Catchment News

High Nature Value farmland: co-delivery of farmland biodiversity and water quality

| in News, Science

We introduce High Nature Value farmland and its positive contribution to multiple environmental dimensions. Environmental supports could more deliberately target measures to maintain and enhance the joint delivery of multiple environmental benefits, and increase the cost-effectiveness of such funding. We provide an example of the overlap of HNV farmland areas with High Status Water Bodies.

What is High Nature Value farmland and why is it important?

High Nature Value (HNV) farmland has been defined as “those areas in Europe where agriculture is a major (usually the dominant) land use and where agriculture sustains or is associated with either a high species and habitat diversity, or the presence of species of European conservation concern, or both”. Maintaining both the nature value of this farmland and the livelihoods of farmers in these areas is a key policy challenge in the years ahead. The European Commission includes HNV farming and forestry systems as one of the seven headline indicators of environmental impact. Member States are required to identify areas with High Nature Value farming practices, to support and maintain High Nature Value farming through Rural Development Programmes (especially agri-environment schemes), and monitor changes to High Nature Value farmland area over time.

The IDEAL-HNV project

The IDEAL-HNV project (Identification of the Distribution and Extent of Agricultural Land of High Nature Value in Ireland) developed methods to improve prediction of the likely national distribution of High Nature Value farmland, using the following indicators:

  • Semi-natural land cover classes
  • Stocking density from
  • % hedgerow cover from
  • Length of river and stream
  • Soil diversity calculated

Data were modelled at the tetrad scale (2km x 2km), and presented here at the scale of Electoral Divisions. The resulting map (from Matin et al., accepted) indicates the likely occurrence and distribution of High Nature Value farmland in each Electoral Division, based on a scale ranging from very low (blue colour) to intermediate (yellow) to very high (green) (Fig. 1a). To our knowledge, this is the first Irish national-scale map that has used objective agri-environmental criteria to predict the likely distribution of High Nature Value farmland. This provides a reference point for the future monitoring of the distribution of High Nature Value farmland in Ireland (see

To compare the coincidence of HNVf areas with the distribution of Good Status Water Bodies in Ireland, areas with high and very high HNVf likelihood were merged to give one polygon (Fig. 1b). This polygon was overlaid on the River Waterbodies Ecological Status layer from the EPA (Fig. 1c). On the intersecting area (Fig. 1d), over half (53%) of the Good Status Water Bodies in Ireland (EPA, 2007-2009 data) occur in areas with high likelihood of being HNV. The most recent data (2010-2012) shows that of the assessed river lengths, 63% of the good status river waterbodies and 79% of the high status river waterbodies occurred in areas with high HNVf potential (intersecting area in Fig. 1d) (Moran and Sullivan, unpublished).

High Nature Value farming systems are now well recognised not just for their biodiversity, but also for their provision of environmental public goods including clean air, clean water, carbon storage, aesthetic landscapes and vibrant rural communities. Here, we show that High Nature Value farmland is also associated with areas of high water quality. Given the high environmental quality of High Nature Value farmland, there is considerable opportunity for the design of environmental supports in these areas to not just maintain and improve biodiversity, but also water quality, carbon sequestration and other environmental dimensions. Importantly, the design of environmental supports to explicitly address and jointly enhance multiple environmental dimensions ‘environmental bundles’ can increase their cost-effectiveness. Environmental monitoring of High Nature Value farmland can also better measure and demonstrate the co-benefits, and investigate the effectiveness of the delivery of joint benefits.


IDEAL-HNV was funded by the Stimulus Research Fund (award 11/S/108) of DAFM through the National Development Plan.


J.A. Finn (1), C. A. Sullivan (2), S. Matin (3), S. Green (3) & J. Moran (2)

  1. Teagasc, Environment Research Centre, Johnstown Castle, Wexford, Ireland
  2. Centre for Environmental Research Innovation and Sustainability, IT Sligo, Ash Lane, Sligo
  3. Department of AgriFood Business and Spatial Analysis, Teagasc, Ashtown, Dublin, Ireland


Matin, S., Sullivan, C.A., Ó hUallacháin, D., Meredith, D., Moran J., Finn, J.A. and Green, S. ‘Map of High Nature Value farmland in the Republic of Ireland.’ Journal of Maps (accepted).

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.