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Technical guidance for the On-The-Spot check of Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) requirements



This document provides the technical guidance for the performance of the On-The Spot Checks (OTSC) of the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirements as foreseen in Article 46 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013 and in Articles 45, 46 and 47 of Regulation (EU) No 639/2014. It complements the “guidance for On-the-Spot Checks and area measurement” provided by DG Agri (Document DSCG/2014/32) and it is directly linked to the “guidance on EFA layer” provided by DG Agri (Document DSCG/2014/31)

Terms and definitions

Arable lands: "arable land" (Article 4(1)(f) of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013): means land cultivated for crop production or areas available for crop production but lying fallow, including areas set aside in accordance with Articles 22, 23 and 24 of Regulation (EC) No 1257/1999, with Article 39 of Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 and with Article 28 of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013, irrespective of whether or not that land is under greenhouses or under fixed or mobile cover

Ecological focus Areas: Areas established, in particular, in order to safeguard and improve biodiversity on farms. The ecological focus area should therefore consist of areas directly affecting biodiversity such as land lying fallow, landscape features, terraces, buffer strips, afforested areas and agro-forestry areas, or indirectly affecting biodiversity through a reduced use of inputs on the farm, such as areas covered by catch crops and winter green cover (recital 44 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013).

Geometric area: area of the reference parcel obtained by delineation of its agricultural land cover (including landscape feature that are protected under GAEC 7) and landscape features that are traditionally part of good agriculture cropping or utilization practices.

Maximum eligible area (MEA): the value of potentially eligible hectares under a particular aid scheme or support measure. In LPIS context, the MEA is, among other factors, capped by the reference area of the reference parcel.

Permanent grassland: "permanent grassland and permanent pasture" (together referred to as "permanent grassland") means land used to grow grasses or other herbaceous forage naturally (self-seeded) or through cultivation (sown) and that has not been included in the crop rotation of the holding for five years or more; it may include other species such as shrubs and/or trees which can be grazed provided that the grasses and other herbaceous forage remain predominant as well as, where Member States so decide, land which can be grazed and which forms part of established local practices where grasses and other herbaceous forage are traditionally not predominant in grazing areas. 1307/2013 4(1)(h)

Reference area: area of the reference parcel that represents its default value of potentially eligible hectares under a particular aid scheme or support measure. It is recovered from the geometric area, possibly, after application of an eligibility rate.


AL: Arable Land

BPS: Basic Payment Scheme as referred to in Title II of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013

CAPI: Computer Assisted Photo-Interpretation (CwRS)

CwRS: Control with Remote Sensing

EFA: Ecological Focus Area

ETS: Executable Test Suite (ISO19105).

GNSS: Global Navigation Satellite System

GSD: Ground Sample Distance

HR: High Resolution sensors

IACS: Integrated Administration and Control System (integrated system)

LC/LU: Land cover/Land Use

LPIS: Land Parcel Identification System

MEA: Maximum Eligible Area

OTSC: On-The-Spot Checks

PG: Permanent Grassland as referred to in Art. 4 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013

RFV: Rapid Field Visit

RP: Reference Parcel

RMSExy: two-directional Root Mean Square Error

RPAS: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drone)

TAL: Total Arable Land

UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (See RPAS)

VHR: Very High Resolution sensors

Summary of legal binding conditions

Provisions and requirements in relation to Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) are laid down in Article 46 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013. It outlines the scope of the farms that are exempted or subject to EFA, depending on the types of agriculture land they manage, the size of arable land and its particular use. The different situations are summarised in table 1 below. As general rule, where the arable land of a holding covers more than 15 hectares, the farmer shall ensure that, from 1 January 2015, an area corresponding to at least 5 % of the arable land of the holding is ecological focus area. It is reminded that 3% of all beneficiaries who are exempted from the greening practices have to be inspected.


Figure 1: Summary of EFA exemptions or requirements foreseen by the article 46 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013.

By 1 August 2014, Member States have to decide and inform the Commission which of the legally allowed features would be qualified as their ecological focus areas. The list of EFA elements decided by Member States is provided HERE. With the exception of the areas with short rotation coppice and afforested areas, the ecological focus area shall be located on the arable land of the holding. Landscape features and buffer strips may also be adjacent to the arable land. Member States may, when calculating the total hectares represented by the ecological focus area of the holding, make use of the conversion and/or weighting factors. In such case, linear EFA elements will be measured through their length and the total equivalent area will be obtained by multiplying the length by conversion and/or weighting factors. Non-linear elements, such as trees in group and ponds, are not concerned by conversions factors. For such elements, a measurement of the actual area is done. Article 45 of Delegated Regulation (EU) No 639/2014 provides specifications that fix the maximum and/or minimum dimensions that elements, landscape features or areas have to meet. However, if some landscape features are part of GAEC or SMR requirements, the dimensions defined by Member States within these requirements will apply. More information of the principles and rules for measuring the area of different EFA elements as defined by the EU Member States, are provided in WikiCAP. In short, all throughout Europe, the elements to take into account for the on the OTS check of EFA requirements will vary a lot depending on Member States’ choices on their nature, location, dimension and measurement method (area or length). That will make each Member State situation very specific. Therefore, it will not be possible in this guidance to establish an only one common methodology for OTS check of EFAs. The general principles for operating the EFA features within LPIS and in the scope of OTSC are outlined in the “EFA layer guidance” (Document DSCG/2014/31) and OTSC guidance” (Document DSCG/2014/32) of DG AGRI. This particular JRC technical guidance aims to complement the mentioned DG AGRI guidelines with further details on technical issues where gaps are yet present. Due to the variety and complexity of the definitions of the EFA in different EU Member States, especially with respect to those EFAs that represented the landscape features subject to retention at national level, only some general recommendations on how to possibly measure and check the different type of elements are given. In addition, some information is given on how to combine these elements to come to a diagnostic at holding level for its compliance with the EFA requirements. Ultimately, it will the Member State choice to decide on the different rules to set up their methodology to implement; it should be however applied in a consistent way.

Scope and description of the use case

The OTSC process for checking EFAs of a selected dossier will be done in two to four main steps:

Step 1: Check if more than 50% of the total land surface of the EU Member State is covered by forest. Use data from Eurostat or if such data is not available, use other sources.
Step 2: For those MS having more than 50% of their total land surface covered by forest, verify whether the farm is situated in areas with natural constraints and whether the share of the forest present at local unit level (as defined by Art. 32 (3) of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013) is more than 50% of the land surface and is at least 3 times the agriculture land of the unit.
Step 3: Check whether the holding is subject to EFA in general. Check whether the holding is subject to exemptions due to the size of arable land and the presence and share of specific land cover land use types exempting from EFA requirement. Agriculture parcels under organic farming needs to be excluded from the EFA requirements. This step comprises the following sequential phases:
Phase 2-1: Based on farmer declaration, determine the area of the total agriculture land of the holding. Its purpose is to verify the presence of the exemption condition specified in Article 46 (4b) of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013
Phase 2-2: If no exemption from phase 2-1, determine the area of the total arable land of the holding. Its purpose is to verify the presence of the exemption condition specified in Article 46 (4a) of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013.
Step 3: If found subject to EFA, check whether the farm is subject to designated collective implementation area (more details on that subject are given later in the document).
Step 4: Check of compliance of the dossier with EFA requirements and categorisation of the dossier (more information on collective implementation of EFA is given further in the document).

This last step consists in following sequential phases:

Phase 4-1: Detect the presence and confirm the type of all EFAs declared by the farmer on his holding
Phase 4-1b: For the EFAs for which this is required, check if they are located on or are adjacent to the arable land of the holding
Phase 4-2: Determine/ measure the area of all EFAs that were detected and confirmed in Phases 4-1 and 4-1b. Sum up the area and calculate their share with respect to the area of the arable land of the holding
Phase 4-3: If some of the EFAs declared are not present on the spot, or are found not being compliant with EFA definition and conditions, and therefore the EFA measured is less than threshold needed, detect and measure the area of any other land features or land uses found on the agriculture land of the holding that can be qualified as EFA and account for their areas in the total amount of area declared as EFA (details for compensation of EFAs can be found in chapter of the “guidance for On-the-Spot Checks and area measurement” provided by DG Agri (Document DSCG/2014/32)). Calculate again the share of EFA with respect to the area of the arable land of the holding.
Phase 4-4: Report findings and categorize the dossier of the holding: exempted from EFA requirements, compliant with EFA requirements, or not compliant with EFA requirements.

The figure 2 provides a general summary of the full decision rules process for dossier categorisation according to the different legal requirements related to EFA. The first, and main series of codes, concerns the decisions on dossier categorisation following what has been found on the ground against the ‘EFA requirements’. Thus, a dossier (holding) will be classified as either ‘EFA exemption verified’ (E), either ‘not compliant’ (N) with EFA requirements, or compliant with EFA requirements and thus accepted as OK (O).

