[ Summary ]
From exploiting resources to environmental competitiveness
1.2 Lessons learned from LEADER concerning environmental competitiveness
By adopting a territorial approach, LEADER has helped to give
renewed importance to preserving, reclaiming, valorising and
enhancing local resources, including physical resources, which play
a leading role. In this way it has contributed to the emergence of
the new approach to the environment.
Lesson one: LEADER has helped to foster among the population an
interest in the environment, often by targeting young people.
Awareness of the value of the environment entails first rebuilding
the links between local players and their area, which is both a
living environment and a common point of reference. The development
of new consumer models and the influence of exogenous cultures have
often weakened such links, blurring and sometimes even obliterating
people’s original attachment to the area. Many LEADER groups have
focused a great deal of attention on this aspect, showing special
interest in the behaviour of the young people on whom the area’s
potential revival relies.
In Penacova (Centre, Portugal), a group of young people organised a
local association whose primary task was to arrange weekend dances.
The association radically changed its direction the day one of the
group was killed during one of the dances. This collective trauma
prompted them to redirect their activities to restoring a dozen
abandoned mills situated on the top of a low mountain overhanging
the area. For years they invested all of their spare time in this
initiative, and, thanks to financial support from LEADER, they
managed to create a tourist centre of exceptional value on a
spectacular natural site by converting a number of mills into
dwellings and another into an eco-museum, and installing a
restaurant and leisure centre below. Inspired by this initiative,
the Adelo LEADER group has now launched further initiatives to
redevelop the environment in conjunction with other groups of young
Lesson two: LEADER has helped to highlight the importance of local
resources, even where they are not economically profitable in the
The practice of exploiting resources and then abandoning them as
soon as they are no longer of immediate economic interest has left
scars that are still much in evidence. This is particularly true
- rural areas that have undergone traumatic enforced economic
transitions (uprooting vines, abandoning transhumance, closing
mines or textile industries, etc.);
- rural areas that have been subject to rural depopulation,
with serious consequences as a result of neglecting the natural and
architectural heritage and abandoning traditional collective forms
- rural areas that have suffered the enforced closure of
certain services which macro-economic cost/benefit calculations had
decreed to be non-cost-effective, in spite of the existence of
infrastructure such as railway lines, canals, etc.
In stark contrast to this principle of abandonment, LEADER has
worked to develop and reclaim an area’s endogenous resources,
considering them as a prerequisite for acquiring a specific
identity and a new form of competitiveness. As a result, resources
deemed to be without interest under the former rationale have
gained renewed value in the territorial development context. This
is one of the consistent features of LEADER interventions.
This prompted several LEADER groups to redevelop breeds that had
been abandoned because they were judged to be non cost-effective,
by finding special outlets for them. Breeds of coarse-wool sheep
from Styria (Austria) and from Douro Superior (Portugal) are fine
examples of this.
Lesson three: LEADER has reinforced the idea that responsibility is
more important than ownership.
The importance of the resource/individual or resource/
administration relationship has played a decisive role in the
neglect of resources considered to be unproductive in the short
term. In the past, an abandoned building or site was of concern
only to its owner, and an unmaintained railway line was the
business of the national railway administration alone. According to
this rationale, the possibility of restoring or reutilising such
resources was dependent only on them.
In order to redevelop abandoned local resources it was therefore
necessary to remove the barriers between public administrations and
between the public and private sectors and to call into question
the idea of the unconditional freedom of owners.
This type of approach frequently called for cooperation with non-
local bodies, especially when infrastructure belonging to national
public organisations was involved, such as railway lines or mines,
or to absentee private owners, such as abandoned houses. In matters
such as these, the problems are often complex: establishing a new
use for historic buildings, for example, means finding the absentee
owner and sorting out legal ownership problems and rules on
conserving the historical heritage.
In the Montana Palentina area (Castilla-Leon, Spain), the LEADER
group succeeded in ensuring that former railway lines could be
reutilised by cycle trolleys mounted on train wheels for use by
tourists. For this it was first necessary to negotiate with the
Spanish railway companies.
The development of public/private alliances is sometimes the only
available means of ensuring that resources are maintained or
replenished and resolving problems of ownership or reassigning
The Noordwest Friesland LEADER group (Friesland, Netherlands)
provided support for the conversion of abandoned buildings into
high-class tourist accommodation. With its own language and
culture, Friesland is a region with a strong identity. Having been
disused for several years, some of the region’s historic monuments
and buildings were deteriorating or even falling into ruin. It was
important to restore this heritage whilst taking into account the
very high costs involved in building restoration. This led to the
idea of assigning new functions to the sites to be restored. As a
result, several public buildings were converted into high-quality
appartment hotels (“stedsloazjeminten”). They are managed by
private operators whilst remaining under public ownership.
Lesson four: LEADER has demonstrated that environmental
valorisation relies on a territorial strategy that is not limited
to protected natural areas, but takes into account all of the
LEADER has demonstrated that the idea of environmental protection
is better understood by local players when it integrates all
elements of the living environment and is not confined to natural
resources, protected areas, rivers, etc. Territorial strategies
have therefore broadened the concept of the environment to
encompass the landscape, biological products and constructed sites,
harmonising installations and facilities with the landscape, etc.
