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Reconciling nature conservation and traditional farming practices: a spatially explicit framework to assess the extent of High Nature Value farmlands in the European countryside

05 Feb 2015


  1. Agriculture constitutes a dominant land cover worldwide, and rural landscapes under extensive farming practices acknowledged due to high biodiversity levels. The High Nature Value farmland (HNVf) concept has been highlighted in the EU environmental and rural policies due to their inherent potential to help characterize and direct financial support to European landscapes where high nature and/or conservation value is dependent on the continuation of specific low-intensity farming systems.
  2. Assessing the extent of HNV farmland by necessity relies on the availability of both ecological and farming systems' data, and difficulties associated with making such assessments have been widely described across Europe. A spatially explicit framework of data collection, building out from local administrative units, has recently been suggested as a means of addressing such difficulties.
  3. This manuscript tests the relevance of the proposed approach, describes the spatially explicit framework in a case study area in northern Portugal, and discusses the potential of the approach to help better inform the implementation of conservation and rural development policies.
  4. Synthesis and applications: The potential of a novel approach (combining land use/cover, farming and environmental data) to provide more accurate and efficient mapping and monitoring of HNV farmlands is tested at the local level in northern Portugal. The approach is considered to constitute a step forward toward a more precise targeting of landscapes for agri-environment schemes, as it allowed a more accurate discrimination of areas within the case study landscape that have a higher value for nature conservation.

A spatially-explicit approach to assess High Nature Value farmlands (HNVf types 1, 2, and 3) is proposed built on s steps. In Step 1, indicators reflecting landscape composition (LE) were applied to ascertain the Utilised Agricultural Area (UAA), the dominance of agriculture at the landscape level (parish) and areas with high or moderate potential to be HNVf, assumed to be suitable to target HNVf1 and HNVf2, respectively. In Step 2, indicators expressing the intensity of farming practices (EP) were applied to discriminate parishes that contain HNVf1; and, the intensity of practices, landscape elements and crop diversity information (CD), were applied to identify HNVf2. The need to identify any additional areas of HNVf3 was determined in step 3, by using information regarding Indicator Species. The total extent of HNVf was assembled in Step 4.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Ecology and Evolution