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In the section that follows, the most significant public goods associated with

agriculture in the EU are discussed. These include environmental public goods,


such as agricultural landscapes, farmland biodiversity, water quality and water
availability, soil functionality, climate stability – carbon storage and climate
stability – greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, resilience to flooding and
resilience to fire, and more social public goods, including rural vitality, food
security and farm animal welfare and animal health.

Many of these public goods are complex entities, comprising a range of different
elements, with both public and private characteristics. Food security provides an
example of a public good with distinct private characteristics as certain of the
elements that create the conditions for food security, including the factors of
production (such as land and the soil resource), are privately owned. Markets
exist to coordinate the supply and demand of these elements, although not
necessarily in all places and at all times. As such, the case for public intervention
in relation to food production per se is small.

In Chapter 1, it is argued that the defining characteristics of public goods – non-


rivalry and non-excludability – means that their provision cannot be secured
through markets, often leading to an undersupply in the absence of public
intervention. These arguments are revisited in subsequent chapters however, where
the provision of public goods is not under threat at the present time or in the
immediate future, public intervention is not required.

The most significant public goods associated with agriculture in the EU do not all
share the same underlying relationship with agricultural production. For certain
public goods – such as particular species and habitats, agricultural landscapes and
resilience to wildfire – their existence is inherently linked to certain types of
agricultural activity and there are limited opportunities for them to be provided
through alternative forms of land use. This inherent relationship exists because of
the co-evolution of European landscapes and the adaptation of many species to
agriculture over significant periods of time, such that there is a close
interrelationship between these valued environmental public goods and certain
attributes of the agricultural systems with which they are associated (Havlik et al.,
2005; Hodge, 2008).

For others - such as improving climate stability through carbon storage and
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, increased resilience to flooding, soil
functionality, water quality and water availability, as well as air quality - their
provision is not dependent on agricultural activity per se, and indeed, these public
goods could be provided through alternative forms of land use. A landscape’s
resilience to flooding, for example, could be improved through restoring
saltmarsh or wetland forest, and soil carbon stocks would increase through
afforestation or the flooding of peat. The restoration of more natural habitats to
support a different assemblage of species may be desirable at a micro-scale, but
is less so at a larger scale as food production capacity would be compromised.
This means, therefore, that because of society’s requirements for food, the
provision of these public goods will continue to depend on those forms of
agricultural activity which are typically less environmentally intrusive in nature,
and thus on those management practices which tend to reduce the adverse
effects of agricultural production.

2.2.1 Agricultural Landscapes

© IEEP © Clare Miller, RSPB ©ADAPT Foundation (Mihai Cazan)

Over several millennia, agriculture has transformed what in most parts of Europe
was a wooded climax natural vegetation to open landscapes, and over time, many
of these man-made agricultural landscapes have become highly appreciated in
their own right. Agricultural landscapes are composite entities, a reflection of
topography and the physical environment, comprising a cultural,
archaeological and built heritage, as well as an ecological infrastructure
underpinning many of the ecosystem services that landscapes provide, including
their resilience in the face of future climate change (European Landscape
Convention, 2008; Swanwick et al., 2007). In some places, agriculture - and the
cultural features associated with it - dominates the landscape, but often it is
distributed within a patchwork of other land uses, including areas of woodland or
forestry, built development and patches of unmanaged land. These cultural
landscapes have evolved over time as a result of a complex and often regionally-
specific interaction between natural and cultural factors driven by socio-
economic and environmental forces (Wascher, 2004; 2005). European agricultural
landscapes are characterised by their heterogeneity and local distinctiveness with
social preferences mirroring this diversity, varying significantly between localities
and communities.

Agricultural landscapes as a whole display a high degree of publicness. At a


composite scale, it is difficult to exclude anyone from experiencing the benefits
of a particular landscape because some form of public access to agricultural land
is permitted by law in the majority of Member States. Generally, rivalry in
consumption is also limited, although congestion can occur in popular areas,
when an individual’s experience of the landscape may be compromised because
of large numbers of other visitors. Certain agricultural landscapes – such as the
‘lemon gardens’ - “giardini di limoni” - in Italy’s southern peninsula, the dehesa
landscapes of southern Spain, or the mosaic landscapes of the traditional agro-
ecosystems in the Carpathians, Slovakia – are also imbued with significant
existence values, and are valued by people from many other parts of Europe even
if they do not experience the landscape directly. At the more micro scale, certain
landscape features, such as hedgerows in exposed areas, for example, provide a
valuable private benefit and thus the public good is provided in conjunction with
the private activity, for as long as that private activity remains viable.

Not all agricultural landscapes in the EU are valued as desirable public goods.
Certain landscapes have been intensified and denuded of more natural features
through, for example, large-scale specialisation or mono-cropping, widespread
production under glass or plastic, or otherwise transformed through the
introduction of exotic plantations, for example, all of which can seriously impact
on a landscape’s ecological, aesthetic and socio-cultural character. As such, the
maintenance of landscape character and a landscape’s ecological integrity
typically depends on ongoing sympathetic agricultural management, a significant
degree of continuity and coherence in the pattern of the main landscape
elements, and the maintenance of characteristic landscape features.

Certain valued agricultural landscapes in the EU are maintained incidentally as


there are high levels of technical interdependencies with the production process,
although there is unlikely to be a simple relationship between the agronomic
requirements and the quality of the landscape. However, where the
character of the landscape is under threat of degradation, the case for public
intervention is high, especially given that coordinated action is required at the
landscape scale. This is particularly true for the maintenance of relic features which
provide a clear environmental or cultural benefit, but no longer serve an agronomic
function and may indeed be an economic impediment to the present day farm
business.