The German „Serengeti“ – large-scale grazing with Heck-cattle in Thuringia


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Messages from the workshop

In the final session the participants again divided into workgroups, but in this case not by country but with individuals of the same calling – farmers; environmental NGOs; environmental administrators; agricultural administrators.

The task was to formulate a series of messages to each of the 4 groups. These messages were discussed and collated in the final plenary session, where there was in most cases agreement between the groups. The few cases where this was not the case are shown in italics and discussed below. Note that in all cases the comments were distilled from the range of experiences within the group – some parts of the target group may already perform well in this regard.

Messages to farmers and their organisations:

  • Make your voice heard. Be proactive; assess the impacts of policy on the ground as early as possible in the policy cycle; contribute positive solutions from the start. Project a vision of how Natura interest and farming vocation can be combined. Co-ordinate your message if possible – it strengthens it.
  • Remind other stakeholders that you need to be the focus of policy in HNV areas but be as co-operative as possible.
  • Be not only politically aware but address the policy makers in their own language. In particular, recognise the funding limitations and argue within them.
  • Be open to new concepts/approaches and make the most of the opportunities offered. Always be looking for new ways of getting funding – don’t think others will do it for you.
  • Recognise that flexibility is desired by most stakeholders but limited by legal obligations.

Messages to environmental NGOs

  • Get a detailed understanding of economic reality on the ground – a positive future for HNV farmland is about socio-economic factors as well as the details of management practices. Policy integration needs to be central to your vision from the start.
  • You need to ask yourself what change is acceptable – ‘fossilisation’ is not an option – but then really push for it to be delivered. Decoupling is a real threat, but it could be a big opportunity
  • Farmers are hard working people and experts in their own area – use considerate and humble language and address farmers’ concerns. There has been progress in this regard and it is appreciated.
  • Give farmers credit where it’s due – recognise publicly their contribution to the present-day Natura interest and indeed to non-designated High Nature Value farmland. Be a help to the farmer in getting recognised and in managing positively, not a hindrance.
  • Press for positive payments for farmers
  • Always look for the community of interest – look for chances to bridge the gap of understanding
  • Strengthen the hand of environmental administrators and HNV farmers by being vocal in ongoing support as well as on those occasions when criticism is warranted.

Messages for conservation administrators

  • Describing the Natura sites’ management requirements is primarily your responsibility – do the homework and take the lead!
  • Decline of farming in farming-related Natura sites has to be your concern – the extinction of certain HNV farming systems should be serious concern to you
  • If the situation is urgent, show urgency. It is urgent on most HNV farmland.
  • Funding follows a 5-year timetable – you must organise your research and policy work to best tie into that cycle
  • Don’t antagonise – work co-operatively with farmers and with Agri Ministries. It’s obvious, but don’t forget to speak to farmers on Natura sites.
  • Remember you also should be objective-led – make your resources work on the ground.
  • Designation often seems to be seen as a threat. Don’t give the impression that you are always coming with bad news or indeed allow your own organisation to depress you – make your own good news and farmers and NGOs will do some of your work for you
  • Make sure you have people with farming knowledge on your staff – some of them should smell of cows!
  • Local staff know a lot about local issues – dialogue with HQ needs to be 2-way
  • Both nationally and in the Commission – don’t forget the non-Natura nature conservation interest. Natura sites exist in a wider countryside – they can’t work as islands of positive management. That means that you can’t ignore what happens around them.

