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Exchanging information and practical experience on payments for biodiversity achievements in agriculture

Find out about the latest thinking on existing results-based agri-environment schemes, their design, implementation and monitoring. Hear what practitioners have to say and exchange views on how to design and implement schemes in different parts of the EU. Register to receive updates and the latest research findings and to comment on posts.

Across Europe, agri-environment schemes provide important sources of funding to farmers to protect wildlife habitats on agricultural land. Results-based agri-environment payment schemes focus on paying farmers for the biodiversity outcomes that are achieved rather than rewarding them for specific management actions. This Blog has been created to exchange information and practical experiences on these approaches. It offers a platform on which findings and reflections from a research project can be shared. The project is managed by DG Environment; it was initiated and is funded by the European Parliament.

Want to know more about these schemes then read our blog posts or visit the web platform


Les Prairies Fleuries – France’s species-rich grasslands competition

Bees, botanists and biodiversity can boost dairy farming

When Berthus-Jans Bootsma moved to south west France from the Netherlands in 2005, he was amazed by the beauty of many of his flowering meadows. They had been farmed extensively for generations and it showed. There and then, he decided to try to manage them to maintain their natural beauty and the variety of species they supported.

In 2009, he asked a local ecological association to survey the fields, setting a benchmark for his work. Four years later, mainly to determine the pasture’s evolution, he entered the French “les Prairies Fleuries” competition. He’s since won first prize 2 years in a row for the quality of his meadows in the Parc Naturel Regional des Pyrénées Ariègeoise, where he runs 20 cows on 56 hectares of extensive pasture and uses 4 hectares to grow feed cereal.

The competition for France’s best grassland meadows first took place in 2007 in a remote part of the Northern Alps, the Bauges Massif. Today it has spread to the whole of France. Competitors display their grasslands to a jury composed of agronomists, ecologists, beekeepers, hikers, restaurateurs and farmers, each contributing their individual skills to the selection of the winner. The jury carries out detailed evaluations, using key indicator plant species, and rewards farmers who manage to achieve the best agri-ecological balance on species-rich meadows and pastures on dairy farms.


The contest was initially designed to test the implementation of a new style of agri-environment measure proposed by the Parc des Bauges. The “Flowering Meadows” contract, a results-based payment scheme, allows farmers to manage their grasslands as they please as long as they achieve specific ecological outcomes.

Many farmers like Berthus-Jan have found they benefit in many ways from this biodiversity based approach. They can choose when to mow their pastures and when to add natural fertiliser. The results they seek are multiple, achieving a balance between productivity and biodiversity which leaves them feeling both proud and autonomous. Berthus-Jan is convinced, as are many, that the quality and taste of their milk is improved by grazing cows on species- rich meadows. This not only improves the taste of their cheese and other products such as yogurt, but also helps with marketing. Consumers feel greater confidence in a product that respects the environment and contributes to biodiversity. Increasingly, consumers are keen to buy products from outside agri-industrial systems.

Cheese rounds

Results-based measures such as this help show how, with special knowledge and techniques, species-rich grasslands can boost biodiversity, sustain themselves and have a positive effect on farm income.

The “Concours Prairies Fleuries” has become a national event and is now part of the prestigious Concours Général Agricole, putting biodiversity outcomes on a national pedestal. It has also helped to bring together scientists, farmers and environmentalists – groups that had traditionally been wary of each other in France.

What future do you anticipate for such schemes across Europe? Please share your experiences of similar competitions or results-based payment schemes.

What makes schemes work from farmers’ perspectives

For those of you who could not join the RBAPS conference in Brussels at the end of September and for those who did and have more to say, we would like to encourage your contributions to the discussion we had on identifying what works from a farmers’ perspective.
The discussion focused particularly on:
– how best to engage farmers in results-based schemes,
– what makes a scheme attractive, and
– the nature of the advice and support needed.



What appeals to farmers?

Farmers in the room argued that a results-based scheme needs to appeal to a farmers’ sense of pride and responsibility. Joining a scheme must be perceived as more than having to comply with scheme requirements. If biodiversity can be viewed as a farm product this can generate a sense of pride in protecting or actively managing specific species and habitats.

