German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


The High Nature Value farmland indicator in Germany


Farmland covers about 50% of the total area of Germany. Agriculture therefore has a considerable influence on the biodiversity of the open landscape. Progressive agricultural intensification has led to a dramatic decrease of low-intensity farmland and agricultural biodiversity after the mid-20th century. High nature value (HNV) farmland consists of e.g. species-rich grassland, extensively managed arable land or vineyards and fallow land. Often it not only provides a high biodiversity but also affords habitats for rare or endangered plant and animal species, which cannot survive within the intensively used agricultural landscape. Also landscape elements, which provide habitats for further species, count as HNV farmland elements. Implemented agri-environmental schemes aim to preserve agricultural biodiversity and to preserve and improve HNV farmland. In order to indicate increase or decrease in quantity and quality of HNV farmland it is necessary to monitor the state of HNV farmland over time. Hence it is possible to evaluate success and failure respectively of implemented agri-environmental policy measures.

Photo: C. Huenig
Extensive arable land with corn poppies and corn flowers

The HNV farmland indicator was implemented as an 'objective-related' baseline indicator under the EAFRD (European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development) Implementing Regulation to incorporate environmental concerns into the EU Common Agricultural Policy. At national level in Germany, it is one of the reporting requirements for the National Strategy on Biological Diversity. The indicator is also included in the German Länder’s environmental core indicator set (LIKI). By agreement between the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Federal Environment Ministry (BMUB) and the German Länder, a conceptual design for HNV farmland monitoring was developed by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN).


Photo: C. Huenig
Extensive grassland with landscape elements

Development of the HNV farmland indicator for Germany started with a research and development (R+D) project in which nationally available data sets relevant to the HNV indicator (data on habitats and habitat types etc.) were identified and compared. The available data sets proved too disparate and incomplete for use in compiling the indicator for Germany. The data had various gaps – failing to cover relevant habitat types such as species-rich arable land and traditionally used orchards – and are gathered too infrequently for regular updating of the index. The R+D project therefore went on to develop a new approach for identifying and monitoring HNV farmland in Germany.

Concept and Implementation

Distribution of sample plots for compilation of the HNV farmland indicator in Germany (Source: BfN 2013, © GeoBasis-DE/BKG)
Map of the distribution of sample plots for compilation of the HNV farmland indicator in Germany (Source: BfN 2013, © GeoBasis-DE/BKG)

The German government and Länder agreed on a new sample-based approach for a nationally uniform HNV farmland monitoring. The sample design is the same as that already used for many years by the Federation of German Avifaunists (DDA) in monitoring common species of breeding birds. Data for the HNV farmland indicator are gathered in field surveys, using some 900 sample plots throughout Germany each covering one kilometre square.

The BfN developed the survey design for an initial nationwide survey of HNV farmland in consultation with the German Länder. Survey instructions (pdf-file, 2,6 MB), define the open countryside structures used in extrapolating the indicator, such as grassland, vineyards, arable land and landscape elements. The nature value of grassland, arable land, fallow land and vineyards is measured against lists of indicator species. In the case of grassland, different lists are used in different regions to reflect geographical variation in species distribution. Evaluation is based on measuring the count of indicator species present in a 30 x 2 m transect within each land parcel. Areas covered by Habitats Directive habitat types and habitats protected by law are per se included if they constitute open countryside habitats on farmland and are assessed according to the standing evaluation procedure under the Habitat Directive.

The identified HNV farmland structures were assigned nature values on a scale:

HNV I: Exceptionally high nature value
HNV II: Very high nature value
HNV III: Moderately high nature value

Photo: A. Benzler
Extensive montane hay meadow

So besides quantitative information on HNV farmland changes also evaluation of the state of quality and potential quality and monitoring of potential quality changes in HNV farmland over time are now possible.

The initial survey was carried out jointly by the German government and the Länder in 2009 and coordinated by the BfN (R+D project FKZ 3508 89 0400, pdf-file, 6,6 MB). Since then, the German Länder contract out the surveying of sample plots to experienced field ecologists. Some Länder survey a quarter of their total sampling plots each year while others cover half of their sampling plots every two years. Thus, full coverage of the sample design is achieved after four years. Meanwhile, the respective current value may be calculated as “mean on a gliding scale”. For this, the complete plot setting is being extrapolated, with taking into account the recently mapped plots with the latest data, whereas for all other plots the formerly recorded data is included. BfN collates the Länder data and extrapolates the national indicator value every second year.

To ensure homogenous conditions for the nationwide field mapping, various measures for a quality management are undertaken. BfN arranges training courses on a regular basis to educate the field ecologists. Furthermore a number of recently mapped plots are reviewed within each season. Additionally, all field data is subject to exhausted plausibility checks and quality evaluation.

