A new toolkit to boost agricultural benefits from nature conservation is available

The European project “Resilient Farmlands: Promoting education to boost ecosystem services of farmlands” has ended. Since September 2019, Resifarms promoted knowledge exchange between the participating organisations, directly trained farmers, agricultural technicians and biodiversity technicians, elaborated training materials, improved the conservation status of semi-natural habitats on farms and raised interest on the farming benefits of biodiversity among different local actors.

Farming benefits of nature conservation

Semi-natural habitats, in contrast with crops, add complexity and maturity to farmlands. These properties allow the establishment and persistence of hundreds of different species including trees, shrubs, herbs, mammals, insects, birds or fungi that interact with each other in a myriad of ways.

Properly managing these habitats, both biodiversity and farm resilience can be improved. Among other benefits, semi-natural habitats can provide resources for pollinators or pest controllers, protect from water pollution, wind, floods or droughts, and prevent soil erosion.

Information on these benefits begins to be known by farmers and agricultural technicians, but they often do not have the tools and enough applied knowledge to implement the necessary conservation actions.

Hover fly larva attacking aphids. Hover flies are an interesting family of insects regarding pest control and pollination on farmlands, since larvae of some species prey on aphids and other plant-sucking insects, while adults of many species feed on nectar and pollen (Photo: Katja Schultz (CC BY 2.0)).

A toolkit for the conservation of semi-natural habitats in agricultural lands

The main output of the project is the toolkit for the conservation of semi-natural habitats in agricultural lands, in which more than 50 organisations collaborated to varying degrees. This toolkit focuses on the farming benefits of nature conservation and gives advice on the implementation of the most direct and effective conservation actions, with information, tips and references on how to evaluate and properly manage or create semi-natural habitats.

The toolkit contains a couple of introductory chapters about the positive and negative effects of agriculture on the environment, and the farming benefits of biodiversity. Then it includes ten tools, the first two devoted to seek help for nature conservation actions and to communicate these efforts. The six following tools cover the benefits and management of several semi-natural habitats: field margins, hedgerows, ponds and ditches, woods and tree lines, open spaces, and stone walls, terraces and farm buildings. The next tool covers landscape importance and management, and the last one is a template for recording conservation actions.

Four videos were also produced to complement the toolkit on the management of semi-natural habitats and farmers’ motivations and actions to conserve nature. The toolkit and videos are freely available on the project website in seven languages.

Resifarms toolkit cover. The toolkit for the conservation of semi-natural habitats in agricultural lands focuses on the farming benefits of nature conservation and gives advice on the implementation of conservation actions.

Training for farmers in five countries

The toolkit was used as a basis for the direct training of farmers, agricultural technicians and conservation technicians. More than 150 people, mainly farmers and technicians, were trained in Spain, France, Romania, Italy and the Czech Republic. The training sessions usually consisted of a theoretical part, which dealt with several tools, and a practical part on the management of semi-natural habitats in the field.

In addition, these training events provided feedback to improve the toolkit in order to better meet the needs of farmers.

Training session for farmers and agricultural technicians in Tuscany, Italy. The session started with a theoretical part following toolkit content, and then participants visited a farm to discuss semi-natural habitats management in the field (Photo: Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina).

Dissemination activities

Five sessions were held, one per country, to disseminate the results of the project among local stakeholders. These sessions gathered a total of more than 150 attendees. In addition, more than 50 volunteers participated in conservation actions to improve semi-natural habitats on farmlands.

Session to disseminate the results of the project among local stakeholders in Transylvania, Romania. Around 35 people: farmers, local authorities, associations, cooperatives, and NGOs from the area attended the meeting (Photo: Fundatia ADEPT).

Project activities also included meetings in several countries, to foster collaboration and knowledge exchange between people linked to partner organisations, through discussion sessions and field visits to inspiring projects.

This project ended, but our work to promote synergies between agriculture and biodiversity will continue.

Project meeting and knowledge exchange event in Occitanie, France. Several people linked to partner organisations visited various farms which already implemented conservation measures, where they discussed the management of semi-natural habitats and toolkit improvements (Photo: XCN).

Project dissemination events are held in several countries

At the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 we organized several events to disseminate the results of the E + Resifarms project in different countries.

In the Czech Republic, Český Svaz Ochránců Přírody organised on September 3 and 4 a two-day multiplier event to communicate Resifarms results in Sloup, Moravia. In the first day, a presentation of the project, its objectives, activities, achieved goals and partner organisations was conducted, followed by a more detailed presentation of project outcomes. Participants watched the two finished videos at that moment, printed copies of the toolkit were available and several tools were discussed, and also the project website, where the Resifarms outputs are published, was shown. Other topics like practical experiences, feedback on the project, cooperation with farmers and associations of private farmers were discussed. In the second day, field trips for participants interested in suitable demonstration sites, emphasized the link to the project, with the main focus on open spaces.

Resifarms multiplier event in Sloup, Czech Republic (Photo: CSOP).

In France, during October 2021, CEN Occitanie organized two times of technical exchanges in the field, concerning the assessment of the conservation status of semi-natural habitats in Mediterranean agricultural context, as a basis for their conservation and management: hedges, isolated trees, grassy strips, barren land, ditches, ponds… Nearly 40 people took part, thus making it possible to share everyone’s knowledge and actions, approaches allowing wide mobilization and meeting the expectations of farmers, opening up to the services provided by these ecological corridors and to management practices making it possible to keep them. The meetings were carried out in Domaine de Mirabeau in Fabrègues and Domaine de Roquenégade in Val-de-Dagne.

Multiplier event in France - October 2021
Resifarms multiplier event in Occitanie, France (Photo: CEN Occitanie).

In Romania, Fundatia ADEPT organised on the 18th of January the multiplier event in Sighisoara, Transilvania. The meeting was attended by 35 people of the area, most of whom are farmers, but also local authorities’ representatives, local associations and cooperatives, and other NGOs active in the rural communities of the area. The event started with a presentation of the Resifarms project, and was followed by a summary of the toolkit developed under the project (the attendants also received a printed copy each), the visualization of the three videos filmed and edited by the date and a questions and answers session, where even new project ideas and manners to get the toolkit adopted by as many local farmers as possible were discussed. The event concluded over lunch, where the discussions continued.

Resifarms multiplier event held in Sighisoara, Romania (Photo: Fundatia ADEPT).

In Italy, Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina held the multiplier event on January 26th 2022. The event was jointly organized with the Municipality of Cerreto Guidi, who made available their library. Due to the Covid situation, 15 people attended face-to-face while 20 attended online. Some of the people attending online and the majority of those in person were farmers, while the rest were experts and other people interested in the project. The event was introduced by Cerreto’s assessor responsible for environment and agriculture. Cowaf presented the Resifarms results, in particular the toolkit, together with Resifarms’ partners XCN and CEN Occitanie (they attended online), and much highlight was given to synergies involving farmers-municipalities-conservationists. Ongoing experiences were further illustrated by Cowaf, Rete Semi Rurali (an umbrella organization of farmers’ associations), and Consorzio di Bonifica Medio Valdarno (a public body managing the Arno River). The event helped to disseminate practical information on the advantages of biodiversity and ecosystem services on farmlands, and allowed exchanges between attendees.

Resifarms multiplier event in Cerreto Guidi, Italy (Photo: COWAF).

In Spain, the dissemination event was held on February 18, in Riudarenes, and was jointly organised by Fundació Emys and Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura. It was opened by the Catalan Director General of Agriculture and Livestock, and then we presented the Resifarms results, paying special attention to the project toolkit. Later, a couple more projects working to improve semi-natural habitats on farms were invited to explain their objectives and actions, and the mayor of Riudarenes closed this part of the event. After it, a visit to Fundació Emys headquarters allowed participants to know the last actions the NGO implemented to improve ecosystem services and biodiversity, such as the creation and improvement of ponds or the improvement of hedgerows and tree lines. The event allowed the dissemination of practical tools to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services on farmlands, and the exchange between attendees.

Resifarms multiplier event in Riudarenes, Spain. Showing a recently created pond (Photo: XCN).

The E + Resifarms project is facing the final stretch

The third and final face-to-face meeting of the Erasmus + Resifarms project, which this time took place near Montpellier, took place between 9 and 11 November.

The coordinators of the six partner organisations of the project Fundació Emys, Fundatia ADEPT, Český Svaz Ochránců Přírody, Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels d’Occitanie, Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina and Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura), hosted by the Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels d’Occitanie, addressed the planning of the technical and economical aspects related to the project until next February, when it ends.

Visit to Mas de la Victorie, one of the states where CEN Occitanie advises producers near Montpellier (Photo: XCN).

Among the most relevant aspects covered were the development of the final version of the Toolkit for the conservation of semi-natural habitats in agricultural lands, and the organization of the latest face-to-face training sessions in farming in each of the countries as well as the last multiplier events of the project.

In parallel to the coordination meeting, between 9 and 12 November, it also took place near Montpellier the last training and exchange event of the project, where people linked to the partner organisations discussed the guide of the project and videos that complement it, to suggest improvements that will be incorporated into its final version.

Discussion of the project videos by the participants in the training and exchange event (Photo: XCN).

During the three days, both the coordinators and the participants in the training and exchange event visited several farms where producers apply measures for the conservation of semi-natural habitats, and where CEN Occitanie advises producers or collaborates in monitoring the biodiversity of the farm.

During these visits, each project could be known through the people who manage the farm, and it was possible to discuss measures for the conservation of semi-natural habitats and how these can benefit agricultural activity, discuss the suitability of the project guide as a tool for the management of specific habitats on the farms or the troubles and solutions in the management of farms, among other aspects.

Visit to Mas de Claparèdes, another of the agricultural states advised by CEN Occitanie near Montpellier (Photo: Fundatia ADEPT).

With these two activities, the Erasmus + Resifarms project is facing its final stages, with its latest training and dissemination activities, and with the preparation of the final version of the project guide.

The second face-to-face coordination meeting takes place in Romania

Last week, we conducted the third transnational coordination meeting of the project Erasmus+ Resifarms. This meeting, which was two-day long, was held in Transylvania region, in Romania, organized by Fundatia ADEPT and had the participation of the coordinating person of each one of the other five partner organizations of the project.

Fundatia ADEPT welcomed us to the village of Saschiz, where they have their headquarters, and showed us several areas where they work for the conservation of agricultural biodiversity and rural development in Transylvania. The attending organizations were: Fundatia ADEPT (Romania), Fundació Emys (Catalonia), Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels d’Occitanie (Occitania), Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina (Italy), Český Svaz Ochránců Přírody (Czech Republic) and Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura (Catalonia).

Coordination meeting in Romania - office
Coordination meeting in the Fundatia ADEPT headquarters (Photo: Fundatia ADEPT).

During the coordination meetings we carried out a technical follow-up of the status of the project and the next tasks until its completion in February 2022, as well as a follow-up of the economic status and administrative tasks. During the field visits we were able to get to know one of the farms managed by the foundation, with hay meadows and grazing cows, and several areas where they manage hay meadows for biodiversity conservation.

Coordination meeting in Romania - Angofa 2
Property managed by Fundatia ADEPT, with hay meadows and pastures, in Angofa (Photo: XCN).

This face-to-face meeting has allowed us to know the work and strategy of Fundatia ADEPT in the conservation of High Nature Value habitats, especially meadows and pastures, and in the support and training of farmers in the area to develop an agricultural activity with the benefits of conserving biodiversity. It has also allowed us to know first hand the trends of agricultural management in the area and some of the threats to high nature value agriculture. The meeting was expected to take place last year, but it was not possible due to the COVID-19 situation. It has finally been possible and has allowed us to exchange knowledge that virtual meetings do not make possible.

Hay meadows and mosaic landscape in Angofa (Photo: XCN).

We published the toolkit for the conservation of semi-natural habitats

Finally, we made freely available in our website the first open version of the Toolkit for the conservation of semi-natural habitats in agricultural lands, tailored for farmers and agricultural technicians.

