Results-based Agri-Environment Payment Schemes

The principle behind results-based agri-environment payment schemes (RBAPS) is that the farmer or land manager is given flexibility to choose the most appropriate practices to achieve a defined environmental result in exchange for a payment. The central difference from traditional payments is that they do not prescribe when or what a farmer has to do or not do to achieve the agreed result and get a payment. The funding of these schemes can be from various sources i.e. public (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy), national or regional funds, or even private initiatives. However, there is no single agreed definition of what constitutes a ‘results-based’ agri-environment payment scheme’. In Europe, different payment mechanisms based on different criteria/measurements of results have been applied.


Key characteristics

In RBAPS projects and initiatives, the key characteristics are based on the relation between results and payments, also between conservation indicators and monitoring. One of the key characteristics is the partial or absolute lack of specific public legislation, as we will detail.

Key Characteristics:

  • A clear link between spending and the biodiversity conservation outputs delivered on the ground exists.
  • Increased cost-effectiveness; money is paid for concrete biodiversity results.
  • Incentivised maintenance of high-quality biodiversity.
  • The clear definition of the ecological objective (i.e. the outcome), based on strong ecological research and up to date baseline data.
  • The biodiversity target should be a conservation priority and be dependent on agricultural practices.
  • There needs to be a clear, unambiguous link between the ecological objectives and reliable indicators that act as proxy for achieving the ecological objectives, and upon which payments depend.
  • The result indicators should not be easily achieved by means other than agricultural management. The indicators should be easily measurable, quantifiable and observable by farmers, and they should not be heavily dependent on factors external to the farm.
  • The existence of adequate expert knowledge on ecological requirements to inform best practice and knowledge transfer to farmers and farm advisors.
  • An appropriate system for results verification, farm advisory service and dispute resolution needs to be in place.
  • Socio-economic factors need to be taken into account, including stakeholders’ attitudes to innovation and risk taking, along with the existence of a culture of trust between the various actors – farmers, farm advisory service, evaluators and government institutions.

Key Stakeholders

  • Farmer: who are eager to implement the conservation measures or even monitor outcomes.
  • Specialists/Scientists: to develop scorecard, design monitoring and evaluation, and provide best-practice management guidelines.
  • Farm advisors: with ecological knowledge to support delivery on the ground.
  • Governments: public administration is the actor who can allow this kind of conservations, with specific measures, legislation, or funds but no specific legal intervention.
  • NGO: can collaborate with landowners to assess and achieve the conservation goals (optional) or funding the activities.

Rights and obligations

RBAPS projects are delivered through result indicators which easily and reliably assess the biodiversity quality and consistently respond to farming practices. Especially, through farmers’ understanding of the scoring system and the best-practice management which delivers the biodiversity target. Farmers will have obligations to achieve a specific nature conservation objective, based on the specific program of RBAPS. Depending on the details of the RBAPS program, if the farmer does not achieve the targets the possibility could exist of partial payments and/or modifications of the objectives. The same applies if the farmer invests effort and time but the objectives of conservation were not well established. All these possibilities must be contemplated in RBAPS programs and contracts.

Duration of rights

Duration of rights depends on each country but based on some experiences, RBAPS have run under the agri-environment-climate measure of a Rural Development Program which can normally offer contracts of no more than five years, which means that the indicators of biodiversity results must be achieved and measured within this timescale.

Legal basis

There is no need to have a specific legislation. Results-based schemes can run as a private agreement between the different agents involved or through a public agreement. In this last case, a minimum legal base will be needed. In economic terms and legislation, RBAPS have been funded through measures of Rural Development Programmes other than Agri-environmental measures. So, many times, the legal basis is depending on political programmes and not on specific legislation.

Purpose and application

RBAPS are effective when a varying range of biodiversity quality exists (e.g. good and mod-erate). It’s also important for maintaining and incentivising improvements in the condition of semi-natural habitats and the environmental conditions for species.
Many different types of RBAPSs have been implemented across Europe, mostly on a case-by-case basis. One can distinguish between measures aimed at biodiversity conservation targeted at species and habitats of conservation concern, such as species rich grasslands, and those aimed at ecosystem services provision, which are often common habitat gener-alists, occurring in a wide variety of environments.
There is a general belief that results-based approaches will be able to deliver better eco-logical outcomes than prescription-based approaches and can better integrate ecosystem services within agri-environment programmes because they carry less dead-weight (measures of which it is hard to monitor their environmental effectiveness). They are also believed to be more cost effective, as payments are directly linked to outcomes. Within result-based payments the farmer or land manager is free to choose the most appropriate management to achieve the prescribed result, and payments should reflect the level of achievement.