The value of using labels and competitions to develop this sense of pride and responsibility among farmers was highlighted as well as its usefulness in spreading the word. The French “Prairies Fleuries” scheme, which hosts a major competition each year, has become popular with farmers in large part thanks to this competition. Involving the media and raising the profile of the biodiversity on farms with the general public, for example through local events and demonstration farms, were also considered important.

FR RBAPS farmer monitoring transect4 compressed


What makes a scheme attractive to farmers?

Participants stressed that all agri-environment schemes – not just those that are results-based- need to be voluntary and offer continuity (five to seven years commitment – or longer) to make them attractive. Important aspects of design for results-based schemes were identified as:

• Clarity about the scheme objectives, about how to achieve them and how they relate to the payment (including risk of non-payment).

• Freedom within the scheme to manage land and for farmers to take their own initiative and change management according to the situation.

• Stability and security in relation to the payment – there should be flexibility within the payment to adjust according to market fluctuations affecting the costs incurred by the farmer. Even with clarity about the associated risks of non-payment, a buffer to reduce the risk would make the scheme more attractive to farmers, for example having graduated payment levels depending on the level of results achieved.

• Fair payment in relation to the amount of work expected and requirements set out under other CAP payments. The payment should reflect the balance between effort and changes in management that are needed and include transaction costs.


What is important in terms of advisory support?

Participants noted that advisory support is often better accepted when given between peers, farmer to farmer. However, developing a sense of partnership between farmers, farm advisors and researchers was also seen as important and a good way of building greater commitment to achieving scheme objectives. One specific point emphasised was the need to integrate the advice from ecologists within the context of practical farming operations and to improve ecologists’ understanding of the realities of farming. Lastly, it was stressed that advice needs to be well-coordinated between government departments to avoid the risk of conflicting advice.

NL RBAPS farmers and RBAPS advisors working together compressed


What other factors do you think are needed to make results-based schemes work for farmers? We are keen to hear your views.

Payment calculations and controls

For those of you who could not join the RBAPS conference in Brussels last month and for those who did and have more to say, we would like to encourage your contributions to the discussion on these 3 topics:

  • – setting biodiversity objectives and determining results indicators
  • – calculating payment rates, verification and controls
  • – identifying what works from a farmers’ perspective

Here is your chance to add to discussions about calculating payment rates, verification and controls, an area which has been the subject of much discussion and confusion over the years.

What is the legal and policy framework?

Before getting into the discussion that took place at the conference let’s look at some of the basics about payment calculations.

When calculating payment levels for any agri-environment scheme authorities need to follow Article 28.6 of the EAFRD regulation (1305/2013) which requires that payments compensate beneficiaries for all or part of the additional costs and income foregone resulting from the commitments made, with up to an additional 20 per cent of the calculated premium (30 per cent for group applications) available for transaction costs. If necessary, an amount should be deducted from agri-environment-climate payments to exclude double funding of practices required under the ‘greening’ conditions applied to direct payments.

When calculating results-based payments, the European Commission advises that payments ‘should be based on the additional costs incurred and income foregone as a result of the farming practices which are in general necessary to achieve the results expected from these commitments.’ There are broadly three types of cost to be considered:

  • – the opportunity cost of maintaining current management where this already provides the biodiversity results;
  • – the income foregone by modifying management to improve biodiversity results that also reduces agricultural production from the land; and
  • – the additional costs of specific biodiversity management.

In terms of verifying results-based payments, the European Commission states that the measuring and control of results-based payment schemes should relate to the ‘delivery of the expected results and not the practices undertaken by the beneficiary to achieve these results’.

For schemes run under EAFRD rules for 2014-20 the basic principle for results-based schemes is that the payment controls verify that the result indicators have been achieved, using the methodology specified in the contract. The ability to verify results is therefore a major factor in selecting results indicators, setting result thresholds and designing measurement protocols – as discussed here.

