Development of innovative agri-environmental contracts in contracts2.0 case study regions

Development of innovative agri-environmental contracts in contracts2.0 case study regions

In three countries that established Contract Innovation Labs in one or several case study regions explicit changes have been made in the policymaking on AECM notably inspired by contracts2.0. Elements of the innovative contract proposals are now being implemented. Many innovation labs found themselves in several stages of implementation (negotiation, testing, mainstreaming) at once. This may be due to the fact that they are working on several contracts at the same time or because only some elements of the proposed contract have moved on to the testing or implementation phase. The main challenges to implementation were, among others, the lack of support from policy, realistically aligning the innovative structures with existing regulations, and the lack of financing for important intermediaries. Some CILs also lacked the interest from farmers or struggled with the need to raise public awareness. This goes to show, that a participatory process needs to be properly set up, and considerable effort is needed for successful continuation. At the same time, the successes make a significant difference and set a motivating example. 


In Flanders, Belgium, groups of farmers will be beneficiaries for non-productive investments under the new CAP. Contracts2.0 action partner BoerenNatuur Vlaanderen (BNVL) together with research partner INBO and the support of multiple regional stakeholders also succeeded in including results-based elements in the new AECM on botanical grassland management. Furthermore, one province is willing to scale up an agglomeration bonus for erosion control to more areas in Flanders. The Flemish case study is a good example of the real-life changes contracts2.0 was able to generate. In addition, organisers of local CILs and the PIL observed a high interest in implementing more innovative approaches in the future and while the process of incorporating new measures into the Strategic Plan somewhat exceeds the project running time, the participatory process succeeded in connecting the essential stakeholders to take the processes further. The video produced on the consortium field trip to the Flemish case study regions also depicts the positive practitioner perspectives on the project and the topic (see here).



In the Madrid Region, a new AECM has been added to the Madrid Rural Development Plan thanks to the work of project action partner Heliconia and project research partner UAM. A measure for non-productive investments for agri-environmental objectives now allows land stewardship entities to become beneficiaries of the aid to support farms through contracts. The Spanish project partners have also organised seminars to introduce this new measure to local stakeholders and have presented their work on multiple occasions (e.g. webinars and conferences) in the region to raise awareness. This is a positive impact of the bottom-up approach exercised within the CIL / PIL Madrid where shortcomings of current agri-environmental contracts and consequently possibilities for improvement were identified. Solutions for real-life implementation were discussed with the local stakeholders to ensure a legitimate addition to the AECM and thus, a direct impact on policy design can be reported.


Several federal states will include a collective approach for AECM, for example following the example of Dutch collectives. The bottom-up participatory approach in contracts2.0 helped foster the international knowledge exchange on the topic significantly.

Although not formally part of contracts2.0 and its CILs/PILs, the case of German federal state of Brandenburg is included here because it offers a further example of the introduction of innovative contracts, namely collective contracts. Brandenburg was the first German state legally implementing collective AECM. Inspired by the Dutch model, collective AECM were introduced with the CAP funding period starting in 2023, though as additional option next to individual AECM (instead of switching the whole system, like in the Dutch case). Jointly with the German Landcare Association (Deutscher Verband für Landschaftspflege, DVL), contracts2.0 project coordinator ZALF worked on developing mandatory and optional criteria for the institutional design and actor constellation within a collective and the design of collective contracts to derive policy implications and recommendations (in accordance with work carried out in WP2 on the analysis of existing contracts). This has been done by integrating results and experiences of contracts2.0 and a series of interviews with farmers in Brandenburg. ZALF also invited the Brandenburg ministry of agriculture, environment and climate protection (MLUK) – which was strongly engaged in promoting the collective approach – to the contracts2.0 CIL/PIL exchange in Germany. The idea of introducing collective AECM to Brandenburg was initiated by the ministry itself. By inviting a driving member of said ministry to CIL/PIL exchanges, practical aspects of the implementation of collectives and their inclusion in Strategic Plans were shared with other German federal states, serving as a successful inspiration for many. Especially interesting was the many detailed insights in the necessary regulatory framework for the legal implementation of collectives as an addition to individual AECM.
The most important aspects gathered from the farmer interviews in Brandenburg were the desire for more flexibility (concerning land tenure, occurrence of extreme weather events, contracting time), a reduction of the bureaucratic workload and financial attractiveness of the new scheme. Generally, farmers are convinced of the ecological effectiveness of the collective approach and expect increased knowledge exchange and the possibility of learning.

Contracts2.0 contributed to the realisation of the collectives in Germany through extensive research on the Dutch model, providing contacts to Dutch colleagues and the series of interviews with Brandenburg farmers that were delivered to the ministry, which took them into account when designing the new collective approach. Including the farmers’ perspectives in the contract design will arguably have a positive impact on their legitimacy and acceptance. Due to the close involvement of project partner ZALF, the German experiences and insights could also be translated into English for the other project partners’ benefit.