Extrapolation of the survey results is effected both on national level and on Länder level. All ongoing activities are supported by a Federal-Länder committee that meets once a year to exchange experience, discuss methodological problems as they arise and decides on organisational matters. Coordination remains with BfN. The conceptual design allows implementing methodological changes also retrospectively, and so revising initial miscalculations in the further course of mapping. Hence time series can be calculated consistently even if subsequently modifications of the methodology or assessment criteria have been applied. Various modifications of the mapping methods and clarifications of the mapping instructions were applied based on the experiences following the initial survey. Methodological adaptation was conducted without limiting the comparability within the time series. The methodology for extrapolation and calculation of sampling errors follows the expert assessment (pdf-file, 190 KB) on the extrapolation methodology that had been rendered by Prof. Dr. Saborowski from the Department Ecoinformatics, Biometrics and Forest Growth of the Georg-August University of Göttingen.


As of January 2018 data for the total surveys of 2009 and the subsequent survey of 2010 to 2013 and 2014 to 2017 are complete and available. On national level, this adds up to five data points with the following values (HNV farmland percentage of agricultural area and absolute amount):

Year HNV rel.Sampling errorHNV abs. (ha)
2009 13,1 %± 0,5%2.562.264
2011 12,4 %± 0,5%2.437.604
2013 11,6 %± 0,4%2.269.226
2015 11,3 %± 0,4%2.219.877
2017 11,4 %± 0,4%2.235.391

The proportion of HNV is unequally distributed with regard to the quality levels:

The values according to the 3 quality levels of HNV farmland are 2,3 % exceptionally high nature value, 4,5 % very high nature value, 6,3 % moderately high nature value in 2009 and 2,2 % exceptionally high nature value, 4,3 % very high nature value, 5,3 %

Thus, the indicator value tended to decrease with the highest decline in the lowest quality level at least up to 2015. Afterwards the decreasing trend seems to come to a halt. While there was a strong and continuing decrease within the lowest quality level of HNV-Farmland, the highest quality level remained static at a low value. It has to be considered, that the data show the situation on national level. On Länder level the trends are diverging (see for the Länder data, only in German). A more differentiating view on the gained data illustrates that the decrease is mainly caused by loss of HNV grassland, HNV arable and fallow land, while in e.g. landscape elements, no noteworthy changes occur. These findings underline the fact, that the present measures to preserve agricultural biodiversity are not sufficient to reverse the current trend. For the complete indicator value set see

Future prospects

The practised methodology turned out to deliver statistically sound results. Following integration of survey data up to 2017 a series of three reliable indicator values resulting from nationwide complete surveys are available in the midterm of the actual programming period. Thereby, in an economical manner the HNV farmland indicator supplies solid data on status and development of biological diversity in the agricultural landscape and contributes essentially to the evaluation of national and European agricultural policy measures.

Furthermore, the conceptual design offers an additional potential for analysis, as the data allows a more differentiated view. Qualitative changes within the HNV farmland setting can be assessed in time by addressing the different quality levels separately in their temporal dynamics as well as trends for qualitative development of HNV types as e.g. grassland, fallow land or arable land. Merely in cases of rare HNV types that cannot be assessed in sufficient numbers to guarantee statistical soundness this potential reaches its limit.

In this context it is to appreciate, that some Länder have already enlarged their subsample in line with the sampling concept. This provides a benefit on both, the national and the Länder level, whilst a deeper analysis is possible as well as the sampling error could be minimized in order to identify trends as soon as possible.

Additionally, correlation of HNV data and other biodiversity data sets is possible and is recently tested in several research projects.

HNV farmland monitoring therefore offers a new, valuable data basis with a high potential for various advanced research approaches and queries on biological diversity within the agricultural landscape.

For the future it is envisaged to report the HNV farmland indicator values every second year on national level.


Benzler, A. (2009): The implementation of the HNV farmland indicator in Germany. - Rural Evaluation News 2: 4-5.

Benzler, A. (2012): Measuring extent and quality of HNV farmland in Germany. - In: Oppermann, R.; Beaufoy, G. & Jones, G. (Eds.): High Nature Value Farming in Europe. S. 507-510. - Ubstadt-Weiher (Verlag Regionalkultur).

Benzler, A.; Fuchs, D. & Huenig, C. (2015): Methodik und erste Ergebnisse des Monitorings der Landwirtschaftsflächen mit hohem Naturwert in Deutschland. Beleg für aktuelle Biodiversitätsverluste in der Agrarlandschaft. - Natur und Landschaft 90 (7): 309-316.

Benzler, A. & Fuchs, D. (2016): Mapping Farmland in Germany from 2009 – 2015. Fact sheet of the European Evaluation Helpdesk. (

Hünig, C. & Benzler, A. (2017): Das Monitoring der Landwirtschaftsflächen mit hohem Naturwert in Deutschland. - BfN-Skripten 476, 40 S. u. Anhänge.

Benzler, A. & Fuchs, D. (2018): Biodiversität in der Agrarlandschaft: Erstmals ein Stopp des Rückgangs? Natur und Landschaft 93 (9/10): 470-471.


Further questions:

Armin Benzler

Last Change: 02/09/2021