The cart is empty
Subsribe Now to our Weekly Newsletter

Ecological Focus Areas Show Potential for Helping Biodiversity

ec logo

report from the European Commission shows that ecological focus areas (EFAs) can contribute to addressing the impact of some farming practices on the environment, by bringing potential positive effects for biodiversity, and for soil, water and climate. The report covers the first two years since the introduction of EFAs in 2015 through new rules governing direct payments to farmers.

Farmers with arable land exceeding 15 ha must ensure that at least 5% of this land is an ecological focus area. This obligation for farmers to establish ecological focus areas on part of their land applies to the vast majority of EU arable land (around 70%). The remaining 30% or so is exempt for a variety of reasons, ranging from the farming type (organic farming) and the way in which the land is used (i.e. if there is already a high share of grassland on a farm) to the location of the farm (in particular those in the north).

In 2015 almost 8 million hectares of land were declared as EFAs, accounting for 10% of the land under the obligation after taking into account the impact on biodiversity. This is twice as much as the 5% required by the legislation at the farm level. Data for 2016 shows very similar results.

EFAs can take various forms, and it is up to national authorities to decide which ones are best suited to circumstances of each EU country. Farmers can then choose from their national list which EFA types to adopt on their land. EFAs can feature such as fallow land, field margins, hedges, and trees or buffer strips which benefit biodiversity directly; they can also include specific productive areas whose effect on biodiversity is indirect through a lower use of inputs such as fertilizers.

The report shows that the most common forms of EFA chosen by farmers are those considered 'productive' – i.e. where land is sown with 'nitrogen-fixing' crops such as alfalfa (that help improve the nitrogen content of the soil and reduce the need for fertiliser), or catch crops (fast-growing crops are grown between plantings of main crops which catch excessive nitrates). The other most popular form of EFA is where the land lies fallow.

These three EFA types correspond to more than 90% of EFAs. In contrast, other EFAs, including landscape features (such as field margins, trees or hedges) and buffer strips, were less widely taken up.

The first insights into the environmental effects of EFAs show that while EFAs, in general, are potentially beneficial to biodiversity and also to ecosystem services (such as pollination, pest and disease control, the chemical condition of freshwater and soil erosion), some EFA types are more beneficial than others. EFAs consisting of landscape features and those where the land lies fallow are the most effective, while EFAs, where catch crops are sown, are relatively least effective.

The report indicates that the results may also differ depending on factors such as soil cover, the species sown and the diversity of vegetation, the retention period, the location of features and the use of chemical inputs. For example, for fallow land EFAs, sowing wildflowers has the highest impact for pollinators, while leaving the soil completely bare has the lowest. Bare soil may also have negative impacts due to the higher risk of soil erosion. In addition, keeping land fallow for a long period and not using pesticides is shown to reduce the disturbance of habitats, in particular over the bird breeding period.

The current repartition of EFA types and the finding that the extent to which each type of EFA is managed influences the environmental effectiveness of the EFA are of particular interest. New delegated rules on EFAs, currently under scrutiny by the co-legislators in Council and the European Parliament, should address these findings, by improving management practices, such as by establishing retention periods for some types of EFAs such as fallow land or catch crops or by introducing a ban on the use of plant protection products on productive and potentially productive EFAs. On the other hand, streamlining the requirements relating to the most environmentally beneficial EFA types such as landscape features should encourage farmers to use them more extensively.

The Commission's assessment of the implementation of EFAs was part of the agreement with the co-legislators in Council and the European Parliament to determine whether the minimum threshold for the land reserved at farm level for EFAs should be increased from 5% to 7%. The evidence collected for the report shows that the amount of land used for EFAs (on average) is already in excess of this higher proposal, and in light of this the Commission has decided not to propose increasing the threshold limit.

Source: EC - Ecological Focus Areas Show Potential for Helping Biodiversity

Featured Event


11 September 2017 - 13 September 2017

The NEC @ North Ave, Marston Green, Birmingham B40 1NT, UK

Glee Birmingham 2017

Join us at Glee 2017 to see the launch of hundreds of new products, discover the future customer buying trends and seize the opportunity to meet over 500 suppliers!