Currently, 5 collectives are being established in Brandenburg. The current CAP funding period is considered to be a pilot phase and trial period, in which regulations concerning the collectives are not yet “set in stone” and allow for some flexibility. Due to time constraints, no specific new measures have been introduced yet. In fact, during the current funding period, the previous (individual) measures (AECM) are now possible to be carried out collectively. However, for the following funding periods, the introduction of new collective AECM is planned.


© Picture: Eszter Cibik, ONPD, Hungary

Are agri-environmental measures effective in protecting farmland birds?

Are agri-environmental measures effective in protecting farmland birds?

We assessed the effects of two agri-environmental measures targeting cropland birds implemented by three farmers collectives in the Netherlands. Results show positive effects on the abundance of birds and total number of bird species. However, our results show that some species do not benefit from the implemented measures. Building on these results, the study provides recommendations for the future implementation of AEMs targeting cropland birds in the Netherlands and beyond.

Are agri-environmental measures effective in protecting farmland biodiversity?

A significant share of the CAP budget (in 2020: 17.6%, i.e. 2.5 billion euros) is funding agri-environmental measures (AEM) to protect among others farmland biodiversity. However, past studies on the effectiveness of these measures have shown mixed results. Measures may fail because of inadequate management prescriptions or because insufficient habitat is created at suitable locations. Since farmland species differ in their habitat needs, simple all-around solutions are unlikely to work. In the Netherlands, the collective approach for AEMs was adopted in 2016 partly to address these challenges and to achieve an effective management at suitable locations. In particular, farmers collectives aim to increase the concentration of measures in favorable areas for targeted species. After only six years of implementation, evaluation of the ecological effectiveness of the collective approach is just starting. Our study contributes to this evaluation.

Figure 1: Location of plots with bird observations (in red) (Grondard et al., 2023).

Study objectives and methods

In this study, we assessed the effects of two types of measures targeting cropland birds: bird plots (vogelakkers) and field margins (kruidenrijk akkerranden). Measures were implemented by collectives in the provinces of Groningen, Drenthe and Flevoland between 2017 and 2020. We compared bird abundance on AEM plots with measures, and control plots with conventional practices (see Fig. 1). However, differences in bird abundance between AEM and control plots may be due to other factors than plot management. For instance, a plot located in an open landscape is likely to host a higher number of skylarks than a plot surrounded by forest areas, irrespective of plot management practices, because skylarks breed in open landscapes. Therefore, to uncover the effect of measures, we took into account the effect of landscape characteristics around plots. Furthermore, we assessed if AEM plots located next to each other had a higher bird abundance than isolated AEM plots, to assess the effect of spatially concentrating measures.

Positive effects on four out of seven target species, total number of species and total number of birds

We analysed seven target species individually, the total number of species and the total number of birds (See Fig. 2). Compared to control plots, field margins hosted a higher number skylarks, yellowhammers, common linnets and common kestrels as well as a higher total number of species and birds. Benefits of bird plots were limited to skylarks and total number of birds. The three other species (western yellow wagtails, northern lapwings, Eurasian oystercatchers) did not benefit from any of the studied measures. Landscape characteristics were an important factor explaining the abundance of birds. Species nesting on the ground avoided landscapes with vertical structures (trees, buildings), which was not the case of species nesting in boundary features. AEM plots located next to each other did not have higher bird abundance than isolated AEM plots: yellowhammers abundance was even lower.

Figure 2: Predicted number of individuals per plot for each of the seven studied species and total bird abundance, and predicted species richness per plot, for control plots, field margins and bird plots. B = species nesting in boundary features (hedges, ditches and trees), G = species nesting on the ground. Vertical bars correspond to 95% confidence intervals (Grondard et al., 2023).

Next steps for Dutch AEMs targeting cropland birds

  • Monitor the quality of habitat created by AEMs: to understand better why field margins and bird plots have different effects on certain species and thus to be able to improve the effects of the measures, it is useful to complete the monitoring of AEMs with observation on the habitat quality created by the measures, such as vegetation structure, composition and changes across the breeding season.
  • Other types of measures for species nesting on bare ground: for western yellow wagtails, northern lapwings and Eurasian oystercatchers, alternative management options are needed. Current field margins and bird plots do not benefit these species, probably because their vegetation grows too quickly early in the season, while these bird species prefer bare or sparsely vegetated soils for breeding.
  • Assess potential synergies with AEMs in other habitats: for the studied measures, regions and species, the spatial clustering of AEM plots does not seem beneficial. However, we analysed only the AEMs implemented on cropland. Clustering of cropland AEMs with AEMs implemented in grasslands or hedgerows may be beneficial, as several cropland species depend also on these other habitats for breeding, foraging or as shelters. Further studies are needed to assess how these measures complement each other.
  • Fine scale spatial targeting of measures: because target species respond differently to landscape characteristics, there is no optimal location for all 16 species targeted by the national policy. Therefore, we suggest that, in their local conservation efforts, collectives target a subset of species for which local landscape characteristics are most favorable and select the most beneficial AEM options for this subset of species.


