NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Europe's "Green" Farm Subsidies May Be Wasted

October 17, 2001

Up to a billion Euros spent across the European Union on environmentally friendly farming each year could be going to waste. A Dutch scientist has found that a large "green farming" project in the Netherlands, designed to benefit wildlife, does not work. For 20 years, Dutch farmers have been paid to delay spring mowing of their grass fields until June, to encourage birds to nest and hatch their chicks in safety. Until now, nobody thought to check if the birds liked the idea. They don't, says David Kleijn of Wageningen Agricultural University.

Kleijn compared bird life on 78 fields managed in this way with nearby fields managed conventionally. He found "no positive effect on birds species diversity." In fact, most common birds nested less often. These included the oystercatcher and black-tailed godwit. The Netherlands is by far Europe's largest breeding ground for both species.

Kleijn believes the plan backfired because it fell into an "ecological trap." Birds avoided the eco-fields because the soils contained fewer earthworms because late mowing meant farmers were applying less nitrogen fertilizer to the fields.

Since 1992, the European Union has copied the Dutch plan for environmental management of farmland. A fifth of EU farms now participate, at a cost to the Common Agricultural Policy of an estimated 1.7 billion Euros. Kleijn believes many such initiatives will fail because the science underpinning them is flawed.

Source: David Kleijn et al., "Agri-environment schemes do not effectively protect biodiversity in Dutch agricultural landscapes," Nature, October 18, 2001.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues