Farmers and environmentalists must work together to develop new models of agriculture and policies which will support these.
Both conservationists and farming policy have tended to adopt the approach of single use for any piece of land. This is the very opposite of the concept of sustainable use (usually implying multiple uses), adopted now by the EU and most countries around the world in the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The most influential NGOs, as well as national environmental agencies, have tended to promote nature reserve-type policies and prescriptions. These are important in their place. However, further approaches are required for farmland management at the landscape scale. Importantly, farmers often find these prescriptions illogical in the context of their own knowledge and understanding of their farming systems and enterprises. There is undoubtedly a need for more farmer involvement in the development of schemes. This is because a belief in the relevance of programmes will significantly improve take-up, and the practical knowledge of farmers could increase their success.
Conservationists tend to base assessments of priorities on material worth: for example, more species or rare species. The material approach tends not to take into account the functional importance of a system. This can be considered as having two aspects: (1) ecological functioning, e.g. providing habitat for plants, invertebrates, wild grazing animals, their predators etc.; and (2) as part of functioning agricultural systems – important for domestic livestock and the annual farming cycle – and which interacts with ecological functioning, minimising the need for special (and expensive) management intervention.
When extensive pastoral management of farmland of high biodiversity is replaced with highly prescriptive, compartmentalised management aimed at individual species, fundamental changes to the landscape and the biological character can occur. It involves no ecological accountability with respect to overall farmland biodiversity nor other, less conspicuous species. Importantly it gives the wrong signals to farmers, namely that traditional management has to be replaced to make it of environmental value, and promotes a system of management which is not sustainable. There remains a pressing need to improve the knowledge and communication skills of those giving environmental advice to farmers.