Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have played a key role in the development of a new handbook that aims to increase biodiversity in agriculture, by promoting innovative approaches to contract arrangements for government-funded payments to farmers.
The handbook is the product of Contracts2.0, a four-year project funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme.
Working with farmers’ groups and other key partners, researchers from several European universities including Aberdeen investigated new approaches to agri-environmental schemes to understand and promote incentives for farmers to manage wildlife and the countryside in a sustainable way.
The handbook for policymakers contains numerous recommendations for the design of agri-environmental schemes across Europe, including how involving the right stakeholders can increase the acceptance of schemes, how to develop scorecards for results-based contracts, the use of facilitators in collective schemes, and options for combining public and private finance.
Dr Katrin Prager and Jennifer Dodsworth from the University’s School of Geosciences investigated existing approaches as part of their contribution to the handbook, entitled ‘Co-Creating Contracts – Designing innovative agri-environmental schemes – A guide for policymakers’.
Dr Prager said: “Through our research we were able to show that farmers are willing to implement innovative approaches to land management that promote biodiversity, so long as the contractual agreements are motivating and reliable, rather than restrictive and vague.
“We also showed that the many economic and ecological advantages that novel contracts can bring are worth the initial effort they require.
“Although the research focus in the UK was on a case study in Northwest England, the insights are relevant for policy teams in the Scottish Government and in agencies such as NatureScot and SEPA, as well as farmers’ groups who are all engaged in the development of new support schemes for farmers and nature.”
Jennifer Dodsworth added: “In Scotland, NatureScot has already piloted results-based payments schemes which are attractive to farmers and motivate further action to benefit biodiversity and the environment.
“The handbook we have developed alongside our partners at other European institutions brings everything we have learned into one place, providing a valuable resource for policymakers that will help to further enable new approaches to agri-environmental schemes and promote biodiversity and sustainability.”