In Western Europe, the fate of biodiversity is intimately linked to agricultural land use. A driving force behind biodiversity decline is the gradual conversion of Europe’s traditional integrated rural landscapes of nature and agriculture into monofunctional units of production. With these developments, semi-natural landscape elements have increasingly disappeared from agricultural landscapes. A growing body of research, however, underlines the importance of semi-natural habitats in agricultural landscapes for biodiversity conservation, habitat connectivity, and ecosystem services. On the local scale, considerable variation between the relative area of landscape elements on individual farms can be observed. Farm management decisions are presumed to be important determinants for the composition of agricultural landscapes and the services provided to society.
By bringing together data from farmer interviews and aerial photographic imagery, this paper analyzes the predictive validity of farm management characteristics to understand the distribution of landscape elements on farmland parcels. The farm management parameters included in the study are relevant to current dominant trends in the Dutch agricultural sector; intensification, scale enlargement, diversification, and gradual termination of farming activities. Scale enlargement and migratory processes are found to be important predictors. The results of the Dutch case study provide insights into the threats and opportunities for the conservation of semi-natural habitat in agricultural landscapes. The findings present an empirical contribution to the debate on sustainable management of agriculture’s green infrastructure and, in a broader perspective, the objective to reconcile agricultural production with the urging need of biodiversity conservation in Europe’s spatially contested countryside.