The importance of low intensity farming for the conservation of biodiversity throughout Europe was acknowledged early in the 1990s when the concept of 'High Nature Value farmlands' (HNVf) was devised. HNVf has subsequently been given high priority within the EU Rural Development Programme. This puts a requirement on each EU Member State not only to identify the extent and condition of HNVf within their borders but also to track trends in HNVf over time. However, the diversity of rural landscapes across the EU, the scarcity of (adequate) datasets on biodiversity, land cover and land use, and the lack of a common methodology for HNVf mapping currently represent obstacles to the implementation of the HNVf concept across Europe. This manuscript provides an overview of the characteristics of HNVf across Europe together with a description of the development of the HNVf concept. Current methodological approaches for the identification and mapping of HNVf across EU-27 and Switzerland are then reviewed, the main limitations of these approaches highlighted and recommendations made as to how the identification, mapping and reporting of HNVf state and trends across Europe can potentially be improved and harmonised. In particular, we propose a new framework that is built on the need for strategic HNVf monitoring based on a hierarchical, bottom-up structure of assessment units, coincident with the EU levels of political decision and devised indicators, and which is linked strongly to a collaborative European network that can provide the integration and exchange of data from different sources and scales under common standards. Such an approach is essential if the scale of the issues facing HNVf landscapes are to be identified and monitored properly at the European level. This would then allow relevant agri-environmental measures to be developed, implemented and evaluated at the scale(s) required to maintain the habitats and species of high nature conservation value that are intimately associated with those landscapes.
Keywords: Agricultural policy; High Nature Value farmlands; Monitoring and evaluation frameworks; Rural development programmes.
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