Harmonised policies, skilled administration, and engaged stakeholders are prerequisites for improved implementation of Natural/Small Water Retention Measures: Policy Brief


State governments and institutions develop policies through laws, regulations, procedures, administrative actions, incentives, information campaigns, and voluntary practices. However, the outcome of a policy depends on how it is specified, negotiated, interpreted, implemented, and enforced by different sectors, regions and actors. The OPTAIN project (https://www.optain.eu/) proposes a social and scientific journey towards increasing and understanding the multiple benefits of Natural/Small Water Retention Measures (NSWRMs).

NSWRMs have been identified as strategic for reaching agri-environmental policy objectives, including good water quality, good ecological status, balanced water quantity, protection of natural resources, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Therefore, NSWRMs represent one of the baseline tools for the future integrated achievement of water and agricultural policy goals on local, regional, national, and EU levels. NSWRMs cover on-farm measures such as buffer strips and hedges, crop rotation, strip cropping along contours, intercropping, no and low till agriculture, green cover, early sowing, traditional terracing, controlled traffic farming, mulching, and drainage.

However, NSWRMs  also cover smaller structural measures, such as basins and ponds, partial wetland restoration, floodplain restoration and management, stream bed re-naturalization, riverbed material renaturalization, and restoration of natural infiltration to groundwater that are sometimes implemented at a farm level, however, more often their implementation extends cross-farms.

What can we do together to advance the adoption of NSWRMs for a coordinated achievement of water and agricultural policy goals on local, regional, national, and EU levels?

We  questioned144 farmers, experts, decision-makers, and academics from the 14 OPTAIN case studies across Europe's Continental, Pannonian, and Boreal biogeographical regions to sharee their views about advancing the adoption of NSWRMs. Stakeholders provided insights into main challenges and possible solutions in legislation and governance arrangements that impact water-use efficiency, use of tools and techniques for water and nutrient management, and economic sustainability of technologies on-farm and in small agricultural catchments level.

The suggestions were gathered in five Key Messages for improved implementation of NSWRM:

  1. Harmonization of agro-environmental policy – Increased use of cross-referencing in the directives and strategy documents is needed for improved coherence on national and local levels.
  2. Inter-sectoral cooperation – Intersectoral arenas must be established on the different administrative governance levels for harmonized agro-environmental policy programmes.
  3. Financial and technical support schemes – Advancing financial schemes for higher integration of water and agricultural policy in practice demands multipurpose interventions with an acceptable cost-benefit ratio and special consideration of specific land ownership, farm size, and landscape characteristics.
  4. Competent administration and accessible data – Improved administration competencies, simplified procedures, and increased data availability must be accomplished to better support end-users in integrating water and agricultural policy in practice.
  5. Education, awareness raising, and communication – Awareness and knowledge are vital for municipalities, local communities, water managers, and farmers to be able to adopt new measures and approaches for water and nutrient retention.

These Key Messages were integrated into a Policy Brief (https://www.optain.eu/deliverables#policy) bringing together recommendations for water, agriculture, and other cross-sectoral policies.


Autors: Rozalija Cvejić, Caroline Enge, Ingrid Nesheim, Matjaž Glavan