Natura 2000 and Agriculture
A significant portion of the agricultural activities on the national territory falls within Natura 2000 sites. 50% of Europe’s land area of Natura 2000 consists of agricultural lands. Approximately 30% of the total Natura 2000 area in Italy is farmland.
It follows that the management of Natura 2000 cannot be active without the contribution of the agricultural sector. However, farmers often do not know that they operate within a Natura 2000 site or what the boundaries of the sites are or that they have the possibility to access to EU agricultural funds. The purpose of this document is to provide farmers operating within Natura 2000 sites with information on the measures financed by the CAP for the period 2007 to 2013 supporting N2000, on how to get funding, under what conditions and on the regional websites providing additional information.

The pillars of the CAP

The Common Agricultural Policy consists of two pillars:

Pillar I: it includes the agricultural market policies, in support of the agricultural production;

Pillar II: is the rural development policy in support of the socio-economic development of the rural communities.

The Common Agricultural Policy includes a number of measures financed by two European agricultural funds: the first one, the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), finances market measures and other measures, and the second one, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), finances the rural development programs.

One of the main objectives of the EU rural development policy is to “enhance the environment and the countryside by supporting the land management (including rural development actions related to Natura 2000).”

The purpose and scope of assistance from the EAFRD are defined by the Rural Development Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) n. 1698/2005) and subsequent amendments. The EAFRD operates according to a planning process:

  • The European Commission develops The Community Strategic Guidelines (CSG) for rural development policy, which draw a single and binding strategic framework for the rural development, and constitute the basis for national strategies and programs on rural development.
  • Member States develop a National Strategic Plan (NSP) which defines the strategies of the national agricultural policy ensuring coordination with the Community Strategy; it is a planning document containing measures and actions to be financed at national level.
  • Regions adopt the Rural Development Plans (RDP), which transfer at a regional level the Community priorities of the EAFRD; they are local plans containing detailed descriptions of each action and measure that can be financed.

The “Axis” of the EAFRD

The EAFRD is organized into four “Priority Axes” and such a structure is maintained in the NSP and the RDP:
Priority Axis 1: improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector
Priority Axis 2: improving the environment and the countryside by supporting land management
Priority Axis 3: quality of life in rural areas and diversification of the rural economy
Priority Axis 4: Leader.

Natura 2000 and the EAFRD

The EAFRD includes the following actions for Natura 2000:

Axis 2 Measures:
1. Natura 2000 compensation and payments, Art. 36, 38 and 46: compensation for costs and losses arising from restrictions imposed by the Habitats and Birds Directives in the areas concerned. It is paid annually per hectare of utilized agricultural area in the involved areas.
2. Non-productive investments, Art. 41: farm investments enhancing the public amenity value of Natura 2000 areas.

Axis 3 Measures:
1. Financing of Natura 2000 management plans, Art. 57.
2. Conservation and upgrading of rural heritage and tourism activities (Articles 56 and 57), such as:
* promotion of ecotourism, naturalistic and recreational opportunities, through support for youth cooperatives, production of promotional material, website creation, renovation of existing buildings to improve the reception, support to start rental business for tourists (mountain bikes, etc..); pilot projects directly involving farmers and foresters in biodiversity monitoring of Natura 2000 sites.

Axis 4 Measures:
The Leader, Art. 63, finances all kinds of actions by acting transversally to the objectives of the other axes. It provides EU funds to farmers and small/medium enterprises that submit territorial development strategies of a pilot nature, even through partnerships, to improve the use of natural and cultural resources. The paying institutions are the local action groups (LAGs) located in each region. Key actions in common to the other axes: preparation of management plans, in particular for Natura 2000 sites including agricultural activities for the definition of Natura 2000 payments, in high natural value areas; studies and raising awareness activities.

Natura 2000 and the NSP

The National Development Plan provides, in the priority objectives, for “Biodiversity conservation biodiversity, protection and dissemination of agro-forestry systems with high natural value”, and “Biodiversity conservation in rural areas (genetic, species and ecosystemic diversity)”.

Natura 2000 and the RDP

Different Italian Rural Development Programs include both measures aimed at Natura 2000, such as the Natura 2000 payments, and measures not directly targeted to the European ecological network, but including actions that may involve the Natura 2000 sites in which there is a high diversity of threatened species and habitats.
For example:
– Environmental improvement and conservation of the countryside for the maintenance, creation or restoration of “ecological infrastructure” (rows, groves, wooded strips, etc..)
– Restoration or planting of hedges, rows, bushes, groves; construction, maintenance or recovery of small overrun; creation of vegetated buffer strips along water courses; establishment and requalification of wetlands; crops for wildlife feeding; organic farming systems with crop rotations;
– Afforestation of agricultural land and forestry systems, restoration of forestry potential and introducing prevention actions aimed at strengthening of the protective role of woodlands.

Conditions under which funding can be obtained

Farmers receiving funding – as with all CAP funding – must meet a set of constraints introduced by the CAP reform in accordance with environmental standards.
The 2003 CAP reform, represents an important turning point for EU agricultural policies, moving from intensive agriculture to environmental concerns. The CAP introduces the “Decoupling” principle, the single payment scheme granted to farms regardless of production. On the base of Regulation 1782 of 2003 in order to be eligible to financing a farmer must meet the requirements of the “Cross Compliance” check list.

What is the “Cross Compliance”?

It is a set of environmental constraints that farmers who are beneficiaries of direct aid must meet. Funding is granted “provided that” the farmer applies the requirements, even for areas that do not receive any funding. The conditionality is divided into:

Statutory management requirements (SMRs): commitments, also called Acts, resulting from 18 EU environmental directives. Since 2005, farms within Natura 2000 sites must comply with the Acts A1 – conservation of wild birds and A5 – habitat conservation.

Good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC): different mandatory practices depending on the characteristics of farm and land, also called Standards, established at national and regional levels. They pursue 5 EC Objectives: protect soil through appropriate measures; ensure a minimum level of maintenance and avoid the deterioration of habitats; maintain soil organic matter levels through appropriate practices; maintain soil structure through appropriate measures; protect water against pollution and run-off, and manage the use of water.

Each Objective includes a set of standards, as for example temporary drainage ditches on sloping land, management of stubble and crop residues; defense of ground structure through maintenance of surface water drainage; protection of permanent pasture, management of set aside land; maintenance of olive groves and vines in good vegetative condition; maintenance of landscape features.