13. A Varied Agricultural Landscape

13. A Varied Agricultural Landscape. Photo: Tore Hagman/Naturfotograferna/Pixelfactory."The value of the farmed landscape and agricultural land for biological production and food production must be protected, at the same time as biological diversity and cultural heritage assets are preserved and strengthened."

The natural values of today’s agricultural landscape are a product of thousands of years of human use. Many of Sweden’s plant and animal species are to be found in hay meadows and pastures, field margins and roadside verges, mid-field patches of rocky ground, wetlands and other small-scale habitats. Many of these environments, along with old farm buildings, are also of cultural heritage interest, providing a picture of how our ancestors lived and worked the landscape.

The biodiversity and cultural environments of farming areas are dependent on agriculture being maintained, but also on the methods it employs. Grazing livestock, for example, are crucial to preserving species-rich pastures. In some parts of Sweden, agriculture has become increasingly specialised and intensive, while in others land is no longer being cultivated and many farms are being abandoned. Both trends pose a threat to many farmland species and habitats.

What are the challenges?

Agricultural practices need to be adapted so as to conserve and develop the natural and cultural values of the farmed landscape. At the same time, farming has to be efficient and competitive. It is also important to preserve Swedish crop plants and livestock breeds with unique characteristics, as they may prove important for future food supplies and are part of our cultural heritage.

If biodiversity and cultural heritage are to be preserved, action is needed at every level in society – from efforts by local authorities to limit development on farmland, to attempts to shape the design of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Agri-environment payments, funded both nationally and by the EU, are promoting the management of pastures and the establishment of wetlands.