This guide has been jointly written by six European organisations: Fundació Emys (Catalonia), Fundatia ADEPT (Romania), Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels d’Occitanie (France), Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina (Italy), Český Svaz Ochránců Přírody (Czech Republic) and Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura (Catalonia).

Cover page of the first open version of the toolkit.

The toolkit provides a range of tools for people engaged in agriculture and livestock farming, or who offer technical advice in this area, to know the benefits that semi-natural habitats of farmlands, such as field margins, hedgerows, ponds or tree lines, provide to biodiversity and farming activity, and how to properly manage or create them.

Drawing of a field with the associated semi-natural habitats.

The entire guide and every chapter can currently be found only in English, but we will make them available soon in French, Romanian, Italian, Czech, Spanish and Catalan. If you have any comments or suggestions to improve the guide, they will be very welcome and will help us to make a better final version, which is expected by the end of 2021.

During this spring we will also make free and practical face-to-face training events in several countries, based on this toolkit and with an approximate duration of two morning sessions. These sessions are aimed at professional and semi-professional farmers, as well as agricultural technicians. You can find further information here.

We conducted pilot training events for farmers and agricultural technicians

December 2020

After finishing the first internal version of the toolkit on management of semi-natural habitats to promote biodiversity and enhance farm resilience and productivity, we needed to test its usefulness and gather feedback from our land stewardship farmers and some close agricultural technicians. This was meant to improve the internal version of the toolkit, in order to make a second version, which will be made available on the project’s website. This version will be free and open to everyone and trainings will be conducted again, in order to gather more feedback and make a final and definitive version by the end of 2021.

During November and December 2020, pilot training events for farmers and agricultural technicians were conducted in several countries. These training events were centred on the role of biodiversity and semi-natural habitats on farm productivity and resilience, and on recommendations to create and manage these habitats. They were based on Resifarms toolkit content and, whenever possible, they included a practical part in the field to discuss on real management examples.

In France, the actions envisaged had to be adapted due to the situation related to COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the different chapters of the guide were sent to different partners for proofreading: around ten contributions were obtained from farmers, agricultural technicians and naturalists, as well as teachers. At the same time, we took advantage of a field workshop for pastoral breeders in November in Pic Saint-Loup territory (six participants) to address the issue of the management of isolated trees and tree-covered spaces to provide a sustainable pastoral resource while integrating conservation issues. Discussions made it possible to transmit information from Resifarms toolkit and collect feedback from participants.

Pilot formation in France November 2020
Face-to-face training in Pic Saint-Loup territory, France. Showing management of tree-covered spaces to achieve both production and conservation goals (Photo: CEN Occitanie).

In Spain, a training consisting in two morning sessions was conducted online in November and December. It had eight attendees: four organic farmers, one conservation technician and three agricultural technicians. Participants previously selected the tools they were most interested in, in order to further deepen into the topics they preferred, which were: Positive and negative effects of agriculture in the environment, Biodiversity the core of agriculture, Field margins, Ponds and ditches, Tree-covered spaces, Hedgerows and Open spaces. Participants appreciated the approach and enjoyed the online training, but considered there was not enough time to deal with all the topics and missed the most practical, face-to-face part.

Pilot formation in Catalonia November 2020
On-line training in Spain. (Photo: Fundació Emys).

In Romania, a two-day face-to-face training was made in December, in the Angofa Wildlife Centre, a former school that became a training facility and tourist information and activities centre. The meeting was attended by 15 people, mainly farmers, but also a Local Action Group representative, a newly established cooperative representative, a WWF communication specialist, and the manager of the local ecotourism destination. During the first day, most of the toolkit content was explained, with an emphasis on the role that farmers play in the protection of biodiversity. The next day was devoted to the on-site visit to a cattle farm, where a model on how grazing can restore open habitats and how water is valorised was shown, but also the future restoration of a hedge in a less favourable conservation status was discussed in-situ.

Pilot formation in Romania December 2020
Face-to-face training in Angofa Wildlife Centre, Romania. Training on toolkit content (Photo: Fundatia ADEPT).

