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The agricultural sector, is a major source of pressure on Europe's environment. Through trade, European agriculture also has impacts on other regions in the world.

The agricultural scene varies widely in different parts of Europe. In Western Europe, agricultural expenditure is shifting from market support towards subsidies supporting farmers' incomes, and rewarding farmers for being managers of Europe's landscape and environment, rather than just food producers. Furthermore, EU funding for rural development is slowly rising (EEA 2004a).

In Central and Eastern Europe, farming currently involves lower nutrient input, lower productivity, and often land with a higher nature value than in the West (EEA 2004d, EEA/UNEP 2004). With EU enlargement, more stable market returns and new funding will probably induce better-off farmers in Central Europe to expand and intensify (EEA 2004d). At the same time, an ageing population and new economic opportunities in cities may lead to land abandonment (EEA 2004d, OECD 2004). These developments may have impacts on Europe's biodiversity, which is already under high pressure (Figure 3).

To reduce the stress on Europe's biodiversity, more agri-environment programmes and support to farmers in less-favoured areas will be needed. In doing so, funds could be better targeted towards high nature value farmland (EEA/UNEP 2004).

Source: NRSC/Still Pictures

Agricultural landscapes in the UK: small and large scale crop cultivation.
Source: P&A MacDonald/Still Pictures

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