In Northern Ireland’s West Tyrone LEADER area, the main road
through the area traverses a particularly rundown stretch. The
LEADER group therefore decided to work on restoring the aesthetic
value to the landscape it crossed. The group began by ordering
computer-designed redevelopment proposals in the form of synthetic
images showing the seasonal aesthetic changes of the various
scenarios, with suggestions regarding the species to be planted,
the areas to be reorganised, etc. The group is currently seeking
funding so that it can carry through this redevelopment project.
Likewise, LEADER experience has shown that the participation of
local players in managing protected areas in response to highly
diverse problems, ranging from the introduction of appropriate
means of transport, to tourist management, spatial planning, etc.,
opens up new prospects for areas such as these which often find it
hard to take off economically.
Lesson five: LEADER has demonstrated that the environment can serve
as the cornerstone of an area’s identity and the unifying theme
behind an overall territorial strategy.
Attributing an identity value to certain environmental components
is one of the methods used by LEADER groups to interest local
economic operators in abandoned or neglected resources. This
includes, for example, former plantations that, whilst forming part
of the landscape and providing an identity that is essential to the
area’s tourism development, have been more or less abandoned
because they were not sufficiently cost-effective.
Sweet chestnuts in France and Italy are a particular case in point.
The task of the LEADER groups in this case was to create walking
and tourist routes around the theme of the sweet chestnut for
people to explore the area. In parallel, research and development
initiatives were undertaken to return the sweet chestnut trees to a
LEADER’s experience has therefore taught us that the environment
can be an asset to local development when it presents a tangible
economic interest and that it can act as a unifying theme, enabling
the players involved to draw a link between their economic concerns
and their area’s positive environmental image.
The various examples of tourist attractions created around a theme
that associates natural resources with an area harbouring a number
of heritage resources amply testify that a combination of the
architectural heritage and natural resources can serve as an anchor
for local development strategies.
Strategies have also been developed around preserving the lesser
heritage, derelict industrial land, abandoned mines, disused
railway lines and even local resources such as water.
Lesson six: LEADER has helped to show that environmental
preservation can inject new life into activities in crisis and can
create new jobs and occupations.
Certain initiatives developed under the LEADER programme highlight
the benefit of environmentally-friendly practices in opening up new
economic prospects to areas that were hitherto devoted to intensive
agriculture and livestock production.
In the Obere Altmühl LEADER group area of central Franconia
(Bavaria, Germany), beef producers launched the “Franki” brand for
meat from local brood cows raised on pasture. To do this they
created the company WFG, guaranteeing that the animal was of local
origin, was fed on pasture throughout the pasture growing season,
has travelled no more than two hours on foot, has been carefully
slaughtered and that the meat has been matured for 14 days in a
vacuum. The initiative has been quite successful and 60 farmers are
currently selling their meat under this label.
Furthermore, in order to cope with the problem of maintaining areas
that have suffered as a result of declining agriculture, LEADER has
introduced new jobs and occupations that are essential in
preventing the deterioration of rural areas.
Lesson seven: Lastly, LEADER has helped to bring an end to the
traditional conflict between nature conservation and development,
by advocating the need for a gradual process of education.
Environmental concerns are often perceived by local players as a
source of restrictions, especially where they involve protected
areas, which arouses strong opposition when such areas are imposed
by decree. It is only possible through a gradual process of
education and consultation to secure acceptance for changes in the
way resources are exploited. Such an approach takes time, but also
requires the proponents of such new practices to acquire a
legitimacy in the community and, above all, prove the economic
benefits of such practices.
In order to overcome the resistance of livestock producers to the
creation of the Haute-Sure national park (Luxembourg), which was in
conflict with some of their intensive livestock production
practices, the LEADER group recruited a technical expert who
gradually convinced the livestock producers - starting with the
younger ones - to produce quality meat using less intensive and
more environmentally-friendly livestock production methods. A
quality label was introduced (“Véi vum Sei”) making it possible to
sell the meat at a higher price. Although the principle of the park
has not yet been accepted by all the livestock producers, the trend
is now in this direction.
After eight years of experimentation in a wide range of different
territorial contexts, LEADER has helped to forge the new approach
to the environment that is emerging today, by providing answers to
basic questions and to the methodological problems that arise when
this new approach is put into practice.
However, there remains much to be done in order to ensure that the
environment is taken fully into account in territorial approaches.
For example, the LEADER groups have only had a limited opportunity
to intervene on more fundamental environmental issues such as
pollution, maintaining biodiversity, protecting biotopes or spatial
planning. Some of the reasons for this may be the difficulty that
LAGs have in establishing partnerships with players and/or
institutions with the know-how and legitimacy to intervene in such
fields. This because these players and/or institutions come from
outside the area (universities, specialised research centres), or
because they form part of more restrictive protection approaches,
or even because they work in fields of no direct concern to LEADER
(infrastructure, planning and regional development, etc.). The
creation of links with other players specialising in the
environment and in spatial planning in order to turn these aspects
into fully-fledged themes of the territorial approach still poses a
major challenge to local action groups, especially under the