A second set of codes is listed in figure 2 to report on the consistency on what farmers have declared compared to what has been found on the spot. For each observation in the workflow, a code is assigned to report on the fact that what is observed is in agreement or not with what the farmer declared. The possible detected level of disagreement may be used by Administrations to place such holding in the risk sample for greening.


Figure 2: Full decision rules process for dossier categorisation according to different legal requirements related to EFA. (a) No Member State has opted for a ‘regional implementation’ of EFA (b) Two Member States have opted for a ‘collective implementation’ of EFA

Collective implementation of EFA

The EFA of a farmer implementing collective EFA consist of:

- individual EFA located on his own holding, plus
- the “common” EFA implemented collectively.

The check determines whether the total of at least 5% EFA is reached and that all specific requirements with respect to collective implementation of EFA (such as the close proximity of the holding, and whether the common EFAs are contiguous) are met.

The OTSC process for checking the collective EFA implementation of a selected dossier can be outlined in the following main steps:

Step 1: Verify if the holding implementing collective EFA is situated in close proximity.

A holdings is considered in close proximity according to criteria set up by the MS, the legal options being 80% of the holding in the same municipality or 80% of the holding is in a radius of a number of km set up by the MS, but not more than 15. It should be noted, that the two MSs implementing collective implementation choose the option “a radius of 15 km”, which means that the group of farmers concerned by collective implementation has to be located within an area with a radius of maximum 15 kilometres. Thus 80% of the total area of each holding shall be located within a circle with the diameter of 30 kilometres. The inspector shall verify that 80% of the agricultural area of the holding is situated within this circle where collective implementation is allowed. The exact location of the centre of the circle can be derived through geo-spatial analysis.

Step 2: Determination of the AL and EFA quotas.

On the basis of the AL of the holding the EFA quota can be determined. According to legislation (Reg. 1307/2013, art. 46.6) each farmer participating in collective implementation shall ensure that at least 50% of EFA is located on the land of his holding and the rest needed to reach 5% EFA be constituted by the “common” EFA.

The following information can be derived from the declaration that is submitted for collective implementation, supplementing the aid application of each participant:

- Minimum percentage that each participant shall fulfil individually
- The total area of the contiguous structures of adjacent common EFA
- Pre-established graphic material indicating boundaries and the unique identification of the reference parcels to be used to identify the contiguous structure of the common EFA

The inspector shall verify the AL of the holding and check that the individual EFA declared is at least 50% of the total EFA of the holding.

Step 3: Checking the individual EFA on the holding

The inspector shall verify whether the minimum percentage that the farmer shall fulfill on his holding is respected and accounts for at least 50% of the total EFA, calculated on the basis of the AL of the holding. This control shall follow the same procedure applied for OTSC of individual EFA.

Step 4: Checking the common EFA

The common EFA to be controlled is the one that is needed to the holding to reach the 5% EFA. This EFA is implemented collectively and formed by contiguous elements. It may be highlighted that, (for Member States that opted for designating the areas on which collective implementation is possible and that opted for imposing obligations upon participating farmers or groups of farmers):

- contiguous elements shall consist of one or more of: fallow land, landscape features, buffer strips and afforested areas.
- contiguous element means physically touching one to another. The different part of EFAs concerned need thereby to be in physical contact with each other, but it is not considered necessary to set up a minimum length of the physical contact.
- an arrangements shall be formalised in the form of written agreements to be concluded by the farmers participating in the collective implementation of EFA and establishing any compensation between those farmers of possible financial and/or administrative consequences of these non-compliances.

The inspector verify that each element forming the common EFA for the farmer concerned fulfills the conditions on nature, dimension, EFA types allowed for contiguous elements, whether the common EFAs are contiguous, the characteristics of the common EFAs in respect of the added value for the environment and contribution to the enhancement of green infrastructure. He determines the common EFA area on the basis of the established area or on conversion factor.

Figure 3 provides a general summary of the decision rules related to collective implementation of EFA


Figure 3: Decision rules related to collective implementation of EFA (* this option was the only one chosen by MSs).

OTSC of the dossier for EFA

Essentially, to perform the OTSC of Ecological Focus Areas two types of data have to be captured: types of features and their dimensions. Capturing dimensions here expresses the set of activities for determination of the actual length or area of the observed feature of interest, depending on its nature. For land features or specific land uses present on arable land, if their size and shape matches the reference parcel they belong, then the area can be determined by either by confirmation of the polygon of the fully corresponding reference parcel. Otherwise, a delineation of the features through CAPI or GNSS of the field is required.

