measures by different Member States (MS)? (Step B2)
  1. What are the factors influencing the selection of these measures by farmers? (Step B3)
  2. How can improved uptake of these measures be achieved in the future? (Step C)


Figure 2: Overall methodological framework visualizing the data flow (arrows) between the different steps, sub-steps, and methods used in this project. The scenarios developed in step B will be integrated into the assessment of factors affecting uptake by MS (interviews) and farmers (focus groups and agent-based models). Scenarios will be developed based on input from a) a review on effects of different interventions on biodiversity (step A), b) a review on factors influencing farmers uptake and c) statistics describing current measures’ implementation (both step B). The combined output from all methods used in step B will feed in the recommendations developed in step C.


The expert group completed their draft report in early November 2018, which was opened for consultation through an external expert review and public consultation. In June 2019 the final report on “understanding farmer uptake of measures that support biodiversity and ecosystem services in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)” was finalised and published.