How to make the PARTRIDGE approach mainstream?
Our key message
The primary goal of the PARTRIDGE project is to show how new management solutions can improve biodiversity by at least 30%, and how these solutions can be adopted all over the NSR and the EU.
We, the partners in the project,believe in this message and in what we do. But in order to convince our stakeholders, we compiled the scientific evidence from many years of partridge conservation research in England, Germany and other countries. From that, we selected the proven, most effective habitat measures to fit into our strategy. We share this underlying evidence with our followers through the book “Farming with Nature - Promoting biodiversity across Europe through partridge conservation” (Brewin J., Buner F. & Ewald J., 2020), which is also published in a Dutch, with a Flemish and German translation to follow later this year. That is our ‘Handbook’.
But the work does not stop there. We continue to test hypotheses, we run trials with different seed mixtures and management schemes, discuss them with scientists, and make study trips all over Europe to observe possible alternative strategies. We monitor and evaluate our habitat measures, incorporate farmers experiences and feedback, and improve our management wherever necessary.
Double page from new PARTRIDGE book "Farming with Nature - Promoting biodiversity across Europe through partridge conservation” (Brewin J., Buner F. & Ewald J., 2020), English edition
Be good and show it
In PARTRIDGE, we practice what we preach and we show it to the world. Our project is essentially a demonstration project and we show that our measures deliver what we promise: more biodiversity integrated into modern farming holdings. Since we are convinced that most people want to see new ideas with their own eyes, in their own surroundings and circumstances, we laid down two demo sites in every participating country. We also engage interest groups, such as local residents, policymakers, farmers collectives, nature organisations, hunter associations, agricultural advisors and the general public in on-site farm walks. We show our habitat measures, share our monitoring results, and discuss our strategy. Over the past three years in the project, we held more than 170 farm walks for over 2500 attendants.
The PARTRIDGE project has very much developed into a communication project. In addition to the demo sites and the farm walks, we communicate our results through presentations for interest groups, information stands at symposia, articles in newspapers and farming magazines, updating our project websites, on radio and television news and though social media. We make project videos, short instruction films on YouTube, and produced a series of practical “how-to factsheets”in Dutch for our habitat measures
June 2020. Farm walk at the Oude Doorn demo site for selected key decision makers, to discuss the compatibility of the PARTRIDGE strategy and habitat measures with the outlines of the new Common Agricultural Policy of the EU and its translation into the Dutch national strategic plan. Delegates from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, several provincial governments, the Union of Waterboards, the Netherlands food and consumer product safety authority, the regional farmers collective West-Brabant and the regional agricultural association for nature and landscape Altenatuur, Brabants Landschap and BirdLife NL participated. Covid19 measures were respected, including the 1,5m distance between each person.
How to make it work?
We know that no matter how much demonstration and communication we do, it will not be enough. Farming with nature will only work if it pays off. In the global markets, with growing environmental concerns and faced with a climate crisis, many farmers struggle to make a living from their farm. As a Dutch report on ‘nature-inclusive’ farming formulated it (in Dutch): “Je kunt niet groen doen als je rood staat”, i.e. “you cannot invest in sustainability when you are into debts”, or as an English farmer recently put it: “You cannot be green if you’re in the red”. If we want farmers to engage in promoting biodiversity, then farming with nature should be a viable option for modern farms. Wildlife conservation should be an integral part of the farm economy and income and farmers should be rewarded for their wildlife conservation management. In the PARTRIDGE project, we aim towards a short-term and a long-term goal for this.
Know your key stakeholders
The short-term goal of our lobby strategy is to get as much as possible of our habitat measures and project strategy into the current national Agri-Environmental Schemes (AES) and into the new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Thus, farmers can get subsidies for their beetle banks, flower blocks, partridge hedges, etc. This requires we get to know our national and European political processes better and of the ways to influence these. We have to identify key stakeholders and decision-makers at all levels and listen very carefully to their priorities, worries and information needs. And we have to know their agendas, when and where they will meet and come to decisions and agreements. Our lobby must be at the right time and the right spot, otherwise all energy is lost without result.
We have to create coalitions of stakeholders, inform interest groups and raise public awareness for our cause. Each of our partners has to invest in their network at the regional, national and international level for that.
Good friends are invaluable
Let’s look at the activities in the Netherlandsto illustrate what we have done so far to get the PARTRIDGE measures on the political agenda and into the AES system. As early as in 2018, beetle banks were the first PARTRIDGE habitat measure that became established in the Dutch AES system. That was mainly due to our positive press releases (even in the national news program on prime time) about the increase of insects in those beetle banks. At that time the collapse of insect populations was in the focus of all news channels, we could show that beetle banks and flower blocks increased insect populations 5- to 10-fold. Our flower blocks have since also become one of the AES options. In the Province of Limburg alone, over 200 hectares of flower blocks have been sown.