In Italy, a face-to-face training of one full day was conducted on a farm in the municipality of Montespertoli, in December. It had eight participants: two farmers, two agronomists (one also a farmer, the other also a town councilor in Montespertoli), a geologist (also a farmer), a forestry consultant, a real estate surveyor, and a conservation technician, which jointly examined most of the toolkit parts, with a special attention to Ponds and ditches tool. After that, participants did a visit to some parts of the farm, including a water reservoir and some orchards, to discuss semi-natural habitats management in the field. The mayor of Montespertoli was reported as interested to a preliminary joint examination of best practices relevant for promoting sustainable agriculture.

Pilot training in Italy December 2020
Face-to-face training in Montespertoli, Italy. Practical training with advice on pond creation and management (Photo: Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina).

In the Czech Republic, no training event has been conducted yet.

Training events with a theoretical and practical part at each project partner’s country were planned for last autumn, but due to the situation related to COVID-19 pandemic, we adapted the training events to each country recommendations, or postponed them if necessary.

The first coordination and training meeting takes place in Catalonia

November 2019

The Resifarms kick-off meeting took place in the headquarters of Fundació Emys, the organisation coordinating this Erasmus+ project and a land stewardship organisation located in la Selva, a region in north-west Catalonia.

Both the coordination meeting and the learning-teaching training event took place within this exciting context during early November, with the participation of project partners from Romania, Italy, Czech Republic, France and Catalonia. Resifarms partners worked on the initial phase of the project, although some important steps had already been done before the meeting. During the coordination meeting, partners first discussed about tasks distribution amongst organisations and afterwards they delve into specific actions, such as defining Toolkit preliminary structure and content or evaluating different options for the self-assessment test platforms. Partners talked about and clarified different economic and administrative aspects of the project. At last but not least, a work plan for the coming months was established.

First learning-teaching training event at Fundació Emys (Photo: Fundació Emys).

Moreover, different members of each organisation participated in the learning-teaching training event, giving a talk about non-productive structures in agricultural lands and its conservation. Fundació Emys talked about pressures and threats to ponds and their biodiversity, Fundatia ADEPT about landscape and arboreal ecosystems, Český Svaz Ochránců Přírody about field margins, Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels du Languedoc-Rousillon about open spaces, Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura about the effect of climate change in agriculture and Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina about how to evaluate and monitor the impact of conservation. Participants had the opportunity to discuss about each topic after the session, learning about other participants’ experience and knowledge.

Vineyard visited during the field trip where IAEDEN is implementing conservation measures through a land stewardship agreement (Photo: Fundació Emys).

Later on, Emys organised a field trip for all members, to visit different estates where they or other organisation (IAEDEN) are implementing conservation measures, beginning by its own facilities, Can Moragues, in Riudarenes.

Talks and discussion information will be translated into a free toolkit, available for anyone interested in applying methods to improve biodiversity of non-productive agricultural lands.

Project Resilient Farmlands begins

Last September we started the project Resilient Farmlands: promoting education to boost ecosystem services of non-productive farmlands. This project focuses on improving the conservation of semi-natural habitats of farmlands to promote more sustainable and resilient food production.

The main objective is to build the capacity of farmers and agricultural technicians in the conservation of non-productive agricultural lands, in order to boost the implementation of the most direct and effective conservation actions.

Some of the planned tasks are:

  • To make a review and compilation of bibliographic material on management measures to foster biodiversity associated with agricultural lands.
  • To adapt, in an accessible and self-evaluative format, the reference material to the target audience: agricultural technicians and other key groups, such as land stewardship or rural development organizations.
  • To conduct practical training for the implementation of management measures.
  • To detect potential improvements in public policies for the promotion of these management measures.

The project is leaded by Fundació Emys (from Catalonia), and it involves five other organizations from five European countries or regions: Fundatia ADEPT (Romania), Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels du Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Comitato per le Oasi WWF dell’Area Fiorentina (Italy), Český Svaz Ochránců Přírody (Czech Republic) and Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura (Catalonia).

It is funded by the EU Erasmus+ programme, and it has a duration of 30 months.

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