Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

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

Nature conservation in ecological focus areas


Sown and flowering field margin  (c) Thünen-Institut/Sarah Baum
Land use of environmental interest by ecological focus areas: Sown and flowering field margin. (© Thünen-Institut/Sarah Baum)

Nature conservation in ecological focus areas – practical handbook and scientific support

Within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy farms with more than 15ha arable land must manage 5% of their area as an ecological focus area. How were these areas used previously? How valuable are they for nature protection?

Background and Objective

Biodiversity in agricultural landscapes declines significantly. The recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union focuses on ecological aspects or on “greening”, respectively, of the first pillar (direct payments to farmers). Since 2015, farmers have to provide ecological focus areas (EFA). Farms with more than 15ha arable land have to declare 5% of this area as EFA. For national implementation, Germany could select from an extensive list of different EFA types. Some of them allow an agricultural usage (e.g., short rotation coppice, catch crops) and some do not (e.g., fallow land, landscape elements).

Currently, there is a controversial discussion on the ecological effectiveness of EFA. It is also disputed if the high administration and monitoring effort of these measures is proportionate. The European Commission will present its ideas for the further development of the CAP in late 2017. One focus will be the question how the CAP's contribution can be increased to tackle issuesrelated to the conservation of biological diversity as well as the protection of water, climate and soil. Based on this report, possible changes from 2018 onwards should be decided.

Within the framework of our project we will evaluate how effective ecological focus areas are for nature protection in the German agricultural landscape and give practical recommendations. We present options to improve the efficiency of the EFA.

Photo: Short rotation coppice (willow)
Short rotation coppice are eligible as ecological focus area. (© Thünen-Institut/Sarah Baum)
Photo: Flower strip along a grain field
Flower strips are an example for ecological focus areas. (© Thünen-Institut/Sarah Baum)

Target Group

Ministries of agriculture and environment, farmers, consultants, official nature conservation, agricultural administration, European Commission


In a first step we collect and evaluate already existing knowledge on the ecological quality of EFA and on the implementation in other European countries. In addition, we analyze legal and funding policy backgrounds.

Furthermore, plot-specific field studies as well as interviews with farmers are foreseen in four different arable farming regions in Germany to evaluate the ecological meaning of EFA under different site conditions. We will then develop a monitoring system for greening effects.

Based on the administrative data of the federal states it can be determined which EFA types are declared and on which environmental and operational conditions this choice depends. Further, we want to clarify to what extent already existing landscape structures are integrated and new ones created.

Data and Methods

The analysis of literature, studies and projects together with plot-specific field studies on flora and fauna, farmer interviews in different regions as well as the analysis of statistical data on EFA choice and declaration give us a comprehensive understanding of how EFA are implemented and how effective they are for nature protection. Based on this knowledge we can derive recommendations for policy and practice aiming at the most favorable relation of environmental benefits and costs.

Our Research Questions

How do farmers implement the new EFA regulations and what influences their decision?

What role do consultation and interactions with other instruments (agri-environmental and contract-based nature conservation measures, legal requirements) play?

What is the additional conservation value of the EFA implemented under the current conditions?

Which monitoring approaches are suitable for evaluating the nature protection quality of EFA?

What experiences are there in terms of administrational expenses and legal certainty?

How could the benefit of EFA be enhanced?

How can economically favorable options for farmers look in terms of creating benefits for nature protection at the same time?


The project should show how, besides political guidelines, operation- and region-specific factors influence the choice and implementation of EFA and their ecological effectiveness.

Links and Downloads

Roof project: Accompanying ecological research on the greening of the Common Agricultural Policy

Handbook on the optimatization of ecological focus areas with respect to biodiversity goals (German only)


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

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


4.2015 - 12.2016

More Information

Projekt type:
Project funding number: FKZ 3514824100
Funding program: BMUB - Umweltforschungsplan
Project status: finished

Publications to the project

hits: 5

  1. Nitsch H, Röder N, Oppermann R, Milz E, Baum S, Lepp T, Kronenbitter J, Ackermann A, Schramek J (2018) Ökologische Vorrangflächen: Gut gedacht - schlecht gemacht? Natur Landsch 93(6):258-265, DOI:10.17433/6.2018.50153583.258-265
  2. Nitsch H, Röder N, Oppermann R, Milz E, Baum S, Lepp T, Kronenbitter J, Ackermann A, Schramek J (2017) Naturschutzfachliche Ausgestaltung von Ökologischen Vorrangflächen. Bonn: BfN, 192 p, BfN Skripten 472, DOI:10.19217/skr472
  3. Lakner S, Röder N, Baum S, Ackermann A (2017) The German implementation of Greening - effectiveness, participation & policy integration with the agri-environmental programs : contributed poster to the XV EAAE Congress ; Towards Sustainable Agri-Food Systems: Balancing between Markets and Society ; Munich, Sept., 13th-15th, 2017. München, 12 p
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 723 kb
  4. Lakner S, Röder N, Baum S, Ackermann A (2017) What we can learn from the German implementation of greening - effectiveness, participation and policy integration with the agri-environmental programs ; Vortrag anlässlich der 57. Jahrestagung der GEWISOLA (Gesellschaft für Wirtschafts- uns Sozialwissenschaften des Landbaues e.V.) und der 27. Jahrestagung der ÖGA (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Agrarökonomie) "Agrar- und Ernährungswirtschaft zwischen Ressourceneffizienz und gesellschaftlichen Erwartungen", Weihenstephan, 13. bis 15. September 2017 Weihenstephan, 13. bis 15. September 2017 . GEWISOLA, 13 p
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 770 kb
  5. Nitsch H, Röder N, Oppermann R, Baum S, Schmarek J (2016) Naturschutzfachliche Ausgestaltung von Ökologischen Vorrangflächen : Praxishandbuch. Frankfurt am Main: IflS, 17 p