Agri-environment schemes do not effectively protect biodiversity in Dutch agricultural landscapes

Abstract

Roughly 20% of the European Union's farmland is under some form of agri-environment scheme to counteract the negative impacts of modern agriculture on the environment1. The associated costs represent about 4% (1.7 billion euros) of the European Union's total expenditure on the Common Agricultural Policy and are expected to rise to 10% in the near future2. Although agri-environment schemes have been implemented in various countries for well over a decade, to date no reliable, sufficiently replicated studies have been performed to test whether such measures have the presumed positive effects on biodiversity1,3,4. Here we present the results of a study evaluating the contribution of agri-environment schemes to the protection of biodiversity in intensively used Dutch agricultural landscapes. We surveyed plants, birds, hover flies and bees on 78 paired fields that either had agri-environment schemes in the form of management agreements or were managed conventionally. Management agreements were not effective in protecting the species richness of the investigated species groups: no positive effects on plant and bird species diversity were found. The four most common wader species were observed even less frequently on fields with management agreements. By contrast, hover flies and bees showed modest increases in species richness on fields with management agreements. Our results indicate that there is a pressing need for a scientifically sound evaluation of agri-environment schemes.

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Figure 1: Effects of management agreements aimed at enhancing botanical diversity on number of plant species (mean ± s.e., n = 22) at plot (20 m-2) and at field scale (400 m-2; sum of 20 plots per field).
Figure 2: Effects of management agreements on breeding birds at a range of spatial scales.
Figure 3: Effects of management agreements on species richness of hover flies and bees.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all farmers who gave us permission to work on their fields, and Dienst Landelÿk Gebred for their assistance with the area and field selection. The comments of N. van Breemen, W. ter Keurs, M. Noordervliet and J. Harvey improved this manuscript. Field assistance from B. Brak, J. Smit, M. Gleichman, M. Meijer zu Schlochtern, L. de Nijs and H. Klees is greatly appreciated. This work was funded by the Dutch Stimulation Program Biodiversity.

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Correspondence to David Kleijn.

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Kleijn, D., Berendse, F., Smit, R. et al. Agri-environment schemes do not effectively protect biodiversity in Dutch agricultural landscapes. Nature 413, 723–725 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35099540

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