Finger on the pulse

The Beleidsnota Omgeving (2019-2024) announced: "We are setting up a Biodiversity Agricultural Area Monitoring Network in collaboration with the Agriculture and Fisheries policy area and relevant actors to monitor the status, and to assess the impact of management measures and environmental pressures."

INBO translated this intention into a Voorstel voor een Meetnet Biodiversiteit Agrarisch Gebied (MBAG). The monitoring network consists of three components:

  • The status monitoring network tracks the state of biodiversity in the agricultural area.
  • The effectiveness monitoring network tracks the impact of efforts in function of nature (e.g. management agreements).
  • The pressure monitoring network tracks the pressure of agriculture outside the agricultural area, including in nature areas, even outside Europe.

The proposal optimally builds on the existing monitoring already carried out by various actors. The monitoring network is composed of modules carried out independently and by different actors. INBO coordinates the whole.

The monitoring network is facilitated by three horizontal modules. The Monitoring Biodiversity in Agricultural Areas - Statistical Support module designs the monitoring networks and their coherence, evaluates and aligns field protocols, and supports analysis and reporting, across modules. The MBAG data management module organises data input, data flows and data storage, also across projects. The MBAG co-creation module monitors coherence between MBAG projects and with policy processes. It involves actors from inside and outside the Flemish government, including farmers.

MBAG Status monitoring network

MBAG-Birds and mammals

In 2022, a Pilot Project called Strengthening bird and hare monitoring in the agricultural area started, which strengthens the existing monitoring of birds in the agricultural area based on the methodology Meetnet Agrarische Soorten (MAS) developed in the Netherlands. This allows us to obtain better and more detailed trend data, and to understand the effectiveness of measures taken and planned. To a limited extent, the methodology also allows monitoring of some species of mammals living in the agricultural landscape. For hare in particular, the counts can provide useful data and we may also get an indication for fox and roe deer. In this monitoring, volunteers account for at least 10% of the counting points. The pilot project was carried out in 2022 in the Eastern Leemstreek and in the Moeren. Through the MBAG birds project, it will be extended to the Western Leemstreek and the Zandleemstreek in 2023 and to all agricultural areas in Flanders in 2024. This will prepare us for the required monitoring in the draft EU Nature Restoration Law and the reporting of the Farmland Bird Index.


The partridge population has been declining sharply in recent decades, giving this species special attention. Through the projects The population dynamics of the grey partridge in Flanders and Modelling the population dynamic parameters for partridge, INBO is conducting research to support targeted and optimal deployment of measures, as well as evaluation of their effectiveness.


The decline of ground-breeding field and meadow birds is not only a consequence of agricultural intensification. Predation may also potentially contribute to the decline. We investigate this in the project The effects of predation on ground-nestings farmland and meadow birds and how to mitigate possible negative effects.

MBAG Pollinators

Another focus group is pollinators, an essential species group for the production of many agricultural crops. Through the project SPRING (Strengthening Pollinator Recovery through INdicators and monitorinG), INBO contributes to the development of European pollinator monitoring. Through the MBAG-Bestuivers project, INBO is working on Flemish pollinator monitoring. With this, we are getting ready to carry out the monitoring and reporting of pollinators required in the draft EU Nature Restoration Law. The Grassland Butterfly Index will have separate reporting in this regard. This monitoring also supports the Belgian National Strategy on Pollinators and the Flemish Wild Pollinators Action Plan.

MBAG-Soil Biodiversity

Soil biodiversity is also very important for agricultural production, for climate adaptation and for global biodiversity (basis of the food web). Together with ILVO, INBO is involved in soil quality projects such as the EJP-Soil programme and the monitoring of carbon stocks in Flemish soils (Cmon). Through Development of a standard methodology for determining soil biodiversity in Flanders, INBO and ILVO are committed to monitoring soil biodiversity through eDNA metabarcoding. Using genetic material in soils, we collect knowledge about the organisms present there, from bacteria to earthworms. In doing so, we are betting on innovative technology and exploring a component of biodiversity we still know little about. Within the project, we are further fine-tuning the methodology, exploring the status per land use type (croplands and grasslands, in different degrees of use intensity) and looking for relevant indicators. By linking to the Cmon monitoring network, the functional relationship between soil organisms and carbon stocks is being investigated.

MBAG-Aquatic macroinvertebrates

The Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) measures nitrate and phosphate concentrations in surface water in the agricultural area, to assess the influence of agriculture and the effects of the Fertilisation Action Plans (MAP's). Besides monitoring abiotics, VMM also carries out biotic monitoring, mainly as a function of reporting for the Water Framework Directive. As part of the MBAG project, this biotic monitoring is being strengthened and VMM also monitors macroinvertebrates in a selection of surface water monitoring sites in the agricultural area.

MBAG-Biological Valuation Map

The Biological Valuation Map (BWK) is a milestone for nature policy in Flanders. In the agricultural area, however, this map is outdated. Through the Agricultural Biodiversity Monitoring Network - Biological Valuation Map (EVINBO) project, the BWK is being partially updated in the agricultural area through an adapted methodology, as a basis for area-wide mapping through smart image recognition. This update pays particular attention to the core areas of the species protection programmes for field birds, meadow birds, marsh harrier and hamster. Attention is also paid to field flora. Based on the updated BWK, area analyses are made to support measures and the other monitoring networks. Here, too, we are focusing on innovation, by developing digital detection systems to allow rapid and area-wide monitoring of landscape changes. With this, we are preparing to implement the monitoring and reporting of the "share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features" required in the draft EU Nature Restoration Law. This development will also support the Flemish Wood Edge Plan.


INBO participates, through the Geo.Informed project, in the development of more geo-data layers for environmental policy based on remote sensing and deep learning. Cases relevant to agriculture and nature are:

  • mapping wildlife damage to crops
  • mapping stagnating water in agricultural areas
  • mapping catch crops and monitoring their sowing and harvesting dates

MBAG Effectiveness Monitoring Network

The effectiveness monitoring network is yet to be launched. However, the MBAG-birds, MBAG-pollinators and MBAG-BWK projects will pay attention to the relationship with nature-oriented measures.

MBAG Pressure Measurements

MBAG-Pressure Measurement Networks Natural Environment

The MBAG - MNE preparation (= Monitoring Programme for the Natural Environment) project monitors the state of the natural environment in natural areas, which is influenced by agriculture, among other things. The initial focus is on the environmental compartments groundwater, surface water and soil near Natura 2000 habitat sites. The project aims to find out why the conservation status of some habitat types is unfavourable and/or insufficiently moving in the desired direction. This supports the planning, underpinning, evaluation and adjustment of Flemish nature and agricultural policy.

Impact of Flemish consumption and production on global biodiversity

The pressure our agricultural and food system exerts on biodiversity is not limited to Flanders. In the report De impact van Vlaanderen op de biodiversiteit in de wereld: op zoek naar indicatoren, we develop a reliable, coherent and recurrently monitorable set of indicators that policymakers can use to develop biodiversity-oriented production, consumption and trade policies.