Rural activities have led to profound changes over the centuries of natural environment in Italy as in the rest of Europe by helping to define landscape mosaics in some cases very rich in biodiversity and habitats. In recent decades, however, the biodiversity of these ecosystems has been seriously compromise because of many variables, such as the intensification of agricultural production, land abandonment and the advancement of the urbanized areas. These changes have resulted in an uncontrollable loss of biodiversity and have been made evident also by an increase in hydro-geological instability, exacerbated by global climate changes in progress.
In order to reverse this process and restore the naturalness and heterogeneity of farmlands, European policies have implemented strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in agriculture. In this context, it has been suggested the need to counter the abandonment of land, mainly undertaken on the mountain and high-hilly areas, as a result of their economic marginalization, where the majority of Natura 2000 sites occurs. The E.U. introduced the concept of High Nature Value farmland (HNVf) to describe broad types of farming that, because of their characteristics, are inherently high in biodiversity. Typically, these are low-intensity farming systems harbouring high diversity of species and habitats, also of high conservation interest.
In general, HNV farmlands have been identified on the basis of the integration of land cover data (Corine Land Cover), agronomic and economic data relating to farm (FADN) and data regarding the distribution of flora and fauna species.
In this article, the criterion to identify and classify HNVf is based on the current and potential vegetation cover data obtainable from different integrated vegetation maps. For this purpose, in fact, the knowledge of the vegetation and the natural dynamics is proposed as an effective methodology for identifying and classifying high nature value farmlands since it is based on the documented ability of plant associations to act as bioindicators.
We propose a cartographic-based methodological approach based on the use of vegetation data from which it is possible to synthesize and derive bioindicators able to quantify and qualify the levels of naturalness and landscape diversity of agroecosystems distributed on a territory and, therefore, to identify the HNV farmlands.
As a case study, we have considered the Marche Region located in Central Italy, on the Adriatic coast, for which we have very important vegetation data.
Biodiversity, Bioindicators, Extensive agriculture, Habitats Directive, HNV Farmland, Natura 2000 network, Phytosociology, Vegetation mapping