At Glee we bring the most exciting exhibitors together with the most powerful and influential visitors and buyers in the industry. Spread across 8 select show sectors Glee offers three jam-packed days of networking, selling and purchasing which are not to be missed. Whilst discovering the latest in innovative products, you can also meet hundreds of new and existing suppliers all under one roof. Taking place at the perfect time of year to re-stock your shelves just before Christmas, Glee is the most crucial garden trade event in any retailer’s calendar.

Offering thousands of the newest and most inspirational garden retail products from over 550+ suppliers, Glee welcomes all kinds of exhibitors from across 8 carefully edited show sectors. If you have your own brand, garden centre, shop or make or grow your own products, we have a spot just for you. With visitors from multiples, independents and online retailers, it’s the perfect opportunity to launch and showcase your product collections, nurture your existing relationships and grow new ones.

Date, Time & Location
11 to 13 September 2017

The NEC, Birmingham, B40 1NT

Mon 11 Sept - 9:00 - 18:00
Tues 12 Sept - 9:00 - 18:00
Wed 13 Sept - 9:00 - 16:00




Featured Event


05 May 2017 - 07 May 2017

Antrim Castle Gardens @ Antrim Castle Gardens, Randalstown Rd, Antrim BT41 4LH, UK

2017 Allianz Garden Show Ireland - Fabulous Festival of Flowers, Food & Fun

Antrim Castle Gardens will be bursting with colour from 5th - 7th May 2017 as Allianz Garden Show Ireland returns to the beautiful venue for a three-day festival of flowers, food, and fun.

With a renewed focus on gardens this year there will be more to entice and inspire every level of a gardener with a warm welcome being extended to Joe Swift from BBC Gardeners World, who will be sharing his extensive knowledge during a series of interesting talks on Friday 5th May.

Commenting on the return of the Show to Antrim, Allianz Garden Show Ireland Director Claire Faulkner stated,

“Thanks to the on-going support of our sponsors and partners, the 2017 Show will be bigger and better than ever before and I am delighted that Allianz joins us once again as title sponsor. This year will be a celebration of this country’s rich local heritage, a theme embraced by participants throughout the Show. So it is particularly fitting that the event is staged in Antrim Castle Gardens which is in itself a living museum of four centuries of local heritage”.

Local Northern Irish heritage is the influence behind the Show’s stunning large feature garden designed by Belfast-based Architect and Landscape Designer James Purdy who takes his inspiration from the Mournes, while the community focused team challenge gardens will celebrate CS Lewis and draw inspiration from Narnia.

Damien O’Neill, Group Head of Marketing for Allianz commented,

“Allianz is delighted, once again, to be title sponsor in 2017. Last year’s event was a huge success and this year looks set to be better again. Allianz is committed to the sustainability of the environment and we recognize the big part that our gardens can play in achieving this goal. We know that the Show not only brings communities together but also showcases the very best in the world of gardening with all its attendant benefits. We are very much looking forward to all that this year's Allianz Garden Show Ireland has to offer.”

Gardening enthusiasts will have plenty of opportunities to learn at the Show with a wealth of talks and demonstrations running throughout the three-day event including talks from GIY (Grow It Yourself) founder Michael Kelly, expert gardening writer Geoff Stebbings and local expert and former director of Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, Reg Maxwell.

Food also continues to be a major part of the Allianz Garden Show Ireland with the Food NI Kitchen showcasing the very best of local artisan produce as well as lively demonstrations from the much loved local food author Paula McIyntre. Paula will be joined on Saturday 6th May by the hugely respected food writer and cook Thane Prince who will be performing demonstrations and sharing her experiences through a series of talks. The Food Garden will offer visitors an exciting range of local farm produce to enjoy in one of the many quiet spots throughout the Antrim Castle Gardens.

New to the Show this year will be a series of Art in the Garden events including a collection of wall hangings specially created for the Show and made by a talented group of quilt makers from around Northern Ireland. The Art theme continues with a range of musical offerings including talented young singers from Sestina, a brass ensemble from the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra and the Sing for Life Choir as well as the ever popular Martello Jazz Band.