Economic transactions and fiscality

Payments can be done according to different criteria, based on the achievement of the conservation goals, analysed by a scientific panel. These payments could be done with a specific economic amount for area, for conservation goals, for the improvement of the indicators, etc. For example, payments can be based on verifiable maintenance/improvement of selected biodiversity indicators on individual land parcels, by which improved indicator scores mean a higher payment. Transaction costs are relatively cheap, compared to traditional action, based payment systems, as they are three times less expensive. Once RBAPS are set up they are quite efficient because the monitoring is inbuilt. Hybrid payment schemes can use a mix of both results- and prescription-based actions and, as with any approach, can include capital investments to pay for once-off complementary actions.


Opportunities for landowners 

  • The relationship between payments and biodiversity achievements is much clearer than for prescription-based payments
  • Contracts with farmers simply define the desired results, without the need to detail the farming practices to be applied
  • Farmers can use their farming skills, professional judgment and local knowledge instead of just following instructions and are rewarded for achieving the results of their entrepreneurial efforts
  • Farmers take ‘ownership’ of biodiversity outcomes, which can lead to greater public recognition of the role of farmers in conserving biodiversity
  • The ‘production’ of biodiversity becomes an integral part of the farming system and farm business, not just another set of land management ‘rules’ to be followed
  • RBAPS can more easily meet the EU requirements for verification of agri-environment-climate payments
  • RBAPS are more easily targeted and budgets carry less ‘deadweight’ because there is a built-in incentive for farmers to select only the land where the biodiversity results are achievable

Opportunities for conservation NGOs 

  • The “production” of biodiversity becomes an integral part of the agricultural system increasing environmental consciousness of the primary sector


Results-based payment mechanisms are not appropriate when:

  • Reliable indicators of biodiversity outcomes and methods that can quantify them on farms cannot be designed
  • Lack of environmental knowledge of managing authority to put in place a results-based mechanism
  • Lack of human and financial resources to support farmers in implementing and monitoring RBAPs
  • The farming community is reluctant to accept results-based strategies
  • There is insufficient understanding of the biodiversity requirements or insufficient resources to develop and deliver the measures.


Austria – Results-based nature conservation plan (ENP)

In Austria, ENP was implemented as a pilot project with a defined, small number of participants as part of the ÖPUL Nature Conservation Measure.
The dual system of ENP – consisting of objectives and control criteria – is highly functional. It ensures that farmers understand and implement even those nature conservation objectives that pose challenges, and that ecological objectives for animal species are also incorporated. Farmers can take responsibility for meeting the objectives without being unjustifiably sanctioned if some of them are not achieved due to technical reasons or external factors. The control criteria ensure that any deterioration in the area resulting from cultivation practices can be detected quickly and sanctioned accordingly.
Copyright: @Suske Consulting
Area objectives
Tailored objectives were defined for each ENP area in accordance with the ecological baseline. These targets were clear to the farmers and were directly related to cultivation practices, however it was also conceded that in certain years the farmers’ influence on meeting the objectives might be limited.
Of course, cultivation measures can have a massive impact on whether certain farmland birds breed on cultivated land, however the causes of a reduction in the local population can also be attributed to other factors such as the quality of the winter quarters or climate. The situation is similar for a number of plant species such as orchids, which simply do not occur in some years.
For this reason, failure to meet the area objectives does not automatically lead to sanctions for the farmer.
Control criteria
In addition to area objectives, so-called control criteria are developed. These are intended as a kind of early warning system for possible undesirable developments on the land. As such, they are related to the area objectives but conceived differently.
Examples for control criteria can be the absence of dock or certain neophytes on the land or the presence of certain vegetation structures. Depending on the severity of the infringement, a failure to comply with the control criteria leads to sanctions, the magnitude of which is determined by the control authority.
Control criteria and the corresponding indicators are sanctioned in the event of non-compliance.
Copyright: @Suske Consulting

I want to preserve my high nature value landscapes, but I found the regulation system too rigid. Now I have the option of switching more often between grazing and mowing during the commitment period.»

Concrete impact of ENP

Habitats. Pastures are very important habitats for a variety of insects, small mammals, reptiles and birds. The high structural diversity of extensively grazed areas is both unique and very important. Old junipers and cornelian cherry bushes provide shelter for numerous insects and small mammals.

Concrete impact of ENP

Species. For example the bird whinchat breeds on the ground in hay meadows and is highly endangered due to the ever earlier mowing. In such areas, the aim of ENP is to prevent mowing in those sections where breeding activities are observed by the farmer.

