team enhancing the environmental performance of farming on an
On the 26th
of May Dr John Tzilivakis of the
University’s Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU), was
invited by Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development
(DG-AGRI) of the EU, to present AERU’s work on Ecological Focus Areas
(EFAs) in a seminar for their staff in Brussels.
Farming has a key role to play in
the delivery of a number of vital ecosystem services; however, despite
the fact that that there has been considerable emphasis placed on
environmental issues in European agricultural policy over the years, it
is generally accepted that we still have some way to go if the industry
is to deliver what is expected of it in this regard. For example, it is
now widely accepted that the intensification of agricultural production
has had negative consequences for farmland biodiversity. It is hoped
that the introduction of Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs – introduced as
part of the ‘greening’ of the Common Agricultural Policy) on farms will
help redress the balance, but whether it works or not will be dependent
on the specific EFA elements a farmer choses to implement, and their
appropriateness to the local environment.
Consequently, the European Commission’s
Joint Research Centre (JRC) engaged AERU to develop a software system
to help farmers select EFA elements that can deliver optimal
environmental benefits. To do this, AERU reviewed the published
literature covering the environmental impacts of a wide range of EFA
elements, including leaving land fallow; the management of hedges,
ponds and woodlands; and many others, in order to develop a unique
system for assessing their joint and separate impacts on the
environment. This in turn was built into a prototype software tool, the
EFA Calculator, to help farmers and farm advisers in the selection of
suitable EFA elements, which is now freely available to stakeholders
across the continent, from the project website.
The aim is to strike a
balance between delivering significant environmental benefits whilst at
the same time being realistic in terms of practical farm management
requirements, by allowing farmers across the EU to maximise the
environmental benefits on their farm and in so doing produce the large
scale improvements we wish to see.
On the 26th of May Dr
John Tzilivakis was
invited to present AERU’s work to a meeting of European Commission
departments in Brussels. Since their introduction in 2015, the uptake
of EFAs by farmers across the EU has largely been confined to options
that are easy to implement on farms, such as catch crops, fallow land
and nitrogen fixing crops, rather than more costly and management
intensive options, such as new hedgerows, woodland, ponds and ditches.
However, it is recognised that if the greening measures are to deliver
demonstrable benefits, it will be essential to be able to assess and
understand the relative impact of different EFA options on biodiversity
and other ecosystem services, and focus on those capable of delivering
the most. Consequently, this is a hot topic at the moment, so the
seminar was very well attended by staff from the Directorates-General
for Agriculture, the Environment and Climate Action, with the
presentation on the EFA Calculator generating a great deal of interest.
The Commission is now exploring how it could be used to steer both
farmers and future policy, towards EFAs that enhance biodiversity and
For further information on the project,
visit the project website.