The importance of ensuring a future for ‘high nature value’ (HNV) farmlands across the globe has been highlighted in a new paper published by a consortium of European scientists.
HNV farmlands are defined as supporting low-intensity farming systems which are are rich in natural and semi-natural vegetation, including species and habitats of important conservation value.
The paper notes the extent and condition of such farmland has been declining globally due to agricultural expansion and intensification, and abandonment of farming practices, leading to an erosion of their natural, social and cultural heritage.
The authors, including agricultural ecology expert Prof Davy McCracken, head of the Hill and Mountain Research Unit at Scotland’s Rural College, estimated more than 30 per cent of all agricultural land in the European Union could be considered to be HNV.
Similar farmlands also exist in many rural areas worldwide, including the satoyama landscapes in Japan.
In addition to providing humans with food and fibre, these areas support biodiversity conservation and deliver a wide range of vital public services, such as managing flood risk, protecting soils from erosion, reducing wildfire risks or having cultural value.
The consortium, including partners in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal, as well as Scotland, said reversing the global decline of HNV farmlands relied on increasing public appreciation of the range of goods and services provided by these landscapes and improving the financial rewards to farmers who continue to maintain them.
Leader of the consortium, Angela Lomba, of the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources in Portugal, said: “HNV farmlands are valuable assets which can aid society in addressing current and future environmental challenges.
“But change is unavoidable and a paradigm shift is required to ensure the underlying systems persist and HNV systems appeal to future generations.”