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Europe’s wood pastures: condemned to a slow death by the CAP? A test case for EU agriculture and biodiversity policy

Written by Róbert Biró on Sept. 22, 2015

Policy seminar, 17 November 2015, room ASP 3E2, European Parliament, Brussels

Registration now open. Participants who don’t have a security pass for the Parliament building must register here by 10 November and bring the registered ID to the event. Please allow 30 minutes to clear security and reach the seminar room. Register here by 10 November!

Not all pastures are just grass. In many regions of Europe, actively grazed pastures are enriched by more diverse vegetation, including shrubs and trees, which provide additional forage for livestock and numerous environmental benefits. Pastures with trees are known as wood pastures, and comprise some of Europe’s most valuable agricultural landscapes.

Ranging from grazed woodland with complete tree canopy to grasslands scattered with irreplaceable ancient trees, these wood pastures are among the most valuable types of farmland for public goods. They are rich in biodiversity, carbon storage, soil protection, water management, aesthetic and cultural values. The exceptional environmental value of wood pastures is confirmed by the classification of some types as Habitats of Community Interest in Annex 1 of the EU Habitats Directive.

Wood pastures are genuine, productive farming landscapes, but the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) discriminates against them, as they are neither grasslands without trees nor completely closed forests, but rather, are structural gradients between these. Grazing is of crucial importance in their management. Trees and shrubs provide several ecosystem services in wood pastures, from provisioning services (such as fruits and firewood) to regulating services (such as their beneficial effects on grasslands and other ecosystem components, shadow for livestock) and aesthetic, cultural services (beauty, history, tree shape). These many values and services are not understood by designers and managers of the CAP, trees and shrubs being considered only as signs of land abandonment, or of non-productive farming, making it more difficult for this farmland to receive CAP direct payments. This is incentivising farmers to remove the trees and shrubs that make wood pastures so special and valuable, or to convert them to forestry use, or to abandon the pastures altogether.

This situation runs against the aims of EU environmental policies, especially the Biodiversity Strategy, and even to the newly “greener” vision of the CAP. How is it possible that the detailed policy machinery of the CAP runs against its own vision, to contribute to food security while maintaining the ecological and cultural resilience of farming landscapes? It is very clear that more work is needed in the policy details and implementation of the CAP. If this is not done urgently, the CAP may be condemning wood pastures to irreversible changes and a slow death... unless we react soon.  

This seminar will present case studies and discuss the effects of European policy on these treasures of the landscape, recommending policy changes to ensure their active management and conservation.

Programme: click here to dowload the programme

Organized by the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism, Pogány-havas Association and BirdLife Europe. 

With the support of SÓGOR Csaba MEP, Remarkable Trees of Romania, British Ecological Society Forest Ecology Group, Royal Society of Biology, DG ENV (European Commission), Trashumancia y Naturaleza and Arcadia Fund.

Opinions expressed here or during this event do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission or of other funders.