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Could do Better! Why EU Rural Development Policy is failing to reach its biodiversity potential New study reveals poor implementation undermining a biodiversity friendly policy


07 May 2009


Climate & Environment
Sustainable Dev.

Could do Better!
Why EU Rural Development Policy is failing to reach its biodiversity potential

New study reveals poor implementation undermining a biodiversity friendly policy

Brussels 7 May 2009 – Today, BirdLife International [1] and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), with the support of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, launched their new study at a well-attended event in Brussels. The study, ‘Could do Better, How is EU Rural Development Policy delivering for biodiversity’, reviews the potential effects on biodiversity of the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programmes across the European Union – and underlines the need for fundamental agriculture policy reform for the post 2013 period.

At the event BirdLife blamed national governments for not using the environmental opportunities the Rural Development Policy provides.

The main findings of the report show that, although EU Rural Development policy has the potential to tackle the decline of biodiversity, only a very small proportion of current Rural Development spending is benefiting Europe’s nature, while many potentially harmful investments such as irrigation expansion, drainage and extension of road networks, are still funded without appropriate safeguards.

If the Rural Development policy is to genuinely benefit EU wildlife, then much better implementation is needed by Member States. Funds must be channelled to efficient schemes based on scientific data instead of meaningless schemes designed mostly to please particularly powerful farm lobbies. There is also a need for detailed and explicit environmental safeguards such as proper impact assessments for all investments in order to prevent the depletion of water resources, increased carbon emissions, increased soil sealing and fragmentation or degradation of habitats.

Ariel Brunner, Senior EU Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife International, stated: “Rural development is the way forward for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). When implemented well it can help solve many of the huge problems we face in the countryside, like soil degradation, wildlife decline and climate change. The problem is that at the moment, national implementation is often shameful: many governments seem more interested in channelling money to well-connected farm lobbies than they are in delivering on their own stated objectives”.

The presentation of the study was followed by a lively panel debate, which included Martin Scheele from DG Agriculture, Klaus Stern from the European Court of Auditors, Ariel Brunner from BirdLife and Alexandre Meybeck from the French Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Ariel Brunner added: ‘Almost all Member States now have some good agri-environment schemes capable of saving our declining wildlife, but funding is still systematically biased in favour of ineffective schemes that are really just hidden income support for farmers. Both the Commission and national governments must make urgent and profound changes if Rural Development is to remain a credible model for public spending on agriculture”.

In the study, BirdLife presents a range of good and bad practice case studies. Good examples include schemes that pay farmers for conserving biodiversity-rich landscapes such as steppe-lands and dehesas (cork oak grazed woodlands) or to restore wetlands and grasslands. Among the negative examples are ill-designed schemes that pay farmers to plough up hilly slopes causing increased erosion (in Cyprus), use the same amount of fertilizer they would be using anyway (e.g. Finland) or to establish super-intensive olive plantations (in Spain). In some cases, Rural Development investments are actively subsidising environmental destruction as in the case of Portugal where 200.000 ha of biodiversity rich drylands are earmarked for conversion to irrigated farming with heavy impacts on threatened species and an exacerbation of unsustainable water use.


Ariel Brunner, Senior EU Agriculture Policy Officer, BirdLife European Division, Brussels,; Tel.: +32 2 280 08 30

Herlinde Herpoel, Media & Communication Manager, BirdLife European Division, Brussels,, +32 494 542 844

Notes for the editor

[1] BirdLife International is a global alliance of national conservation NGOs working in more than 100 countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them.
BirdLife International has supported the EU Birds Directive and its implementation since the very beginning more than 30 years ago. In this context BirdLife is a recognized authority for reference data on sites (Important Bird Area inventories) and species.

BirdLife’s study ‘Could do Better’ can be downloaded at:


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