© Text: Nicolas Grondard (Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University), Lenny van Bussel (PBL-Netherlands Environmental Agency).

© Title Picture: K. Karkow 

Detailed results of the study are available in the scientific publication : Grondard, N., Kleyheeg, E., Hein, L., Van Bussel, L.G.J., 2023. Effects of Dutch agri-environmental field margins and bird plots on cropland birds. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 349.

Closing Event: Contract and Policy Innovation Lab North Rhine Westphalia

Closing Event: Contract and Policy Innovation Lab North Rhine Westphalia

On 27 January 2023, the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), the Westphalian Landscape Foundation (SWK) and the Rhenish Landscape Foundation (SRK) jointly organised the final event of the Contract Innovation Lab (CIL) and Policy Innovation Lab (PIL) NRW. Among the round about 40 participants were representatives from agriculture, nature conservation and science as well as administration on regional and federal level. Held in Berlin, the event was streamed online to enable as many interested persons as possible to participate.

<< German Version below >>

The aim of the event was to promote knowledge transfer between the Contract Innovation Lab (CIL) and the Policy Innovation Lab (PIL) as well as to enable a direct exchange between practitioners and political decision-makers to pave the way for a future-oriented and attractive agri-environment-climate measures. In addition to a summary of relevant contracts2.0 project results from the 2019-2023 workshops, collective approaches to implement Agri-environment-climate measures following the Dutch model were addressed from different perspectives. Speakers from multiple German federal states and the EU-Commission described their experiences with collective agri-environmental schemes and provided valuable insights into practical, political, and administrative implementation.

The discussions showed that there was an agreement that nature conservation collectives are a promising and feasible approach to future agricultural funding and support, provided it is individually adapted to the regional conditions. The introduction of a collective scheme requires courage to try something new, as well as commitment, willingness to compromise and perseverance from all involved parties on the path to conversion.

All presentations can also be found on our website (unfortunately only in German language).


Abschlussveranstaltung Contract und Policy Innovation Lab Nord-Rhein-Westfalen

Am 27. Januar 2023 organisierten der Deutsche Bauernverband (DBV), die Stiftung Westfälische Kulturlandschaft (SWK) und die Stiftung Rheinische Kulturlandschaft (SRK) die gemeinsame Abschlussveranstaltung von Contract Innovation Lab (CIL) und Policy Innovation Lab (PIL) NRW. Unter den gut 45 Teilnehmern befanden sich Vertreter aus Landwirtschaft, Naturschutz und Wissenschaft sowie aus der Verwaltung der Regional- und Bundesebene. Die Veranstaltung in Berlin konnte zusätzlich über einen Live-Stream online verfolgt werden, um möglichst vielen Interessierten die Teilnahme zu ermöglichen.

Ziel der Veranstaltung war es, den Wissenstransfer zwischen dem Contract Innovation Lab (CIL) und dem Policy Innovation Lab (PIL) zu fördern sowie einen direkten Austausch zwischen Praktikern und Entscheidungsträgern für eine zukunftsfähige und attraktive Agrarumweltförderung zu ermöglichen. Neben einer Zusammenfassung der wichtigsten contracts2.0 Projektergebnisse aus den Workshops von 2019-2023, wurden Naturschutzkooperativen nach niederländischem Modell aus unterschiedlichen Perspektiven thematisiert. Referenten aus mehreren deutschen Bundesländern sowie der EU-Kommission schilderten ihre Erfahrungen mit der kooperativen Umsetzung von Agrarumweltmaßnahmen und gewährten wertvolle Einblicke in die praktische, politische und administrative Umsetzung. In den Diskussionen herrschte Einigkeit darüber, dass die kooperativ organisierte Agrarförderung ein vielversprechender und durchaus umsetzbarer Ansatz ist, sofern er individuell an die regional vorherrschenden Gegebenheiten angepasst wird. Die Einführung erfordere Mut Neues zu wagen sowie Engagement, Kompromissbereitschaft und Durchhaltevermögen von allen Beteiligten auf dem Weg der Umstellung.

Sie interessieren sich für die Präsentationen? Alle Folien sind hier zu finden (auf Deutsch).

