Project details

Development of a set of criteria for the assessment of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) with respect to biodiversity conservation and landscape

The study dealt with the interrelationships between farming and biodiversity, the question of the integration of agricultural and environmental goals, and the definition of codes of ‘Good Agricultural Practice’ (GAP). The starting point is the term GAP, which is used often among policy makers, agricultural scientists as well as among practitioners. Much less frequently it has actually been defined in a clear way and in operational terms. Even the concept of what precisely is supposed to be described with the term GAP differs. Sometimes its use relates to a sort of minimum standard of environmental compatibility which should be achieved; it can also relate to an ‘optimum’ way of farming in terms of environmental and economic goals.

The main aim of the study presented in this report was to contribute to a clearer definition of GAP from the point of view of nature conservation by reviewing and systematically compiling the information available on the relationships between biodiversity and agriculture. The study focuses on the situation in Germany. Central questions are: What do ecologists actually know about the minimum requirements of flora and fauna in agricultural landscapes? What do they know about the impacts of different agricultural land use patterns and practices? How are minimum requirements defined?

To conceptualise and to put biodiversity objectives into concrete form is much more difficult than to define standards that refer to abiotic resources. All forms of modification of natural conditions may directly or indirectly affect species of flora and fauna; and a given farming activity may have contrasting effects on different species. Standards that refer to abiotic resources are more straightforward. Impacts of agriculture on biodiversity depend on the particular patterns of agricultural production and management. However, there are hardly any simple linear relationships between patterns of agricultural land use and biodiversity. Different ecological processes affect species distribution, and all forms of modification of natural resources may lead directly (e.g. by pesticides) or indirectly (e.g. by eutrophication) to the destruction of natural habitats and a reduction of biodiversity. At the regional level, the type of agriculture (i.e. intensive arable crops, dairy farming, pig raising etc.) is the main determinant. Patterns of field size, land cover and types of field boundaries, all control – one way or another – biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. At the farm level, the organization of land use (e.g. the crop succession within the farming system, maize versus grassland etc.) is a key factor. At the field level, the different practices used by farmers determine habitat quality and, hence, species presence or abundance. One consequence is that the definition of tolerance thresholds needs to be spatially differentiated. Stricter codes will need to be defined in certain highly focused ecological zones in order to promote site-specific and result-oriented adjustments to a greater extent.

It is concluded that the spatial differentiation of GAP should be co-ordinated with relevant parts of spatial (or regional) planning, land use and landscape planning. The priorities formulated in regional (landscape) models provide the reference basis for the definition of GAP. Such models need to be developed and agreed on at the regional and local level. The study has two major results: First, a data bank with detailed information on the connections between biodiversity and agriculture (studies, data, cross-references); and second, an overall concept for including biodiversity objectives in the definition of codes of GAP.

Recommendations are made with respect to amendments of relevant legislation with suitable criteria and reference levels that relate specifically and directly to biodiversity requirements. The use of agri-environmental programmes (AEP) and the complementary application of cross-compliance are discussed as adequate means of pricing the environment. In the recommendations, different levels of policy formulation and implementation are distinguished. It is stressed that the precision of the information available as well as of the environmental objectives formulated for a certain spatial unit (country, region, field) determines the possible precision in the definition of GAP. It is emphasized that rough guidelines ought to be formulated at the higher (national) level while at the lower (Laender, regional, local) level a more precise definition of environmental goals is possible. Environmental standards and eco-audits for farms are referred to as the providers of access to payments for environmental quality (and maybe even for other payments not directly related to the environment). Result oriented approaches are seen as advantageous in this respect because farmers are more concerned with environmental improvements instead of just fulfilling management restrictions. Farmers are also in a position to decide on the most cost-efficient measures for achieving environmental goals. More applied research work is suggested relating to ways of combining agricultural quality production with care of the countryside and biodiversity.

Project no.: 



Conception | Agricultural policy |


Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)



Contact person/s at IfLS: 

Jörg Schramek