A new project boosts innovation in agricultural areas renown for their outstanding natural and cultural values

About 90% of the remnants of heritage biotopes in Finland are at risk of disappearing due to lack of management. Farmers, researchers and innovation actors strive to find innovative solutions to keep the traditional landscapes alive.

High nature value farmland encompasses areas in Europe where agricultural activities support, or are associated with, exceptionally high biodiversity. These areas are an important component of European agriculture also for cultural heritage, quality products and rural employment.

However, abandonment, degradation, economic and social marginalisation are long-standing threats for such nature-friendly farming systems. The challenge is to increase the socio-economic viability of such systems while maintaining their natural values, including ecosystem services they provide to the society.

Less than one per cent of the traditional biotopes have survived in Finland

In Finland, high nature value farmland is represented largely by the remnants of so-called traditional or heritage biotopes and other extensively used semi-natural vegetation. Examples include meadows and non-cultivated pastures, usually extensively grazed or mown.

Less than one per cent of the traditional biotopes survive of what it used to be in times of pre-industrial agriculture. The traditional biotopes are further recognized at the single most threatened habitat type nationally since a staggering 90% of the remnants are at risk of disappearing due to lack of management. The fate of such areas is mostly in hands of farmers, who find ways of incorporating management of the areas with the farm production, often resolving to innovative solutions.

The Department of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Helsinki has now launched an international project called HNV LINK, which stands for High Nature Value Farming: Learning, Innovation and Knowledge. The project received a prestigious Horizion2020 funding awarded to networks that bridge “the research and innovation divide” in agriculture, forestry and rural areas.

Innovation is needed for farmland areas of exceptional heritage value

“I am very proud of our network’s commitment to keep strong links between agriculture and environment, on one hand, and analytical and practical focus, on the other,” says Dr François Lerin, the network coordinator from the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies, France.

“Fusing modern research skills and tools with local innovations and motivations is vital in the quest of safeguarding future of these unique areas across Europe. Their very uniqueness demands a careful consideration of local ecological and socio-economic conditions,” continues Dr Irina Herzon, the project leader in the Department. “And I am also proud that our project was the first in the campus to secure Horizon2020 funding”.

HNV-Link is a 13-partner strong consortium. Through years 2016-2018, it will be focusing on innovations of all kinds that would support high nature value areas through simultaneously improving their socio-economic viability and environmental efficiency.

The marginality of high nature value areas in conventional research and development means that their innovation needs and solutions are rarely discussed in academic fora. This thematic network, both grassroots-based and transnational, can really make a difference, by connecting farmers, research and innovation actors in line with the EU innovation vision.