The concept of High Nature Value (HNV) farming developed in the early 1990s, as several authors referred to the links between nature values and agricultural activities (Beaufoy et al., 1994; Bignal and McCracken, 1996). While analysing those relations, it was concluded that the conservation of biodiversity in large agricultural areas depends primarily on the continuation of low-intensity farming systems in the region. Estimatedly, 50% of European species (including numerous endemic and threatened species) depend on agricultural activities.
In European environmental policy the responsibilities of HNV farming were first determined in European Biodiversity Strategy in 1998 and have been adjusted and established since then in several declarations and strategies.
HNV farming concept covers both land of high nature value and farming practices that maintain those values.
According to the most common definition (Andersen et al., 2003) the High Nature Value farmland comprises those areas in Europe where agriculture is a major (usually the dominant) land use and where that agriculture supports, or is associated with, either a high species and habitat diversity or the presence of species of European and/or national and/or regional conservation concern, or both. According to the definition three main types of HNV farmland is distinguished:
Type 1: farmland with a high proportion of semi-natural habitats;
Type 2: farmland dominated by low intensity farming and high mosaicity of landscape (including high share of landscape elements);
Type 3: farmland supporting rare species or a high proportion of European or World populations.
In practice, the three types are not distinctly determinated and may overlap, but common to all types should be a high contribution to biodiversity conservation and enlargement at the European level (Paracchini et al., 2008).
According to this determination most countries have indicative data about the Type 1 HNV farmland and to some extent about Type 3, but there is practically no data about the scope of farmland linked to high mosaicity of landscape (Type 2).
Besides defining HNV farmland, further analyses on application the HNV farming concept into practice have been conducted and suggestions on more precise defining and characterization of HNV farming (including land and farming practices) have been given.
According to one of the principal analysis (Beaufoy and Cooper, 2009), on characterization of HNV farming three main types indicators should be used.
The indicators should be linked to:
- low intensity land use and producing;
- presence of semi-natural vegetation/landscape elements;
- presence of mosaic landscape.
While defining HNV farmland, surrounding „supportive structure“ also should be taken into account, as numerous farmland values are related to those (for example, many farmland birds nest in forest stands and feed on the fields).
Varied and heterogeneous landscape and Estonia`s geographical location are the base for the high diversity and nature value of the habitats. Thus, while considering the indicators of main types, it is possible to underline and analyse the share of diverse landscape that supports biodiversity and nature values. This has been taken into account while defining Estonian HNV farmlands.
The need to define HNV farming and farmland in Estonia derived from the EU monitoring and evaluation obligations under RDP 2007-2013 where condition and changes of HNV farming due to RDP support were requested to monitor and assess (using specific context and impact indicators) for Axis 2 measures – Improving the environment and the countryside. Also capturing RDP impact to HNV farmland and farming has continued to be important evaluation subject for RDP 2014-2020.
Estonia (as many other countries) didn´t have relevant primary data concerning this indicator and/or used definitions have not been sufficient for describing the real situation (primarily for pointing out the effect of the support). That is why, in the framework of assessment of Axis 2 of Estonian RDP for 2007-2013, HNV farming expert group was created under leadership of ARC in 2009. The goal of the expert group was to analyse the alternatives of classifying nature values of farmlands in Estonia and develop the most suitable methodology for Estonian conditions.