The use of auctions or tendering processes is an alternative approach for determining payments. Although potentially useful for setting payments in the first instance, particularly in homogenous landscapes, participants at the conference noted that experience suggests that auctions can result in a ‘race to the bottom’ as farmers quickly learn how to bid. To mitigate such a risk, participants proposed that an auction approach would need to focus on maximising the quality of the output rather than cost minimisation. Questions were also raised about the applicability of auctions for heterogeneous situations across different landscapes and farming systems.

There was a lively discussion at the conference on how to make results-based payments attractive to farmers and what are the important elements in the design of verification and control systems. Highlights from the discussion are captured here:

How to make results-based payments attractive to farmers?

Key to the discussion around payments at the conference was how to make payments for results attractive to farmers and what issues should be considered. Suggestions included:

  • – Encouraging Member States to include farmers’ transaction costs within the payment calculation.
  • – Including the farmers’ costs of planning and control in the payment – either as a transaction cost or in the main calculation.
  • – Ensuring that the payment is attractive compared to alternative CAP schemes.
  • – Emphasising the quality of the outcome and not just the cost.
  • – Offering options within the scheme to include payments for non-productive investments where biodiversity investments are needed, such as habitat restoration.

What are the important elements in the design of verification and control systems according to participants?

It is important to remember that the measuring and control of results-based payment schemes should relate to the ‘delivery of the expected results and not the practices undertaken by the beneficiary to achieve these results’. Important elements identified include:

  • – Time control inspections to individual farms to ensure results indicators are measurable.
  • – Ensure that the controls are uncoupled from the payment calculation.
  • – Encourage self-assessment, for example by providing farmers with good documentation with photos of results indicators such as flowers.
  • – Remember that self-assessment is additional to formal controls and can be important to facilitate farmers’ understanding of the control methodology. Self-assessment is not a replacement for formal controls.
  • – Remote sensing can be beneficial but is not a solution everywhere – for example, field visits are required for semi-natural vegetation and extensively managed land.

FR RBAPS species ID tool

What other factors might be important to farmers? What other elements might be important for checking and controlling payments? please post your ideas below.

Workshop – What can Sweden learn from German results-based schemes?

The inclusion of results-based payment schemes in agriculture is certainly not a ‘new’ concept with schemes and trials running since the late 1980’s. Yet we are beginning to see more Member States and regions looking at how results-based approaches can help to improve biodiversity conservation in agriculture and overcome some of the challenges seen with more conventional management-based approaches.

On 12November, in Sweden, the AgriFood Economics Centre in collaboration with the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA) will host a day long workshop to discuss the possibilities and challenges of introducing result-based systems in Sweden by drawing on experiences from Germany, where such systems have been implemented on a regional scale. The workshop will bring together leading experts in this area, including Dr Rainer Oppermann from the Institute for Agro-ecology and Biodiversity (IFAB) who is engaged in the research for DG Environment which supports this blog.

It will be interesting to see the outcomes of the workshop and whether results-based approaches will start to feature in other types of agricultural systems in Sweden, beyond the protection of large carnivores, as they do currently.

For more information about the workshop contact the AgriFood economics centre

If you know of any other events addressing results-based schemes please share them with us in the comments section.

State-of-the-art thinking on results-based schemes

On 23-24 September we will be hosting an interactive conference in Brussels to share understanding and knowledge about results-based payment schemes across EU Member States and EFTA countries.

Ninety participants will attend this two-day event from a diverse range of stakeholders, representing 25 EU and EFTA countries across the farming and environment communities along with national authorities and other institutional bodies. Over the course of the two days participants are invited to discuss the value of results-based payment schemes for the delivery of biodiversity and wider environmental and agronomic benefits, and contribute towards the identification of key issues for successful design and implementation. In addition to presentations from seminal experts on the topic, participants are invited to engage in targeted debate through a panel discussion and breakout sessions.

Photo - conf 2

The conference programme is available on the results-based agri-environment payment schemes webpages and we will be posting information live from the event through twitter (#rbaps). The presentations and outcomes of the conference will be made available via the project platform and we hope that the discussion will continue here on our blog!

