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EU agriculture and the environment

22 July 2009
by inadim -- last modified 23 July 2009

Environmental concerns play a vital role in the EU's Common Agricultural Policy which deals both with the integration of environmental considerations into CAP rules and with the development of agricultural practices preserving the environment and safeguarding the countryside.


Half of the European Union's land is farmed. This fact alone highlights the importance of farming for the EU's natural environment. Farming and nature exercise a profound influence over each other. Farming has contributed over the centuries to creating and maintaining a variety of valuable semi-natural habitats. Today these shape the majority of the EU's landscapes and are home to many of the EU's richest wildlife. Farming also supports a diverse rural community that is not only a fundamental asset of European culture, but also plays an essential role in maintaining the environment in a healthy state.

The links between the richness of the natural environment and farming practices are complex. While many valuable habitats in Europe are maintained by extensive farming, and a wide range of wild species rely on this for their survival, agricultural practices can also have an adverse impact on natural resources. Pollution of soil, water and air, fragmentation of habitats and loss of wildlife can be the result of inappropriate agricultural practices and land use.

EU policies, and notably the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), are therefore increasingly aimed at heading off the risks of environmental degradation, while encouraging farmers to continue to play a positive role in the maintenance of the countryside and the environment by targeted rural development measures and by contributing to securing farming profitability in the different EU regions.

The agri-environmental strategy of the CAP is largely aimed at enhancing the sustainability of agro-ecosystems. The measures set out to address the integration of environmental concerns into the CAP encompass environmental requirements (cross-compliance) and incentives (e.g., set aside) integrated into the market and income policy, as well as targeted environmental measures that form part of the Rural Development Programmes (e.g., agri-environment schemes).

Detailed information on the CAP's contribution to environmental sustainability and the part played by other policy and regulatory measures in helping the EU to meet global environmental sustainability aims and targets can be found in the Fact-Sheet Agriculture and the environment.

Source: European Commission