New beetle bank (established in 2019) at Rotherfield demonstration site, England
Being aware of the importance of this political lobby from the very start, we strategically invited some of the key stakeholders into the International Steering Committee of our project. For the Netherlands, that is Mr Arno Teunissen, project leader Biodiversity at the Province of Noord-Brabant. Mr Teunissen is also a member of the national advisory committee for a vital countryside and chair of the interprovincial working group on agri-environmental policies (in Dutch: “Agrarisch Natuur- en Landschapsbeheer – ANLb”). He is thus directly involved in all provincial discussions on the future of the new CAP and Dutch AES system, and frequently meets with the key decisionmakers from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The second Dutch member of our Steering Committee is Mr Alex Datema, chairman of ‘BoerenNatuur’, i.e. the Dutch national organization that represents all 40 farmers collectives with over 9000 farmers in the Netherlands. These collectives execute the agri-environmental scheme (ANLb) at a landscape scale and are actively engaged in a series of pilots to test schemes and arrangements for the new CAP. Mr Datema is an active presenter and debater in meetings and discussions on sustainable agriculture in the Netherlands and within Europe. He frequently meets with all key stakeholders and decision-makers in this domain. He is an active advocate for nature-inclusive agriculture and a fantastic ambassador for the PARTRIDGE project.
The third and final Dutch member of the Steering Committee is Mrs Manon Tentij, who is Head of the Department of Conservation for BirdLife The Netherlands. Through BirdLife NL, Mrs Tentij is directly engaged in the PARTRIDGE project as coordinating partner and well-informed of the ins and outs of our project. With the help of the public affairs officers of BirdLife NL, and through their network of BirdLife Europe, Mrs Tentij can take to heart and promote the interests of the PARTRIDGE project both at the national level as well as at the level of the European Union and the CAP.
Thus, in the choice of the members of our Steering Committee, we have been able to connect to the network of all major stakeholders and decision-makers for European and national policies on Agri-Environmental Schemes (AES) and sustainable agriculture. And this networking has paid off! We have had Members of the European Parliament, ministers and EU commissioners visiting PARTRIDGE demo sites.
MEP visit at Oude Doorn demonstration site in April 2019. From left to right: Anne-Lieke Struijk-Faber (Birdlife Netherlands), Arno Teunissen (Province North-Brabant), Jochem Sloothaak (Brabants Landschap), Meeuwis Millenaar (farmer and PARTRIDGE field coordinator), Annie Schreijer-Pierik (CDA MEP), Cees Witkamp (Birdlife Netherlands), Wim Knol (Royal Dutch Hunter Association), Roderick Enzerink (Wildlife Policy Officer FACE), Henk Vink (Brabants Landschap and WBE Land van Altena) and Rens Kolff (farmer and PARTRIDGE participant).
Our approach is to last
The AES subsidies help farmers to adopt the PARTRIDGE habitat measures and experience that these are effective, benefiting the farmer and wildlife. But in the long-term, European and national subsidies may suffer from economic crises and/or changing political priorities. Therefore, we aim to explore new, alternative arrangements for rewarding biodiversity restoration and conservation in agriculture. Our goal is to become less depending on EU and national government subsidies, and experiment with instruments that make nature conservation part of local communities and regional food chains. That could be through higher prices for nature-inclusive agricultural products with special quality labels. Or through reduced taxes and/or more flexible permits and legislation for such sustainable farming systems. In the Netherlands, an important grass-roots movement is that of the “Deltaplan Biodiversiteit”, which has almost exactly the same objectives, to find new arrangements for restoring biodiversity. BirdLife NL is one of the partners in this Deltaplan initiative, and we try to get the PARTRIDGE project nominated as one of the showcases for that initiative. But a lot of work in this direction still remains to be done.
We need the public support
In order to motivate our decision-makers and governments for real action and change, we need public support for our cause. A Dutch stakeholder cited a politician: “Politics cannot do it if the people don’t want it. And the people cannot want it if they don’t know about it. So, we all have to make sure that the people know about it. When they know about it, politics can do it.” Which brings us back to the second paragraph of this blog: Be good and show it!
PARTRIDGE is very much a communication project, out of the need to change and improve our agriculture and agri-environmental policies. It is for this reason that we organise so many farm walks, and communicate our results through so many channels and media. All important local and regional stakeholders, such as conservationists, agricultural collectives, hunters associations, residents and citizens, municipalities and provincial governments, and waterboards are directly involved in our project. We want the communities surrounding our demo sites to adopt our project and spread the word, to communicate (on our behalf) the benefits of our strategy and measures. That is why we showcase our project in regional and national newspapers and in radio and television items to the general public. Our stakeholders will help to raise the support to convince decision-makers that the recovery of farmland biodiversity today and a healthy future is for the benefit of us all.
Written by Frans van Alebeek, BirdLife NL and PARTRIDGE coordinator for the Netherlands
Edited by Molly Crookshank (PARTRIDGE intern GWCT Scotland) and Francis Buner, GWCT and Head of PARTRIDGE