Mayor of Antrim & Newtownabbey, Cllr John Scott is also looking forward to welcoming the Show back to Antrim,

“Following the huge success of last year’s event, I am delighted that the Allianz Garden Show Ireland will be returning to Antrim Castle Gardens this year. This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase this stunning and unique venue to the thousands of visitors who travel from throughout Ireland and far beyond to the Show each year. Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is extremely proud to support this prestigious event, which contributes so much to the economy of the local area.” 

Returning to the Show bigger and bolder than last year will be the Flower Arranging Pavilion which will welcome massive floral displays created by members of NIGFAS as well as a series of demonstrations and workshops from Gold Medallists Therese Quinn and Roberta Orr.

The family focused event has, over the last number of years, engaged with schools province-wide ensuring that the Show is eagerly anticipated by all the children who take part in the Allianz supported schools challenges. Primary Schools will be displaying their garden containers under the theme of ‘Enchanted Gardens’. Allianz Scarecrow Avenue meanwhile will come alive with scarecrows created by primary schools in the integrated sector who will be creating a ‘Legends of NI’ avenue.

Set in the stunning Antrim Castle Gardens the Allianz Garden Show Ireland continues to draw record crowds each year and this year and with extensive local parking and a short travel time from Belfast it really is an accessible day out for all.

Festival of Flowers & Gardens

Garden gurus galore!


Allianz Garden Show Ireland brings together all the gardening expertise you need to get those garden questions answered!

Celebrity Gardeners will be offering advice and sharing some of their experiences with Show visitors. Joe Swift, a familiar gardening face having been a regular presenter on BBC Gardeners World since 1998 and anchorman for BBC’s coverage of Chelsea Flower Show, joins us on Friday 5 May to talk about ‘Making your dream garden garden come true on a budget’.

Hear about the ups and downs of growing your own from GIY (Grow It Yourself)Ireland founder, Michael Kelly. Michael suggests the Top 5 Veg you absolutely have to grow! And our team of experts will be there to answer all your gardening questions in the Garden Talks Tent which this year will be beautifully decorated by the NI Flower & Foliage Association.

Gardens and displays abound in this year’s Show with ideas and inspiration on how to achieve the results you want in your own garden space. A feature garden, created by young gold medal winning designer, James Purdy, takes centre stage and will be a ‘WOW’ with its wacky ideas! Taking its theme from the Show’s 2017 ‘Heritage’ theme, James’s garden “Heritage of Place” is inspired by the Mourne landscape which was Tolkien’s inspiration for his Lord of the Rings novels.

Hundreds of plants from the specialist nurseries in the Growers Pavilion and Plant Mall will be on display and to purchase. The growers themselves are on hand to share their knowledge and give expert advice on planting and growing. And visitors will be able to choose their favourite display and be in with the chance of winning a 3D landscape design package worth £300 kindly sponsored by AG(Acheson Glover).

Demonstrations and workshops on how to create stunning flower arrangements in the Flower Arranging Pavilion run each day. In 2017 the new expanded Pavilion will feature stunning floral artistry created by members of NIGFAS from around Northern Ireland.

Festival of Food

baker b 1440x750

The Food NI Pavilion will be the focus for foodies at this year’s Festival!

Resident Chef, Paula McIntyre will be creating imaginative recipes for ‘Outdoor Dining!‘ and will be making use of all the local produce around her from Northern Ireland’s rich edible heritage. Paula will be sharing her superb knowledge of cooking with vegetables, herbs, and plants of all sorts including the creation of mouth-watering dishes from the produce you grow in your garden or in a hanging basket outside the kitchen!

On Saturday 6 May, the Food NI Kitchen hosts food judge from BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge, Thane Prince. Thane, who appeared as a regular chef on Ready, Steady, Cook, set up the acclaimed Aldeburgh Cookery School and has written extensively on food and cookery.

Gardens and displays around the Show will have experts on hand to provide advice on how to achieve the results you want in your own garden space to grow the herbs and vegetables you’ll really taste!

Indulge yourself in the Food NI Food Market! Local produce from cider and cheeses to chutneys and cupcakes, there’s mouth-watering local produce to buy.

Farm producers with locally reared beef, venison and fresh organic salads in the artisan food stalls are just some of the tempting delicacies on offer around the Show so visitors can relax and enjoy a delicious meal during their visit – or indeed share a cream tea with friends listening to the Jazz Band in the Punjana Tea Pavilion!

Festival of Family Fun