© Amelie Hassels, Tanja Brüggemann, Lisa Sharif

Contracts2.0, CONSOLE & EFFECT: Academic Workshop in the Netherlands

Contracts2.0, CONSOLE & EFFECT: Academic Workshop in the Netherlands

On February 9 2023, Dutch academic partners of the three sister projects contracts2.0, CONSOLE and EFFFECT organized a workshop on the topic of agri-environmental schemes. This workshop was an opportunity to exchange the outcomes of the three projects and future (research) perspectives with a small group of stakeholders. The stakeholders had backgrounds in applied science, policy, and practice.

The workshop was organized as a mix of (1) presentations that showed results and reflections from each of the three research projects and of (2) rich discussions, based on the presentations and the expertise, interests and background of all participants. Discussions covered several themes, such as the types and the effectiveness of existing contracts, and ways to adjust the contracts to future challenges. In the panel discussion led by Lenny van Bussel (PBL), Alex Datema (Boerennatuur), Raymond Schrijver (WEnR), particular attention was given on lessons to learn from good management of the commons, the importance of integrated and long(er)-term measures, and the lack of knowledge on the actual effectiveness of the existing contract terms (i.e. management prescriptions).

We look back on a very inspiring workshop that revealed years of collaborative work within the projects, the complementarity of the three sister projects and gave insights on future questions that need to be addressed!

© Text: Solen Le Clec’h

Contracting on the Commons – Insights from a Multi-Stakeholder Meeting

Contracting on the Commons – Insights from a Multi-Stakeholder Meeting

In July 2022, an Inter-CIL-Meeting gathered members of the Contract Innovation Labs in the Hautes-Pyrénées in France to learn with and from each other about “Agri-environmental contracting on the Commons” – experiences of contracts implemented on common land. 10 project partners from France (GIP-CRPGE, CIRAD), the UK (Natural England and Aberdeen University) and Belgium (INBO) as well as farmers, elected local officials, representatives of pastoral groups, hunters, environmental NGOs and a national park participated in the two-day-long meeting.

Do you prefer to watch videos? 

Braving the hot French summer, the project partners discussed similarities and differences in the management and institutionalised administration of their common lands. The discussions and participants impressions were captured on video. You can watch a summary of the fields trips by following this link to the Parc de Néouvielle or this one to Aulon.

Do you like reading? Great, continue below and enjoy the key messages of the meeting!

Existing approaches to collective land management should be recognized in future contracts

Collective approaches to agri-environmental contracting take several forms in Europe. One example are the collective contracts resulting from the implementation of AECMs on common land, where land management has been organised by collective entities long before the CAP entered into force. it is important to consider them as such and build on their experience once considering “collective approaches of AE contracting” at EU scale. The summer grazing highlands in the Pyrénées and the UK commons share such a farming system on marginal hill land, with a history and culture of pastoral grazing that goes back centuries. In this context, increased ecosystem services (ES) provision must be contractually ensured while also recognizing the already existing ES provision resulting from collective management.

Collective approaches of AE contracting can build on the experience of existing collective contracts

In Flanders, in Belgium, no extensive grazing on highlands exists, nevertheless, there are common grazing areas, where more and more municipalities allow shepherds to graze their herds. The Belgian example represents a European tendency towards the development of grazing to manage high nature value communal areas (wetlands, or protected areas, for example) Therefore, the experiences of collective uplands management can be useful even though the socio-ecosystems are quite different.

The value of informal relationships in managing the Commons and in AE contracting

In France, farmers are formally organized through collective structures, but social pressure has been lostIn the UK, on the other hand, commoners are linked through a social contract (cohesion). Most commons do have a ‘Commoners Association’, but this Association only takes on a legal form through the implementation of an AE contract. There is often a reluctance to formalize these associations, as the relationships between commoners are often fragile, and the current types of contracts (with one representative signing to the AECM and a second legal document between commoners) have a litigious dimension which can play a role in upsetting the local social balance. In Flanders, farmers are not formally organised as well, they need to recognise the value of this, to then be able to replicate it.

Other key actors involved in AE contracting on the Commons are communes, shepherds, and intermediaries

Other significant differences, which we have uncovered in our Inter-CIL, are about:

  • Additional key actors to be considered in AE contracting alongside farmers in France are: i) the landowners (the commune) who have an important role in land management, administrative tasks and decision making, and ii) the communal shepherds in charge of implementing the contract.
  • Where facilitation/ advice sits in the collective contract process. Intermediaries take several roles that vary given institutional and policy context. To fill these roles, they need to acquire important skills (communication, adaptability, translation, support). They also need time and financial support. For example, the design of England’s Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF) provides an opportunity for funding more innovative and experimental forms of collective AECMs.


If you want to know more about the meeting, have a look at the full meeting report

© Text: Céline Dutilly (CIRAD)

© Picture/Videos: Emmanuelle Cheyns