What are results-based schemes?

What are results-based schemes and how do they differ from other approaches?

Results-based payments are agri-environment type schemes where farmers and land managers are paid for “delivering” an environmental result or outcome, for example enabling or enhancing the presence on their land of specific breeding birds, butterflies or important flowers found in grasslands. In these schemes, farmers can choose what management is required to achieve the desired result, rather than being required to carry out specific management actions.

Of course, all agri-environment schemes are designed to deliver environmental results; they succeed in this to varying degrees. What defines a results-based scheme is that payments are made where a specific result is indeed achieved, making a direct link between the payment and the delivery of biodiversity or other environmental results on the ground. There are a wide variety of approaches to implementing results-based schemes in practice. Our study has identified a few so called “pure” results-based schemes where farmers receive a payment for a biodiversity outcome independent of what management practices they use.  However, most of the schemes we have come across in this study are what we call “hybrid schemes” where farmers are paid partly for the successful delivery of biodiversity results and partly for adhering to defined management practices or carrying out specific actions.  Sometimes a results-based payment may be offered as a top-up to payments for carrying out specific management actions.

What benefits do they bring?

Focussing payments on achieving results rather than on following a set of management actions offers farmers the flexibility to use their knowledge and experience to manage the land in a way that benefits both biodiversity as well as their normal farming operations.

In so doing results-based payment schemes often lead to an enhanced awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation and protecting environmental resources as part of their agriculture systems.

How are schemes implemented and funded?

Results-based schemes can be funded in a variety of ways. Existing schemes are funded through public funding such as the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), national or regional funds, as well as private initiatives. They can be implemented through collective approaches, such as in the Netherlands, involve local or indigenous communities, such as the Sami reindeer herders in Sweden, or via individual farmers and land managers. Central to all of these approaches is engaging the knowledge of farmers in managing their land in a way that helps to improve biodiversity delivery as well as other environmental outcomes on the ground alongside their other agricultural activities.

Where can they be found?

There are already a number of results-based approaches operating in the EU and beyond. A variety of schemes can be found in different regions of Germany. France champions a grassland based scheme called “Prairies Fleuries” and an interesting scheme aimed at large mammalian carnivores can be found in Sweden. To explore numerous other EU schemes visit our dedicated inventory or read more in the expert articles on our web platform.

What do you think of paying farmers for achieving biodiversity results rather than only paying for specified management practices? What might be the benefits of this approach? Please post your comments below.

RBPS map

Sharing agri-environment knowledge

Results-based agri-environment schemes – a new project to share knowledge

This project – initiated and funded by the European Parliament and managed by DG Environment – brings together information and experiences from across the EU and beyond on agri-environment type schemes that have been designed to focus on paying farmers, other land managers or local communities for the biodiversity results they deliver. A number of different ways of going about this have been trialled in different countries and these are brought together in an online inventory, explaining their aims, the way they work and what they have achieved so far. In reviewing these schemes, the research team have spoken with many farmers as well as the people who designed and implement the schemes to find out their main benefits and where they are appropriate and where not as well. Key factors of success and barriers to implementation have also been identified.

The project is generating a range of materials to help those interested in developing results-based agri-environment schemes. You will be able to find a practical handbook providing guidelines on how to go about designing a results-based scheme, from design to implementation to monitoring and evaluation. A series of videos have been produced to demonstrate how these types of schemes are operating in different countries, showing examples of good practice and including views from farmers and those running the schemes.

On 23-24 September a conference will be held in Brussels to showcase the range of results-based schemes already existing in the EU and to discuss ways that this type of approach might become more widespread in the future. Information on this and all presentations will also be available on our web platform.

If you are interested in results-based approaches for delivering biodiversity outcomes, already involved in a scheme or thinking about developing one, we would love to hear from you. Please join our community by contributing to this blog and/or visiting our platform. You might also let us know if there is anything additional you would like to see on this site? If you are still a little confused about how these schemes differ from other agri-environment schemes read the next blog post which should shed some light on this.