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Agriculture: area under management practices potentially supporting biodiversity

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Justification for indicator selection


The combined indicator has a number of advantages:

  • Policy relevance: direct links to EU policies (organic agriculture and agri-environment schemes).
  • Established methodology: included in the IRENA set.
  • Allows for easy comparison between countries, biogeographical areas, and (indirectly) agricultural systems by presenting the indicator as a percentage of the total agricultural area.

In addition, the components have the following advantages:

a. High nature value farmland area

Indicates the agricultural area with a potential high biodiversity and gives a clear and simple message on the biodiversity in the agricultural area.

b. Area under organic farming

Yearly available.

c. Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes

  • Indicates the agricultural area where special efforts are being directed towards biodiversity and gives an indication of the political awareness and commitment.
  • Once defined it will be available yearly.

Scientific references:

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

This indicator is based on three sub-indicators and shows trends in area (as proportion of the total utilised area) of three (not mutually exclusive) categories of agricultural land:

 a. High nature value farmland area.
 b. Area under organic farming.
 c. Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes.

a. 'High nature value farmland area' (ha) indicates the area where farming systems are sustaining a high level of biodiversity. They are often characterised by extensive farming practices, associated with a high species and habitat diversity or the presence of species of European conservation concern.

b. 'Area under organic farming' (ha) indicates trends in the organic farming area and the share of the organic farming area in the total utilised agricultural area. Farming is only considered to be organic at EU level if it complies with Council Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91.

c. 'Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes' (ha) indicates where farming systems are generally focusing on sustainability. For non-EU countries this information is not available. In theory, 'Budget for biodiversity supportive measures' could be used as a proxy indicator but this no longer indicates an 'area' as suggested by the Headline Indicator.

The three sub indicators are adopted from the IRENA set of indicators (IRENA 26, 7 and 1 respectively). See

Note: This indicator comprises two elements: a quality parameter (distribution of high nature value farmland) and a response parameter (area under agri-environment and organic farming). Both are relevant for an assessment of environmental sustainability although they are not necessarily linked.


No units have been specified

Policy context and targets

Context description

a. High nature value farmland area

High nature value farmland areas mostly coincide with traditional or extensive agricultural systems. They have one or more of following characteristics:

  • dominated by semi-natural vegetation;
  • dominated by a mosaic of different low intensity agricultural land uses and natural and structural elements,
  • hosting rare species or supporting a high proportion of their European or global populations.

Loss of high nature value farmland is a result of intensification, as well as of abandonment and urbanisation.

b. Area under organic farming

By caring for the whole system organic farming generally favours biodiversity (Hole et al. 2005), though more productive faming systems may also support opportunities for biodiversity.

Recent literature reviews provide more information on environmental impacts of organic agriculture compared with conventional management systems. The results are not always unambiguous: the environmental benefits of organic farming are most clearly documented for biodiversity and for water and soil conservation, but there is no clear evidence of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Organic agriculture is likely to have a more positive environmental impact in areas with highly intensive agriculture than in areas with low input farming systems. The regional uptake of organic farming is so far concentrated in extensive grassland regions where fewer changes are needed to convert to organic farming than in regions dominated by intensive, arable farming, where the benefits would be greater (EEA 2005).

c. Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes

The share of farmland that is covered by biodiversity relevant EU policy measures covers inter alia agri-environment schemes where farmers enter a 5-year contract to adapt their management to environmental considerations, and other relevant policy instruments (Natura 2000, Life +, landscape protection). The indicator should include only those agreements that are relevant to biodiversity. For the moment such data is not available. Biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes may stimulate safeguarding biodiversity, although the effectiveness of some agri-environment schemes still shows room for improvement (Kleijn and Sutherland 2003; these authors also point out that it is very difficult to assess the functioning and significance of the agri-environment schemes to the biodiversity because there is no satisfactory monitoring of the effects of the schemes).