Concrete impact of ENP

Landscape elements. As an example, the creation and protection of a habitat for the red-backed shrike was possible with partly cut hedges, single trees and single thorn bushes.

Copyright: @Suske Consulting
The ENP evaluation has shown that farmers understand the objectives and know through what measures they can be achieved. It was found that field visits, on which objectives were defined and evaluated and farmers received individual guidance, were of primary importance to the success of ENP.

Johanna Huber, Suske Consulting

Germany - Coordinated grassland bird protection - Schleswig-Holstein

The ‘cooperation for grassland bird protection’ (‘Gemeinschaftlicher Wiesenschutz’) scheme pays grassland farmers in various regions of Schleswig-Holstein for the protection of grassland bird nest sites in fields when mowing, grazing or managing the grassland.
The payment varies according to the number of bird clutches per hectare and the degree to which the birds result in delays to farming operations. The scheme is designed to protect Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), Curlew (Numenius arquata), Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), and Redshank (Tringa tetanus).
The Schleswig-Holstein programme covers around 220 km2 and is growing rapidly – each year the number of participating farmers and the area covered by the scheme increases. It is funded through Schleswig-Holstein federal state funds, and organised by local organisations, for example the Kuno cooperative in the Eider-Treene-Sorge region. The Michael-Otto-Institut of NABU coordinates all projects of this nature in Schleswig-Holstein.
Endagered species like the black-tailed godwit benefit from such programmes -Copyright: Jan Sohler
Hybrid result based payment with complementary management based payments
The farmer must avoid carrying out actions that would affect breeding birds during the breeding season. The restrictions end after the chicks have fledged and the birds have left the field. The scheme is relatively simple in its operation with specific management requirements agreed verbally between the farmer and the scheme contact person for that area at the beginning of the bird breeding season.
Most of the payments in 2013 in Schleswig-Holstein went to field parcels where farmers delayed their spring grassland management (i.e. rolling), mainly for Lapwing in the Eider-Treene-Sorge Niederung, but in the regions with greater abundance of Black-tailed Godwit (i.e. the islands Föhr and Pellworm), most of the farmers delayed grass cutting because this species remains on the parcel for longer.
The farmers are paid for bird clutches lost to predation in order to avoid any incentive for predator control measures.
The scheme requires the presence of breeding birds of the target species on grassland parcels.
How are the incentives (payment levels) calculated?
Farmers receive between €150 and €350 per hectare for those areas on which birds have bred. The payments are graded depending on the degree to which farming activities are affected and whether one or more breeding pairs are present on the parcel. These payments are based on the following actions:
  • Early season: Where early nesting birds (from end March) affect spring grassland management (sub-soiling/aerating, rolling, fertilising using manure)
  • Mown grass: If the birds are still present at the first mowing date, the farmer must either delay mowing on the whole parcel or on parts.
  • Grazed grass: On grazed parcels, the farmer can choose to either protect each site with a 20m x 20m fence (where possible electrified), or to delay grazing the site until the birds have left.
The payments are made when the birds have left the parcel or if the bird clutches or chicks are lost through natural causes (e.g. weather or predators).
In control areas, the number of bird pairs fluctuates, but remains constant over the years. The constant trend and the breeding success of black-tailed godwit and northern lapwing clearly differ from the national negative trend of bird numbers.
NABU – Michael-Ott-Institut Bergenhusen, Heike Jeromin

Ireland – The Pearl Mussel Project

The Pearl Mussel Project is a locally led European Innovation Partnership (EIP) whereby local farmers, researchers and advisors are working together to develop a programme to ensure long term coexistence of farming and freshwater pearl mussel in eight priority catchment areas in the west of Ireland. The Pearl Mussel Project have designed and are currently implementing a voluntary results-based agri-environmental scheme.
The project aims to help protect the endangered freshwater pearl mussel and enhance the local environment by maintaining and improving natural habitats and water quality. The Project demonstrates how the results-based model can be adapted to an aquatic target at a multi-catchment scale.

Freshwater pearl mussel lifecycle. Copyright Pearl Mussel Project

Hybrid result based payment with complementary management based payments

The project will include the following elements:

  • A result based agri-environmental programme.
  • Community outreach. The project team will promote environmental awareness amongst the local communities in each of the project areas. This will be achieved by working with schools and local interest groups.
  • Promoting innovative agriculture. The project will support innovative approaches to agriculture that aim to reduce environmental impact or enhance the environment as relevant to the project.
  • Develop market opportunities. Explore and help develop new market opportunities for agricultural producers that complement the project’s overall environmental targets.
  • Research and development. Support research and development relevant to the aims of the project.
The Pearl Mussel Project is an EIP (European Innovation Partnership) Locally Led Scheme. The Project is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as part of Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.
Dr Patrick Crushell, The pearl mussel project Ltd.

