A software tool to design ecologically effective and cost-effective payments for land use measures to conserve endangered species and habitats in agricultural landscapes


In Western and Central Europe, habitat and species diversity is declining due to agricultural intensification and land abandonment in marginal areas. To counteract the negative impacts of modern agricultural land use on species and habitat diversity payment schemes have been developed which compensate farmers for carrying out land use measures which have a positive impact on biodiversity. Such payments are often developed in the context of agri-environment schemes. Important criteria for the design of such payment schemes are that they are effective and cost-effective. With effective we mean that goals of the regulator are actually achieved (for example, the conservation of certain endangered species). With cost-effective we mean that these goals are achieved for as little financial resources spent on payment schemes as possible or alternatively formulated; that the available budget is spent in a way that maximizes the level of goal achievement. In view of many alternative conservation measures and goals as well as spatially and temporally differentiated effects of measures on costs and biodiversity, identifying effective and cost-effective payment schemes is a complex task which requires scientific decision support.

Software Ecopay

Against this background the software Ecopay was developed as decision support. Ecopay serves to design effective and cost-effective payments for measures to conserve biodiversity in grasslands. The software is based on an ecological-economic modeling approach whose structure is presented in the figure. Ecopay was developed using the example of grassland conservation measures in the German federal states of Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein (Ecopay 1.0). In Ecopay 1.0 the user can select as conservation goals 15 endangered bird species, 15 endangered butterfly species and 7 rare grassland habitats types. Altogether Ecopay 1.0 includes several hundred grassland conservation measures which include different mowing and grazing regimes as well as regimes with combinations of mowing and grazing. These are various mowing and grazing regimes as well as regimes with combinations of mowing and grazing. These regimes differ in frequency and time of land use as well as N-fertilizer inputs, grazing period, livestock density and type of livestock. With the help of Ecopay the user can chose conservation measures and assess their effect on endangered species and habitats as well as determine cost-effective payments for conservation measures to protect selected species and habitats. Ecopay can also be adapted to changing ecological and economic circumstances. In projects Ecopay 1.0 was and is adapted to other regions. The software can be downloaded free of charge under Software Download.

Further development of Ecopay

The Ecopay team works in several projects to further develop the software. If you would like to use Ecopay to solve scientific questions or to optimize grassland conservation measures in a specific region, we are looking forward to getting in touch.