Message to agricultural administrators

  • Decline of farming in farming-related Natura sites is not just to do with conservationists. It’s also your business – extinction of certain farming systems should be a serious concern to you and incompatible with your Rural Development Strategies
  • You must play your role, not least since you have most of the money – once environmental agencies have identified management needs, it’s for you to deliver the measures to farmers in co-operation and consultation with other actors at all stages in the process. The Commission needs to ensure this involvement.
  • If the situation is urgent, show urgency. It is urgent on most HNV farmland.
  • Rural Development policy needs to have higher objectives than merely maintaining the status quo – but you really need to believe that redistribution/retargeting is necessary.
  • Farmers are paying for society’s gains, both nationally and internationally in the WTO. Agriculture and rural development policy has as good a record of results as many other policy areas - you need to be better at promoting the benefits of your policies.
  • Learn about Natura sites and farmers’ role in them – take ownership. You think that you understand farmers better than other agencies - then you need to prove it on Natura and other HNV farmland. Financially you are best placed to make Natura 2000 a positive thing.
  • Local targeting & objectives, prescriptions, payment rates are highly desirable – easy administration and easy reporting to Brussels have to be balanced by efficient delivery of objectives on the ground.
  • Natura sites exist in a wider countryside – they can’t work as islands of positive management. That means that Rural Development policy has to be holistic on a landscape scale.

The summary ‘Big Messages’ to all stakeholders from the meeting

  • Natura 2000 designation must ensure the sustainability of both the “Community Interest” AND the viability of the agricultural community and its management of the land, addressing environmental, economic and social aspirations
  • To achieve that the Commission must ensure real involvement by all actors in Natura management but also insist that they identify the specific funding required in Rural Development Plans.
  • Engaging young people should be a key concern.
  • Natura sites exist in a wider countryside – they function within larger scale farming and ecological systems.
  • Everything has it’s cost – if you say you don’t have the funds to support biodiversity, then you’re consenting to losing it.

1) The sharing of responsibilities

The first issue to cause debate centred on the particular role of conservation agencies in the process of ensuring that Natura sites are positively managed. Some stakeholders felt that of all the different groups with an interest in HNV farming on Natura sites, it is the environmentalists which have the technical knowledge on the conservation value of the site, whether or not it is in a healthy state, and what aspects are deficient. Without that knowledge being spelled out there is no way to embark on the next steps, of looking at socio-economic or technical issues, working towards changes in management, designing incentives and so on. And of all the various environmental groups, it is only the administrators who have the legal duty to do this.

Some of the conservation administrator stakeholder group felt that they had done their best and that they should not be held responsible for the failings of other parts of the chain, such as agriculture ministries. The farmers accepted this and stressed that they were not putting the responsibility for the whole process on the conservation administrators, but that nevertheless they had a specific role.

However other members of their group rejected the very idea that they had specific duties which flowed from their specific expertise – they insisted that the basic truth of Natura being ‘everyone’s responsibility’ was fundamental and they had no more duty than anyone else. The organisers’ view is that an analogous situation might be a workshop on chronic disease. While all have a shared responsibility for health – the public for their own well-being; schools for education; social services for helping the needy – it would surely be inconceivable for medical researchers and doctors to use that truism as a reason or excuse for not spelling out clearly what they knew about clinical needs and the causes of disease.

The organisers asked the conservation administrators who would be to blame if they took no action to highlight sites’ needs and they were found to have deteriorated at the next stage of monitoring. Some felt that it was ‘everyone’s fault’ or the ‘Government’s fault’. The organisers call therefore on DG Environment to remind Governments of their responsibilities and for Ministers to spell out the division of duties between the various agencies in various countries.

2) Natura sites and the wider countryside

The second issue to be discussed at some length in effect concerned the ecological and policy context of Natura. There were a number of separate, but to some extent overlapping, concerns:

  1. That Natura areas are functionally part of the wider countryside in their immediate vicinity. From the farming perspective, an example was given of SACs in the Sierra de Gredos in Spain where the boundary has been set along a particular contour which has no meaning in terms of management by local herders. An example from an ecological perspective is that of SACs for marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) on the Scottish island of Islay which cover only a small portion of the areas known to be used by the local metapopulation(s). How should policy address these realities?
  2. That at a wider scale, Natura sites are only a sample of the coverage of a habitat or of the range of the species (the proportion varies in different Member States, with the UK, for example, selecting only some of the best examples of most of the qualifying taxa and biotopes). The management of the wider countryside even at a considerable distance from the site remains vital to the ecological health of the species or habitat at a European scale. To use a UK example, Natura sites for golden eagles or blanket bogs cover only a small proportion of the pairs of birds and area of habitat present respectively. How should policy address this in turn?
  3. That the selection of Natura sites in most countries involved an element of “administrative” or “political” filtering” – they are not a purely scientific selection - so that concentrating funding on the designated areas does not even meet the intended targets of the Directive. An apparent example is the unwillingness in Ireland to designate further SPAs for corncrake (Crex crex; BirdLife Ireland, pers. comm.). How can we make failure to designate less important for the habitats and species concerned?
  4. That the countryside is not divided neatly into areas of high value designated Natura sites and other, low biodiversity, areas. The concept of High Nature Value farmland as something wider than Natura was meant to encapsulate the biodiversity value of at least some undesignated areas. How should policy reconcile the demands of both designated and undesignated sites to achieve the wider goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 and of managing a significant proportion of [all – Editor’s insertion] HNV farmland by 2008?
  5. That where a Natura site depends on farming as part of the management system, this farming must be socio-economically viable in order to survive in the medium to long term. It is questionable whether farming can be maintained only within Natura “islands” if the same farming in the surrounding countryside is in terminal decline. If the critical mass of farming in a territory falls below a certain level, people are unlikley to be attracted into the business, and highly subsidised farming “museums” devoid of any other economic motivation are unlikely to be sustainable.

There was a lively discussion. Point I was in theory easily covered in that the Directives are clear that on the one hand any potentially damaging plan or project and on the other any necessary positive mechanism which are relevant to the needs of the designated site fall under the legislation’s ambit, whether or not the areas concerned fall within the site boundary. In practice of course the question of financing which dogs the whole Natura issue makes this integration difficult.

Eventually we settled on the form of words given, but with the understanding that SEO (BirdLife in Spain) could not agree to it. Their point of view is summarised as follows:

Of course, what [the point] states is true, and could be applied to everything, as we are not isolated systems, persons, things... But two clarifications: first, it was not discussed during the seminar. And second, due to the financial constrictions we are living, it is very important to focus our efforts in the main areas. For us, this means Natura 2000. We are advocating proper funding for Natura sites and don't want to offer any confusing messages (or even anything that could be used in that way): SEO/BirdLife support prioritisation of Natura 2000 sites when it comes to spending Rural Development Funds. We think we explained this during the seminar and we would like to stress that we don't support any conclusions where this message is included, above all to avoid misunderstandings.

The organisers would make the following comments. First, although we feel that it was discussed during the meeting, it is certainly the case that informal exchanges after the plenary session made it clear that the disagreement was not due to a misunderstanding but to a fundamental difference in positions.

Second, the relationships with which we were concerned are not just at the level of general truisms – they are in many cases fundamental to the positive status of the species or habitat in question.

Third, the Natura network is not a wholly objective and completely ecologically meaningful set of sites. For one thing, it is a set of sites which relates to a subjectively selected list of habitats and species – a list which has a much better coverage of some species groups (such as birds) than for others. Implementation brings other influences to bear. Knowledge of distribution and status is patchy for some taxa – for these the network may well be deficient. Knowledge of ecology is also sometimes lacking – we know of examples where tiny parts of sites used by metapopulations of butterflies have been designated, for example. And lastly, designation is a political act frequently opposed and successfully constrained by landowning or managing interests.

Fourth, the Natura sites which formed the subject of this workshop are not ‘wild’ areas, but are very dependent on the fate of farming and farming communities. Even though it is sensible to prioritise Natura sites when designing nature-conservation measures, it seems inconceivable to us that conservation administrations will have the funds to make these uniquely viable and vibrant islands in a wider sea of rural decline. So we cannot avoid the conclusion that not only the future of (to us) valuable undesignated HNV farmland but the future of the Natura sites themselves depend on the development of a positive, realistic, forward-thinking agricultural and rural development policy for marginal areas.

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European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism
Date: 2024/04/20
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