We came across this interesting European agricultural nugget on CIEEM's ePolicy update this week: "Communicating biodiversity to farmers: developing the right tools."

The European Commission free News Alert (9 October 2014, Issue 388) describes research in Switzerland, carried out as an EU BioBio project, on 19 grassland farms wherein a range of botanical and invertebrate species were counted and converted into biodiversity quality metrics.

"Their assessment method consisted of mapping habitats on each farm, interviewing farmers about their management practices, and counting plants, spiders, earthworms and bees within one randomly-selected habitat on each farm."

The resulting metrics were species richness and farm uniqueness. The researchers recommended these as a readily-accessible way of explaining biodiversity value to farmers. They also allow farmers to compare scores readily.

"Richness and uniqueness were each scored as a percentage, with 'average' scoring 100%. Thus, a score of over 100% shows that a farm is above average. Farms were given richness and uniqueness scores for each group of species, as well as an overall score for all species surveyed."

If the pedants among us can forgive the researchers' use of percentages over 100%, and instead imagine a more satisfactory scoring system, this is something that might work well in the UK. Perhaps a system of positive scores for farms performing above average, and negative scores for under-performing farms, would work while being mathematically sound.

Certainly the idea of finding a simple way of communicating biodiversity value to farmers is very attractive. It has similarities with biodiversity offsetting and ecosystems services calculation methods, but simplicity is the key here. And if it encourages farmers to compare scores, and engage in a little friendly rivalry for the benefit of nature, then it can only be a good thing.