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Restoring or Creating Other Specific Elements to Benefit Wildlife and Particular Services

Besides strategic revegetation, there are other actions that benefit wildlife and provide particular services in farmland, which do not or hardly compete with agricultural land use. In general, all these actions were labeled “farmed field manicure” by Rey Benayas (2012) and, again, they can be considered as a form of rewilding. These include: (1) creation of pollinator-friendly areas using plant enrichment; (2) introduction of beetle banks, stone walls, stone mounds and other strategic refuges for fauna; (3) introduction of perches and nest-boxes for birds (see example below); (4) introduction or restoration of small ponds and (5) drinking troughs; and (6) reconstruction of rural architecture aiming at restoring cultural services.

GREFA's project for enhancement of birds of prey for rodent control ( del-topillo-campesino/76-control-biologico-del-topillo-campesino) is an outstanding example of this type of wildlife-friendly farming. This project was motivated by periodic field vole Microtus arvalis outbreaks, which are often controlled using poisons that may damage wildlife and game. Common kestrel Falco tinnunculus and barn owl Tyto alba are rodent predators that have declining populations for a number of reasons, including lack of sites for nesting in open landscapes. Thus, more nesting sites should increase the populations of these two species and contribute to place their populations at the carrying capacities. To achieve this goal, three 2000-ha agricultural landscapes in central Spain were seeded with nest boxes, 100 for common kestrel and 100 for barn owl in each landscape. For common kestrel, we calculate that rodent consumption per occupied nest box is ca. 186 kg year−1. As average occupancy in the three landscapes was 27 % between 2009 and 2012, total rodent consumption by this species is calculated in ca. 5 t year−1 per landscape for those years. Total rodent consumption could be as high as ca. 46 t year−1 if full nest occupancy by both species was attained, a figure that is expected to contribute to both rodent damage control and the maintenance of these birds of prey.

A Practitioner's Perspective

The International Foundation for Ecosystem Restoration (FIRE, funda- aims at translating academic knowledge to ecosystem restoration in the real world, an example of translational ecology. It provides leadership in implementing restoration actions in farmland habitat and farmland stewardship in Spain by means of its “Fields for Life Initiative”, which targets reconciliation of agricultural production and wildlife enhancement based on sound, targeted research. Since 2008, this initiative has revegetated 6.5 km of hedgerows and three woodland islets of different size with ca. 12,600 seedlings of 27 native species, introduced nine artificial ponds and several hundreds of artificial nests for insectivorous birds and 121 for birds of prey, and has completed 12 signed stewardship agreements with land owners, among other achivements, including the participation of hundreds of volunteers in such actions, mostly in central Spain. The total area involved in this project is 3358 ha so far.

During these years, we have learnt that, in the first instance, farmers are reluctant to implement the suggested revegetation projects. First, farmers do not understand or forsee the benefits for agricultural production and, simultaneously, they perceive risks for crops. For instance, they believe that a new planted hedgerow is a reservoir that will spread crop pests rather than habitat for natural enemies of such pests or pollinators. They also think that the role of hedgerows as windbrakes that reduce soil erosion and dessication and crop abrasion is irrelevant for crop production. The second major reason has to do with their aesthetic appraisal of crop fields. According to their perception, crop fields must be “clean”, i.e. with nothing other than the cultivated plants, and most often farmers that have “untidy” crop fields are criticized in their local communities. And third, generally, individual farmers react to the private use-value of biodiversity and ecosystem services assigned in the marketplace and thus typically ignore the 'external' benefits of conservation that accrue to wider society (Jackson et al. 2007). To overcome this reluctance, we recommend efforts to educate and show farmers that strategic revegetation and other actions benefit wildlife and wildlife-based ecosystem services that may enhance or be neutral for crop production (see also De Snoo et al. 2013). There is a need to address the inertia in farmers' perceptions, and the EU Common Agricultural Policy should provide specific resources to target this social objective for agricultural landowners beyond simple financial support such as the agri-environment schemes.

In contrast to such negative perceptions, and in addition to the obvious positive opinions of naturalists and conservationists, our projects are best valued and encouraged by hunters. They understand that planting woodland islets and hedgerows, the creation of ponds and other restoration actions are very beneficial to game, including birds such as the Red-legged partridge Alectoris rufa, rabbits and hares. Enhancement of game production and its associated economical benefits for local communities is an incentive for strategic restoration of agricultural fields.

The reported reluctance of farmers may be overcome; for that, we have learnt that the form of first contact with farmers is very important. The farmers need quite a lot of time to understand the possible advantages and, in the worst case, the overall non-harmful character of restoration actions in their properties. As a stewardship agreement is voluntary, it is necessary to have a continuing but 'light touch' contact with farmers to persuade them to undertake necessary actions. Once a farmer agrees to implement restoration actions on his land, other farmers in a local community often agree too. In, unfortunately, few cases we have found landowners that are rapidly persuaded to adopt restoration actions, but that are almost never willing to pay any of the cost. Thus, FIRE seeks public and private financial support for its projects on the basis of their demonstration value. In short, key issues for large-scale ecological restoration on agricultural land are financial support and education to promote farmer and public awareness and training (Rey Benayas and Bullock 2012; De Snoo et al. 2013). Land owners must be specifically rewarded for restoration actions on their properties. To reward the total or social value, tax deductions for land owners who restore agricultural land and donations to notfor-profit organizations that run restoration projects, payment for environmental services, and direct financing measures related to restoration activities should be implemented widely.

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