When the European Union was set up, a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was devised which was aimed at improving farmers' standard of living, as well as making the individual countries within the union more self-sufficient. Initially CAP guaranteed prices for farmers, which led to more cereal crops being grown and more land being used to grow these crops.
The CAP was heavily criticised because this led to the removal of hedgerows and with that the loss of animal habitats. Woodlands were cut down and wetlands drained to make more room for arable farming which made rural areas look less visually attractive and reduced the amount of wildlife.
This policy was extremely successful but it led to the overproduction of many items such as milk, butter and grains. The EU amended their policy to encourage farmers to set-aside land – when farmers are paid to leave land as grass and not grow any crops on it.
Quotas were also set to limit the amount of certain items that farmers could produce, eg quotas helped to reduce the huge surplus of milk produced by dairy farmers. Under the Environmental Stewardship Policy farmers can also apply for subsidies and grants to restore natural habitats on their land such as woodland and wetlands.
In the UK the government can also designate areas of the countryside Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA). If this occurs on farmland, farmers are compensated for helping to protect the areas but it means they are restricted on how the land can be used.
Set-aside land has provided significant environmental benefits as there is less pollution from chemicals used to grow crops. Fewer hedgerows have been removed and less woodland has been destroyed. Farmers are also given subsidies and grants to restore natural habitats on their land.