Institute of Rural Studies

Deputy Director


Anja Herkner

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Institute of Rural Economics

Deputy Director

  • NN

Effects of Ecological Focus Areas on achieving the biodiversity targets in agricultural landscapes


Phacelia cultivation as catch crop (c) Thünen-Institut/Sarah Baum
An example for Ecological Focus Areas is the cultivation of phacelia (also known as "friend of the bees") as catch crop (© Thünen-Institut/Sarah Baum)

Effects of Ecological Focus Areas on achieving the biodiversity targets in agricultural landscapes

Biodiversity in agricultural landscapes is experiencing significant decline. To counteract this, since 2015 some of the direct payments under EU agricultural policy have been subject to “Greening requirements”. Most farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land must use 5% of their arable land for environmental conservation and dedicate it as an Ecological Focus Area. Based on the results of the first OEVForsch project (2015-2016), this project OEVForsch2 will investigate the implementation and effectiveness of Ecological Focus Areas in the German agricultural landscape.

Background and Objective

In the agricultural landscape, strong declines in species and persistently high nutrient inputs into soils and water bodies are observed. In order to protect the environment and to meet European and global requirements for the protection of biodiversity, one of the goals of the EU Commission, with the latest reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was to establish a more environmentally friendly first pillar (direct payments to farmers). Up to then the voluntary agri-environmental measures, financed under the second pillar of the CAP, were applied relatively rarely in intensively used agricultural regions.

For this reason, most farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land have been obligated, since 2015, to designate 5% as Ecological Focus Areas (EFA). EU member states can select different types of EFA from a list drawn up by the EU for the national implementation. EFAs range from those that permit usage of the land (e.g., for nitrogen-fixing plants) to those on which no use is permitted (e.g., fallow land). In order to allow German farmers a high degree of flexibility, a large number of land use types can be designated as EFA.

The ecological effectiveness of the new regulation and the proportionality of the administrative and control costs are currently being discussed. Initial findings on the ecological effectiveness of EFA show that a large proportion of high-quality EFA (fallow land and stripes) were already present in farms, and that these EFA are more likely to be reported by large farms. As a result, species that are native to bushes and ruderal areas (e.g., whitethroat, marsh warbler, goldfinch) are benefiting, but not those that colonize the open agricultural landscape (e.g., skylark, yellow wagtail). The positive benefits of EFA for biodiversity depend not only on the type, but also on factors such as specific location, size, cultivation or care, adjacent areas and interconnectedness.

Target Group

Agricultural and Environmental Ministries; Farmers; Consultancy; Official Nature Conservation; Agricultural Administration, EU Commission


IACS data of the federal states on land use and operational indicators are analyzed with regard to:

  • the implementation and acceptance by farmers with regard to the different greening options over time and possible operational and local reasons for this;
  • a professional nature conservation assessment of the greening options based on their spatial location (area size, type of management, site characteristics, period of non-use, spatial context);
  • the development and understanding of how changes in the population of field birds are related to changes in agricultural land use.


Once the results gained have been assessed and discussed, they will be compiled into a report with policy recommendations. The report will focus on the ecological effectiveness of EFA, cost efficiency, administrative expense and the importance of accompanying instruments (consulting, agri-environmental measures).

Data and Methods

The implementation of EFA and their effectiveness in the German agricultural landscape will be investigated and monitored with the help of IACS data.

Within the framework of this project, the Institute for Agro-ecology and Biodiversity focuses on empirical ecological field research.

Our Research Questions

Does the provision of “Greening areas” change over time? How do farmers react to economic and natural conditions?

To what extent does a conversion from grassland to arable land take place in order to meet other greening requirements?

Has the acceptance of the combination of greening measures with agri-environmental and climate measures (AACM) increased?

How spatially stable are especially high-quality Ecological Focus Areas over time?

How is the spatial embedding of Ecological Focus Areas to be evaluated and how is the distribution?

What impact will the changes in greening resolved have on farmers’ professional decisions?

Is it possible to derive the effects of “Greening” from the German breeding bird monitoring?

Preliminary Results

The aim is to determine over the three-year project period, how “Greening areas” are developing and what effects they have. Furthermore, recommendations will be given on how the CAP and the ecological focus areas can be further developed in line with nature conservation requirements.

Links and Downloads


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)
    (national, öffentlich)


8.2017 - 12.2020

More Information

Projekt type:
Project funding number: FKZ 3517 84 0200
Funding program: BMUB - Umweltforschungsplan
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

hits: 3

  1. Pe'er G, Bonn A, Bruelheide H, Dieker P, Eisenhauer N, Feindt PH, Hagedorn G, Hansjürgens B, Herzon I, Lomba A, Marquard E, Moreira F, Nitsch H, Oppermann R, Perino A, Röder N, Schleyer C, Schindler S, Wolf C, Zinngrebe Y, Lakner S (2020) Action needed for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to address sustainability challenges. People Nature 2(2):305-316, DOI:10.1002/pan3.10080
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 316 kb
  2. Oppermann R, Chalwatzis D, Röder N, Baum S (2020) Biodiversität in der Gemeinsamen Agrarpolitik (GAP) der EU nach 2020 : Ergebnisse und Empfehlungen aus den Forschungs- und Entwicklungsvorhaben "Naturschutzfachliche Ausgestaltung von ökologischen Vorrangflächen" (OEVForsch I; 2015 - 2017) und "Wirkung ökologischer Vorrangflächen zur Erreichung der Biodiversitätsziele in Ackerlandschaften" (OEVForsch II; 2017 - 2020) [online]. Bonn: BfN, 11 p, zu finden in <> [zitiert am 18.08.2020]
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 1515 kb
  3. Röder N, Ackermann A, Baum S, Böhner HGS, Rudolph S, Schmidt TG (2019) Small is beautiful? Is there a relation between farmed area and the ecological output? - Results from evaluation studies in Germany : paper prepared for presentation at the 172nd EAAE Seminar "Agricultural Policy for the Environment or Environmental Policy for Agriculture?" ; May 28-29, 2019, Brussels. 15 p
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 589 kb