Specific considerations with respect to data capture

The assessment of the total arable land is based on the land declared by the farmer and in compliance with the eligible agriculture land registered in the LPIS (according to 2.1.2 of Document DSCG/2014/33). It is important to guarantee that the definition of the arable land and the methods for its inventory during the OTSC are consistent with the correspondent information stored in the LPIS.

Once the EFA layer is present, the inspector will be able to verify the declared elements on the spot by confirming the nature and shape of the EFA elements stored in the EFA layer. More information on the subject is given in OTSC guidelines (Document DSCG/2014/32), chapter

Using imagery, similarly to the check of the crop diversification, the detection and area assessment of different types of EFA, are based on the use of two important biophysical characteristics of the vegetation (land cover) - plant physiognomy (visual appearance) and plant phenology (periodic life cycle). This is especially valid for those EFA that corresponds to particular crop types (e.g. nitrogen fixing crops).

Depending on the nature of the EFA, their representation and area estimation will be different. For EFAs related to land use practices (fallow land, catch crops), the features will be represented as polygon and the area will be calculated on the base of the area measurement, similarly as for the BPS/SAPS OSTC. For EFAs linear landscape features (line of trees, hedges) the features can be represented consistently either as polygons or lines, according to the choice made by the MS. In case of line, the correspondent area of EFA will be calculated on the basis of the measured length of the feature multiplied by the conversion factor defined. Isolated trees can be represented as points, and the area can be calculated using the conversion factor per tree.

Data source

The requirements with respect to the data sources, their specifications and quality are similar to the ones required by the LPIS upkeep and the OTSC for BPS/SAPS and crop diversification. Detailed technical information on the subject can be found in the following documents:

• Technical guidance for crop diversification
• Technical guidance for LPIS upkeep
• Technical guidance for management of layers in LPIS
• LPIS quality assessment framework

OTSC inspection workflow for EFA

General Provisions

As a rule and similarly to OTSC for BPS/SAPS, it is recommended to avoid measuring when it is not necessary (e.g. in case information is already provided by the EFA reference layer in LPIS or by a separate layer with landscape features subject to cross-compliance, or based on the OTSC of crop diversification, EFA has already proved to be met). Similarly to the OTSC on crop diversification, attention needs to be paid to accommodate correctly the eligible landscape elements that are part of the traditional agronomic practices and to account for any specific dimensions (e.g. width) as defined by particular Member States. Each time it is possible, measurement should be limited to the outer perimeter of contiguous parcels of the land use, eligible for EFA, to not increase artificially the perimeter and thus the tolerance. For EFA elements of very small size, the specific limitations of measurability and interpretability of ortho-image during CAPI needs to be accounted. More information is given in the Technical guidance for management of layers in LPIS.

Specific provision regarding the use of technical tolerance with VHR ortho-imagery

The tolerance for area measurement (i.e. single buffer tolerance times the perimeter) shall be calculated for all cases when area is derived by a new measurements made either by CAPI or GNSS. This is valid for all features that will require mapping – land cover features, continuous pieces of land occupied by particular land use or crop. For that purpose, both area and perimeter shall be recorded for each measurement.

DG JRC conducted a study on the how to measure hedgerows. This study consisted of repeated measurements of 103 hedgerows on 50cm imagery and viewed on a fixed scale of 1:1000. The measured hedgerows ranged from 20m to 400m. For each hedgerow, both linear and area based measurements were repeated. The technical tolerances that are proposed here are all based on this study, extrapolating thus its results on the other types of EFA.

There are 4 individual tolerances in the context of EFA that can be applied depending on the EFA feature type:

1) Tolerance on a tree

The following procedure is proposed for checking that the element meets the 4m minimum crown diameter:

a) Quantify the longest crown diameter L
b) Quantify the width l perpendicularly to L
c) Compute the average diameter D=(L+l)/2
d) In such conditions, the tolerance that should be applied on D is equal to the pixel size (in meter). Thus, if D < 4m - pixel size, then do not accept the element as a tree.
Otherwise, accept it.
2) Tolerance on a length

Based on the study on hedgerows, the relative technical tolerance (i.e. TTL/L= (2.8×sd)/L, where L and sd are respectively the average and the standard deviation estimated on the repeated measurements) is inversely proportional to the measured length (see the points in the figure hereafter).

