How is Rural Development Tackling the Biodiversity Challenge?
Only a few crumbs of rural development funds are likely to deliver for nature conservation. This is especially critical in most of the ‘new’ Member States, in the Mediterranean countries, in Belgium, some German Länder and the French overseas territories. In these regions, the bulk of support is being spent on actions leading to intensification of farming systems, over-exploitation of forests and fragmentation of habitats. However, in Austria, Finland and Ireland, even high levels of expenditure on Axis 2 and agri-environment do not imply a real focus on environmental issues, as funds are mainly diverted towards the less-demanding schemes, paying for commitments that cannot be verified on the spot (e.g. fertiliser reduction), reflect the common practice and fail to target environmental needs.
The RSPB and the BirdLife EU Secretariat are conducting an evaluation of the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) across the European Union, to assess their potential for biodiversity. The report will be launched in Brussels on 7th May. The study is based on an analysis of approved RDPs, carried out by BirdLife Partners in their respective countries. The study fully covers 13 Member States, including key European biodiversity hotspots such as Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain.
Despite highlighting many areas of poor practice, it is not all bad news.
Despite highlighting many areas of poor practice, it is not all bad news. Thanks to BirdLife’s efforts, in most of Spanish regions investments in irrigation can be supported only on land being already under irrigation (thus potentially achieving real water savings), while in many ‘new’ Member States the agri-environment measure includes options for endangered species and habitats.
Pillar 2 is the only forward-looking part of the CAP and contains, at least on paper, the key elements to build a fully accountable policy: programming, monitoring, stakeholder consultation, payments made on a contractual basis and iterative design. The implementation of the ‘Health Check’ represents the last chance to substantially improve the RDPs. The focus on the ‘new challenges’, although watered down by the Council compromise, should drive additional funding towards environmentally meaningful actions. The modification of RDPs offers a unique opportunity to support new operations, improve existing schemes, detail environmental safeguards for potentially harmful measures, and to review the current financial breakdown by measure. Finally, RDPs can be improved at any time, also in Member States not touched by the ‘Health Check’ provisions (the New Member States and the two countries applying voluntary modulation – the UK and Portugal).
12 Mar 2009
Luigi Boccaccio, RSPB
Luigi Boccaccio is Agriculture Policy Officer for RSPB. He is also a PhD candidate in landscape ecology and entomology at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa (Italy).