Ireland – The Burren Programme

The Burren Programme (BP) is a full-fledged agri-environmental scheme which, over the past 10 years, has worked to conserve and support the heritage, environment and communities of the Burren.
The BP adopts a novel ‘hybrid’ approach, using direct payments to farmers who achieve clearly defined results, along with a fund to support complementary conservation actions. The success of the programme is built on its localized approach, the central role of its farmers, the innovative payment system and the strong spirit of partnership among stakeholders.
  • to ensure the sustainable agricultural management of high nature value farmland in the Burren;
  • to contribute to the positive management of the Burren’s landscape and cultural heritage;
  • and to contribute to improvements in water quality and water usage efficiency in the Burren region.
Which indicators are used?

The BP field score, which ranges from 0 to 10, is calculated using ten distinct, weighted criteria which, taken together, give a very accurate picture of the ‘health’ of the grazed habitats in that management unit. The criteria (for ‘winterages’ – very extensive, diverse rough grasslands) are:

  1. Grazing level;
  2. Amount of litter (dead vegetation);
  3. Extent of feed site damage;
  4. Extent of damage at natural water sources;
  5. Level of bare soil and erosion;
  6. Level of encroaching scrub;
  7. Amount of bracken
  8. Amount of purple moor grass;
  9. Extent of weeds and agriculturally-favoured species; and
  10. Ecological integrity.
For lowland grasslands(meadows) indicator species are used to help determine the ecological integrity. Full details of indicators used in the scoring system are available here.
Hybrid result based payment with complementary management based payments
The BP has pioneered a novel ‘hybrid’ approach to farming and conservation which sees farmers paid for both works undertaken and, most importantly, for the delivery of defined environmental objectives. The following principles are central to how the BP goes about meeting its objectives of conserving the heritage, environment and communities of the Burren.
  • The BP is farmer-led. Farmers nominate and co-fund conservation actions on their own farms and are generally free to manage the land as they see fit (within the law).
  • The BP is results-based. Simply put, it rewards those farmers who deliver the highest environmental benefits.
  • The BP is flexible and adaptable. Farmers are given the freedom to deliver the required outputs using their own skills, experience and resources, as best fits their own farms and circumstances.
  • The BP is local and practical, focusing on works which address real needs in the Burren and which will yield real agricultural and environmental benefits.
For lowland grasslands(meadows) indicator species are used to help determine the ecological integrity. Full details of indicators used in the scoring system are available here.
The Burren landscape. Copyright: J Moran and C Sullivan.
Dr. Brendan Dunford, Burren programme

Sweden – Conservation performance payment

The Lynx and Wolverine are endangered carnivores on the World Conservation Union Red List, both at risk of habitat loss and illegal hunting. The scheme also targets wolves or any wild animal that is not an ungulate and that are protected from hunting.
The Swedish conservation performance payment scheme for Lynx (Lynx lynx) and Wolverine (Gulo gulo) offspring was first introduced in 1996 with modifications made in 2000. Its objective is the preservation of those 2 species.
The scheme is targeted at areas of Sami reindeer herding in the north of Sweden – typically wildland, forest and tundra and has been taken up widely across the 51 Sami communities. These natural areas are also home to other large carnivores including wolves (Canis lupus).
Lynx with cubs. Copyright : Lars Thulin-Johner
Which indicators are used for the payment?
The results indicators for this scheme are relatively straight forwards. Payments are made according to the number of Lynx and Wolverine offspring observed each year as a proxy for the total population.
The annual target is to record 90 Wolverine offspring and 80 Lynx offspring which are thought to indicate overall populations of around 400 of each species.
The level of payment is determined according to the cost of the damage that each Lynx or Wolverine offspring is expected to cause throughout their lifetime.
In addition, payments can be made for the regular and occasional occurrence of lone Wolverines and Lynx. The payments are made to the Sami villages as a common pool resource to be distributed as they see fit. In many cases the herders have a say in how the money is distributed but not always. Until 2000 there was a cap on the total amount of money that was to be spent on performance payments irrespective of the number of offspring.
The funds implementing the scheme
The payments are financed publically by the Swedish government and managed by the Swedish Environmental Agency – not by the Swedish Board of Agriculture (which manages agri-environment payments).
Viltförvaltningsenheten, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency