Twenty-two Conservation Schemes for Farmland Birds presented by the Birds@Farmland Initiative
The Birds@Farmland (B@F) Initiative of the European Commission was launched in 2020 with the aim to support 10 Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy and Portugal) in conserving farmland birds. Putting in place effective measures to conserve farmland birds, in Natura 2000 sites and outside, is an obligation under the Birds Directive and can benefit farmers and the wider society alike by promoting healthier food and conservation of key ecosystem services such as pollination or clean water.
The implementation of the initiative Birds@Farmland is assigned to a Consortium composed of: Environment Agency Austria (lead organization), BirdLife Hungary, Consorci Centre de Ciencia i Tecnologia Forestal de Catalunya, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Dicon Group Ltd., Iceta Instituto de Ciencias, Tecnologias e Agroambiente da Universidade do Porto, Institut Supérieur d’Agriculture et d’Agroalimentaire Rhône-Alpes, Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli, Pensoft Publishers, University of Helsinki and Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung, Leipzig.
The Birds@Farmland initiative resulted in 22 farmland bird conservation schemes (CSs) developed with the participation of stakeholders and interested experts in 10 Member States. The schemes were presented to the attention of the ministries of agriculture for inclusion into the national Strategic Plans (SPs) under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Using the available tools under the new CAP the schemes follow both traditional and novel approaches, such as Agri-environmental schemes (AES) under the Second pillar of the CAP, eco-schemes under First pillar, improvement of the advisory services, as well as some result-based payments. Given the bleak state of farmland bird populations across Europe, the proposed CS include conservation and restoration elements. It was up to the participating stakeholders at each Member State to choose the agricultural systems and/or flagship species on which to focus based on their most urgent needs.
For Bulgaria the team of Dicon Group, as a partner in the consortium, developed two farmland birds conservation schemes:
- Support to mixed farming systems in Bulgaria as an important habitat for birds - the purpose of the scheme is the preservation of traditional agricultural practices in agricultural lands with a significant presence of natural vegetation in the Continental Region. Such lands are favourable habitats for birds such as: Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator), Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix), Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica).
- Bird-friendly Rice Cultivation in Bulgaria - the objective of the scheme is to conserve habitats of the waterfowl in paddy fields as Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata), Ruff (Philomachus pugnax).
Within the framework of the two new eco-schemes, activities and measures are foreseen to lead to the improvement of the environmental conditions in agricultural lands in the specified agricultural systems, both in terms of the diversity and abundance of food resources, and to ensure suitable habitats for nesting, sheltering and/or resting of the bird species that inhabit them in the different seasons of the year.
The overall approach of the initiative is based on several guiding principles: scientific justification of conservation measures; pragmatism and flexibility in applying and implementing them; good awareness of farmers and agriculture advisory services.
The timing of the CAP strategic planning has varied from country to country and the overall timing of the Initiative was rather late. Nevertheless, of the 22 conservation schemes co-developed with stakeholders to date, 13 CS have been fully or partly taken up by the Member State authorities and included in their draft CAP Strategic Plans. The evaluation of these plans by the Commission still continues, including criteria to what extent MS have proposed appropriate measures to conserve farmland birds. The CS developed by the initiative may be used further to improve the quality of the strategic plans.
In order to promote the uptake by farmers, the Birds@Farmland Initiative identified a range of key success factors in promoting farmers’ acceptance. Among them are: involving farmers’ associations and landowners in the development of CSs as much as possible, reducing the bureaucratic requirements of the schemes, their flexibility and adaptation to local situations, providing the options for farmers to choose measures, the promotion of the extension of the term and the gradual improvement of the successful existing Agri-environment-climate (AEC) measures and the introduction of annual measures (eco-schemes), which can supplement the multi-year AEC measures with additional funds and flexibility. New are measures to promote cooperative and collective schemes, which increase security and reduce bureaucracy for each individual farmer. It addresses important farmer expectations such as the amount of financial compensation and access to information and technical support at critical stages of the schemes' implementation.
Regarding the mixed agricultural system, the proposed conservation scheme supports the traditional approach to farming and agriculture in the semi-mountainous areas of Bulgaria, characterized by smaller parcels with diverse crops and natural boundaries between them. Traditional small-scale agriculture enables the production of better quality products, including and organic products. The measure would help reduce the abandonment of agricultural land in mountainous areas. In addition, the presence of trees and bushes is favourable for birds, and they are the natural enemies of agricultural pests, which allows to reduce the use of pesticides.
The measures envisaged in the rice fields are designed to cover different periods of the year. For this reason, rice farmers can choose for themselves the activities to implement, depending on the specific characteristics of their farms. In addition, this conservation scheme does not require the use of new or different techniques compared to those conventionally used in production. As for the waterfowl and migratory birds that inhabit the rice fields, as the conditions in this farming system approach those of natural wetlands, closer to natural foraging habitats, roosting and breeding habitats are created for these bird species.
More information about the Bird Conservation Schemes is available on the website of the European Commission.
Among the tangible outputs of the B@F Initiative are the full technical reports and a set of summary factsheets for the prepared Bird Conservation Schemes, the characteristics of the selected Agricultural Systems and Flagship Species. The materials have been developed with a scientific approach to serve as a guide for stakeholders in understanding the content of the schemes.