High Nature Value (HNV) farming describes low-intensity farming systems which are particularly valuable for wildlife and the natural environment.
The UK has approved EU level requirements for all Member States to identify, monitor and support their existing HNV farming systems (Regulation 1698/2005 establishing EAFRD).
The European Environment Agency (EEA) has identified three broad types of HNV farmland, which have been developed by Paracchini et al as follows:
Three broad types of HNV farmland –
Type 1 – Farmland with a high proportion of semi-natural vegetation.
Type 2 – Farmland with a mosaic of low intensity agriculture and natural and structural elements, such as field margins, hedgerows, stone walls, patches of woodland or scrub, small rivers etc.
Type 3 -Farmland supporting rare species or a high proportion of European or World populations.
In a UK context, HNV farming can mainly be associated with extensive beef and sheep farming in the uplands and marginal farming areas, because of its high reliance on semi-natural vegetation (vegetation comprised of native plants and maintained by grazing and/or mowing which has not been agriculturally ‘improved’) and unimproved pastures for grazing. However there are also examples from the lowlands which include some low input arable/mixed farming systems and coastal habitats which contain a mosaic of semi natural features which support a rich assemblage of wildlife.
HNV farming relies upon the sympathetic land management practices of farmers – such as grazing with appropriate stocking rates, the traditional mowing of hay meadows, leaving fallow areas, using seaweed as fertilizer, cutting rush or undertaking habitat restoration – all vital for maintaining many of our priority habitats and ensuring the survival of our most threatened wildlife species.
Photo credits: Hay cutting (Patrick McGurn), Feeding sheep – Deborah Deveney (RSPB)