A critical analysis of the potential for EU Common Agricultural Policy measures to support wild pollinators on farmland.
Agricultural intensification and associated loss of high-quality habitats are key drivers of insect pollinator declines. With the aim of decreasing the environmental impact of agriculture, the 2014 EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) defined a set of habitat and landscape features (Ecological Focus Areas: EFAs) farmers could select from as a requirement to receive basic farm payments. To inform the post-2020 CAP, we performed a European-scale evaluation to determine how different EFA options vary in their potential to support insect pollinators under standard and pollinator-friendly management, as well as the extent of farmer uptake. A structured Delphi elicitation process engaged 22 experts from 18 European countries to evaluate EFAs options. By considering life cycle requirements of key pollinating taxa (i.e. bumble bees, solitary bees and hoverflies), each option was evaluated for its potential to provide forage, bee nesting sites and hoverfly larval resources. EFA options varied substantially in the resources they were perceived to provide and their effectiveness varied geographically and temporally. For example, field margins provide relatively good forage throughout the season in Southern and Eastern Europe but lacked early-season forage in Northern and Western Europe. Under standard management, no single EFA option achieved high scores across resource categories and a scarcity of late season forage was perceived. Experts identified substantial opportunities to improve habitat quality by adopting pollinator-friendly management. Improving management alone was, however, unlikely to ensure that all pollinator resource requirements were met. Our analyses suggest that a combination of poor management, differences in the inherent pollinator habitat quality and uptake bias towards catch crops and nitrogen-fixing crops severely limit the potential of EFAs to support pollinators in European agricultural landscapes. Policy Implications. To conserve pollinators and help protect pollination services, our expert elicitation highlights the need to create a variety of interconnected, well-managed habitats that complement each other in the resources they offer. To achieve this the Common Agricultural Policy post-2020 should take a holistic view to implementation that integrates the different delivery vehicles aimed at protecting biodiversity (e.g. enhanced conditionality, eco-schemes and agri-environment and climate measures). To improve habitat quality we recommend an effective monitoring framework with target-orientated indicators and to facilitate the spatial targeting of options collaboration between land managers should be incentivised.