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Agriculture: area under management practices potentially supporting biodiversity

Indicator Specification Created 26 Feb 2007 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
Topics: ,
Indicator codes: SEBI 020


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 agri-environmental indicators set.
  • Allows for easy comparison between countries, bio-geographical 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 potentially high level of biodiversity and gives a clear and simple message on the biodiversity therein.

b. Area under organic farming

Available annually.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

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

 a. High nature value farmland area.
 b. Area under organic farming.

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 the European Union (EU) level if it complies with Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007, which provides a comprehensive framework for production of crops and livestock; labelling, processing and marketing of organic products; and the import of organic products into the EU.


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.


hectares (ha)

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, 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 farming systems may also support opportunities for biodiversity.

Recent literature reviews provide more information on the 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 has so far been 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).


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 benefit above ground biodiversity, it does benefit soil biodiversity in comparison with intensive agriculture.


EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy - target 3

Related policy documents

  • EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
    in the Communication: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) the European Commission has adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. There are six main targets, and 20 actions to help Europe reach its goal. The six targets cover: - Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity - Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure - More sustainable agriculture and forestry - Better management of fish stocks - Tighter controls on invasive alien species - A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss

Key policy question

To what extent is European agriculture geared towards the prevention of biodiversity loss?


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: Eurostat holds the statistical data of the organic farming questionnaire.

Methodology for gap filling

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

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

• The data on HNV farmland presented here aim to show the distribution of HNV farmland areas in Europe, based on a consistent methodology for all countries. To compare data with the same characteristics, the estimated share of HNV farmland is calculated on the basis of total agricultural area as derived from Corine Land Cover (CLC) 2006 agricultural classes, plus identified HNV areas outside these classes. However, the use of CLC data leads to certain data artefacts in some countries or regions, in spite of refined selection criteria and the inclusion of additional biodiversity data sets. Further refinements on the basis of national datasets would be advantageous in several regions.

Data sets uncertainty

In general, this approach faces two crucial constraints: i) uncertainty in the data on the distribution and extent of HNV farmland in different countries; and ii) ability to find comparable data for agricultural land. In the context of the monitoring and evaluation framework of the Rural Development 2007-2013 Programmes, DG AGRI has issued guidelines for reporting on HNV farmland and forestry indicators, to support Member States wishing to make use of a national definition for this indicator, and to develop the indicator further to include aspects of the HNV concept not covered so far.

Rationale uncertainty


a. High nature value farmland area

  • Even if Corine Land Cover is updated every 5/6 years instead of the initial 10 year cycle, the regularity is not considered sufficient for monitoring area changes.
  • Current European level data sets only allow for the provision of 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 it may be necessary to consider selecting a sub-set of organic farms only, e.g. mixed farms.

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

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.

General metadata


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


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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year and every 6 years


DPSIR: State
Typology: Policy-effectiveness indicator (Type D)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100