TGEFA Figure 4.png

Consequently, the relative technical tolerance can be quantified using the following formula:


where CL is a constant that still be estimated. Therefore, by simplifying the previous equation, an empirical formula for the technical tolerance (TTL) on length measurements can be considered as:


i.e. the technical tolerance is a constant (in meter) that must be estimated. From the empirical tests on hedgerow using 50cm images at a fixed scale of 1:1000, CL was estimated to be equal to 5m. This tolerance can only be applied if the feature is at least longer than 20 times the pixel size (e.g. 10m for a 50cm image). However, considering the obligation to ensure effective controls, i.e. select the appropriate control method, (c.f. Art. 24(1) of R.809/2014), it is not recommended to use such imagery for features of less than 50m length.”

3) Tolerance on a small or elongated area

Based on the study on hedgerows and following the idea that the technical tolerance for area measurements (i.e. TTSA = 2.8×sd, where sd is the standard deviation estimated on the repeated measurements) is proportional to the perimeter (i.e. similarly to the technical tolerance applied for BPS/SAPS), the repeated measurements confirmed that the technical tolerance (i.e. divided by the perimeter in meter) is fairly constant as no particular trend can be found (see the figure hereafter):

TTSA/Perimeter = CSA
TGEFA Figure 5.png

Therefore, an empirical formula for the technical tolerance on small area measurements can be derived as:

TTSA = CSA × Perimeter

where CSA is a constant (in meter) to be estimated.

From the empirical tests on hedgerow using 50cm images at a fixed scale of 1:1000, CSA was estimated to be equal to 0.5m. This tolerance can only be applied if the feature is at least longer than 20 times the pixel size (e.g. 10m for a 50cm image) and a width of maximum 20m.

4) Tolerance on a cropped area

See single tolerance rule for BPS/SAPS agricultural parcels.

Methods and tools

The verification of the EFA requirements can be performed either by classical on-the-spot check on the field or by control with remote sensing (CwRS).

When inspection is performed on the field, area measurement should be conducted using either validated GNSS devices or using ortho-imagery brought on computer on the field.

When CwRS is used, the same generic principles for computer-assisted photointerpretation (CAPI) applies as for the OTSC of the BPS/SAPS laid down in chapter 4 of the guidance Document DSCG/2014/32. Considering the difficulty to detect and discriminate certain types of EFAs, such as land lying fallow or small landscape features, an increase of the cases of rapid field visits (RFV) is expected. The procedure for conducting the RFV, as well as the information that needs to be collected, should be based on the field observation approach used by the ETS inspection as part of the annual LPIS Quality Assessment.

More detailed information on the principles and good practices for detecting and capturing the nature and dimension of the various EFA elements will be given per type of element in WikiCAP. In any case, recommendations will remain generic, as the definition and handling of the EFAs in the IACS/LPIS is very specific in every MS and is solely at the responsibility of the MS Administration.


The content and structure of the control report for EFA will be at the discretion of the MS Administration, on the basis of the control reports for the BPS/SAPS locally implemented. In any case, the following elements should be included in the control report for EFA:

• Type of agriculture land cover and EFAs found at the level of the farm, including those not declared by the farmer
• Information on whether the farm is exempted from EFA and the reason for that decision
• Information on the type of the EFA requirement found applicable (individual or collective implementation)
• The applicable technical codes (EFAi) for categorization of EFA conditions

The report should contain also references to the raw observation and measurements used for the EFA calculation. It can also include anomalies and findings reported by the inspection during the OTS check that can be relevant to the update of the LPIS or EFA layers. This is especially valid for those cases when the inspector needs to collect other areas qualifying as EFAs on the agricultural parcels declared, to compensate the missing area up to the area declared as EFA. Finally, it should provide sufficient feedback to the farmer with respect to the correctness of his declaration, regardless whether he was found compliant with EFA requirements or not.

The table given below outlines the possible technical codes for the categorization of the dossier. All of them are applicable at holding (dossier) level only. No technical codes at level of individual EFA are foreseen. Technical codes are intended to record, document and qualify what has been found during the inspection of the considered dossier.

EFAre Holding declared to be exempted from EFA, while found to be subject to EFA, and 5% EFA is not respected
EFAr Holding declared to be subject to EFA, but the 5% EFA is not respected even considering other areas qualifying as EFA not declared (up to the area declared as EFA). What is important is that we need to know how of much the 5% is missed.
EFAoke Holding declared to be exempted from EFA, while found to be subject to EFA, but 5% EFA is reached considering areas qualifying as EFA present (but not declared as EFA) on the parcels declared (up to the area declared as EFA)
EFA Holding declared to be subject to EFA; the 5% EFA is not respected considering the EFA declared, but it is reached considering additional areas qualifying as EFA present on the parcels declared (up to the area declared as EFA).
EFAok Holding compliant with EFA requirements

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