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

The area of High Nature Value farmland indicates an area that historically has been managed at low intensity and not been converted to intensive farming. This area represents important biodiversity in agricultural systems.

Organic farming, which may be low or high intensity, is contributing to sustainable management in that it does not negatively impact on systems outside the area under organic farming, and although it does not necessarily benefits above ground biodiversity, it does benefit soil biodiversity in comparison with intensive agriculture).

Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes would show a specific response to increase the sustainability of farming practices.


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified


Methodology for indicator calculation

a. High nature value farmland area

1) selection of land cover classes made up primarily of HNV land in the different environmental zones in Europe;

2) refinement of the map obtained in point 1) on the basis of additional expert rules (e.g. relating to altitude, soil quality) and country specific information;

3) addition of the biodiversity data layers (NATURA 2000, IBA - on the basis of indicator species and selected habitats only);

4) testing/adding national biodiversity data sets.

b. Area under organic farming

Calculation of the indicator per country/per region/per biogeographical area (if feasible): Eurostat treats the statistical data of the organic farming questionnaire. In the future, harmonised electronic reporting of data related to organic farming should happen through an electronic organic farming information system (OFIS).

c. Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes

Calculation of the indicator per country, following IRENA methodology and new DG AGRI guidelines for rural development monitoring indicators.

More methodological detail can be found in the IRENA fact sheets at

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


a. High nature value farmland area

  • Even if Corine will be updated every 5/6 years instead of the 10 year first cycle, the regularity is not considered to be sufficient for monitoring area changes.
  • The current data sets at European level only allow providing area estimates at NUTS2 level.

b. Area under organic farming

Proxy-indicator: there is a reasonable correlation between organic farming and biodiversity, but there are exceptions as organic farms can also be intensively managed (even without chemical inputs). Therefore one might have to consider selecting a sub-set of organic farms only, e.g. mixed farms only.

Area under organic farming does not give the total area of agriculture managed with biodiversity in mind as biodiversity concerns can also be integrated in non-organic

c. Area under biodiversity supportive agri-environment schemes

Some agri-environment support is directed towards environmental protection, and only agri-environmental support that focuses on biodiversity should be selected. Several policy instruments are partly favourable to biodiversity and partly not; additional complexity is added by national implementation of the measures.


The proposed indicator is a combination of three existing IRENA indicators. These were selected because they are the best available agricultural indicators at the European level.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

Work description

Suggestions for improvement: a. High nature value farmland area The most promising approach for the future development of this indicator lies in a systematic addition of national (biodiversity) data. For a more frequent update of the 'High nature value farmland area' indicator, a stratified network of representative sample areas could be set up, to monitor changes in the surface of high nature value farmland every 2–3 years. This would involve some costs since these updates could not rely on automated procedures and existing data. Such an approach could utilize modern, more sophisticated satellite observation techniques, as well as standard field survey techniques. Recently a 'Sampling framework and strategy for monitoring of European habitats' has been developed by the BIOHAB and BIOPRESS research communities ( ; ), estimating the total cost of different approaches (Jongman, R. H. G. ; Bunce, R. G. H.; Metzger, M. J.; Mücher, C. A.; Howard, D. C. and Mateus, V. L. . 2006. Objectives and Applications of a Statistical Environmenta  Stratification of Europe. Landscape Ecology Volume 21, Number 3/April, 2006.). The methods mentioned earlier are not fully satisfactory and in many countries work to estimate the HNV area using national data, information and methods is underway. c. Area under biodiversity supportive agri‑environment schemes Biodiversity relevant measures have to be defined in a transparent manner (possibly considered at a certain percentage if only partly relevant).  

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


Not started


2099/01/01 00:00:00 GMT+1

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


No owners.


Indicator code
SEBI 020
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Biodiversity Biodiversity


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DPSIR: State
Typology: N/A

Geographic coverage


European Environment Agency (EEA)
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