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Monday, 22 October 2012

Towards Effective Nature Conservation on Farmland: Making Farmers Matter

The agri-environmental programme of the European Union is the key policy tool for achieving environmental protection in agricultural landscapes, including the maintenance of biodiversity in Europe. In short the EU’s Agri-Environment Schemes, pay farmers to manage their land for the benefit of particular habitats and species. The average annual expenditure 2007-2013 from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) reaches €3.3 billion.

In our review paper published in Conservation Letters we argue that standard incentives for environmentally friendly farming-practices are often inefficient and demotivating. Farmers are paid to apply some simple measures following prescribed procedures that are often not tailor-suited to the local conditions, and often fail to deliver tangible results. This way the payments reinforce a money oriented culture and disqualify farmers as professionals through activities, in which skills and traditional knowledge are not utilized.

In our review we highlight that:
- offering financial incentives for performing behaviours can lead to previously intrinsically motivated behaviours becoming financially motivated;
- payments should be constructed in a way that leads to creation of cultural (skills and knowledge) and social capital (i.e. access to shared peer group resources) so that knowledge of conservation management becomes socially valuable;
- we should develop a better understanding of farmers and farmer cultures through applying frameworks from rural sociology (farming styles) and from social psychology (the Theory of Planned Behaviour).

Farming styles can be used to improve the effectiveness of AESs by contributing to the creation of customised support packages that appeal to the characteristics and attitudes of targeted farming styles. The Theory of Planned Behaviour might be a particularly useful approach in this context. This theory proposes three key components influencing behaviour (attitudes toward the behaviour, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural) that are predicted by specific beliefs and evaluations about the outcomes of behaviour (for the attitude), the different persons or groups who are relevant to the person (for subjective norm) and the potential skills, opportunities, and barriers one thinks are relevant for performing the behaviour (for perceived behavioural control).

We are not pleading for a complete withdrawal of financial rewards for conservation behaviour. However, there already is some evidence that switching to a ‘payment by results’ approach, may also deliver environmental benefits and be associated with more enduring social and cultural changes. The intended result is that, unlike conventional schemes, farmers are encouraged to engage with conservation and need to innovate and to cooperate to achieve greater financial reward. Result-oriented schemes thus create common goals between farmers and conservationists, enable productivity comparisons with conventional farming products, and lead to the creation of cultural (skills and knowledge) and social capital (i.e. access to shared peer group resources) as knowledge of conservation management becomes socially valuable.

A complementary approach that would help to reinforce the “payments by results” approach is to influence social networks within the farming community. Benchmarking instruments may be useful and encourage farmers to exchange experiences and learn from each other. This may lead to normative pressure to keep up with others who are doing better and may create a culturally embedded social change.

Finally, we argue that as in many other fields of the multidisciplinary science of Conservation Biology, also regarding farmland biodiversity, close involvement of social scientists with their expertise, theories and methods is a prerequisite for optimal progress in the field. They can contribute to place farmland biodiversity in the hands and minds of farmers.

Geert R. de Snoo, Irina Herzon, Henk Staats, Rob J.F. Burton, Stefan Schindler, Jerry van Dijk, Anne Marike Lokhorst, James M. Bullock, Matt Lobley, Thomas Wrbka, Gerald Schwarz, C.J.M. Musters. 2012. Towards Effective Nature Conservation on Farmland: Making Farmers Matter. Conservation Letters, accepted.

Authors and addresses

Geert R. de Snoo – 1) Leiden University, Institute of Environmental Sciences, P.O. box 9518, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands; 2) Wageningen University, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, P.O. box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands

Irina Herzon - University of Helsinki, Department of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. box 27 Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:

Henk Staats – Leiden University, Institute for Psychological Research, P.O. box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, NL

Rob J.F. Burton - Centre for Rural Research, N-7491 Trondheim, Norway

Stefan Schindler – 1) University of Vienna, Department of Conservation Biology, Vegetation & Landscape Ecology, Rennweg 14, A-1030 Vienna, Austria; 2) CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Campus Agrário de Vairão, Universidade do Porto, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal

Jerry van Dijk - Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences, Department of Innovation and Environmental Sciences, P.O. box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands

Anne Marike Lokhorst - Wageningen University Communication Strategies, P.O. Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen, The Netherlands

James M. Bullock - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Benson Lane OX10 8BB Wallingford, United Kingdom

Matt Lobley - University of Exeter, Centre for Rural Policy Research, Rennes Drive EX4 4RJ Exeter, United Kingdom

Thomas Wrbka - University of Vienna, Department of Conservation Biology, Vegetation & Landscape Ecology, Rennweg 14, A-1030 Vienna, Austria. E-mail:

Gerald Schwarz - Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, Institute of Farm Economics, Bundesallee 50, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany

C.J.M. Musters - Leiden University, Institute of Environmental Sciences, P.O. box 9518, 2300 RA Leiden, Th


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