A new perspective on rural land management
Through a series of recommendations encouraging local stakeholders to explore environmental, social and economic issues in rural land management, EU-funded researchers have set out new ways in which agriculture and forestry could become more sustainable.
© meryll #66533324, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Society depends on rural land for essential food, timber and fuel. Agricultural and forest land also plays an important role in climate regulation, biodiversity, water and soil quality, flood management and culture. Despite their importance, inappropriate rural land management means these areas continue to face environmental and socio-economic challenges.
In recent years, EU and national policies have sought to tackle both environmental issues and societal concerns. These have included reduced biodiversity, soil degradation, rural population decline due to lack of employment opportunities and the overall reduction in rural vitality. However, the policies that have been implemented have had limited success.
The EU-funded PEGASUS project developed a series of policy recommendations to enable more effective rural land management across Europe. These focus on the role of rural community stakeholders, from farmers to energy suppliers and from NGOs to national agencies, and how they can be empowered to use policy to deliver more environmental and social benefits.
PEGASUS has revealed that rural land policies need to be well understood by those on the ground, working in rural areas. To be effective, they must take into account the social processes occurring in these areas, says project manager Anne Maréchal of the Institute of European Environmental Policy in the UK.
Rural stakeholders help build policy
The projects recommendations pay particular attention to encouraging rural stakeholders to work together. By engaging in multi-actor approaches, farmers and foresters become part of a concerted and more sustained effort to deliver positive environmental and social outcomes. The project recommends that flexible policies be created that can be adapted to local needs.
The international PEGASUS team, made up of experts from a number of disciplines, focused on 10 case study regions where collaborative initiatives were taking place. They encouraged a high level of participation from local stakeholders to get an in-depth understanding of the factors that affect the delivery of economic, social and environmental outcomes in rural areas.
The team also created a series of EU-level maps to look at the links between agriculture and forestry systems and how they can best be used to achieve environmental and social benefits.
During this process, the PEGASUS project also worked with external advisors and policymakers to guide the development of the recommendations. By involving stakeholders throughout the process, the aim was to make sure the projects recommendations were firmly based in the realities and cultural differences experienced in different parts of the EU.
A toolkit for effective land management
PEGASUS also developed a toolkit for practitioners that summarises good practice principles to help new and established collective initiatives in rural areas to thrive.
The toolkit makes the projects findings accessible to local leaders or facilitators, says Maréchal. It makes it easier for them to start or develop collective initiatives like the ones looked at in the case studies, which were also found to have a lot of potential to deliver public goods and ecosystem services.
In early 2018, PEGASUS culminated in a conference. The high degree of interaction and engagement with stakeholders and policymakers has also ensured there is sustained awareness about the project and its recommendations. The concepts of collective initiatives and the importance of facilitation in rural areas, which are championed through the recommendations, made their way into the European Commissions proposals for the future Common Agricultural Policy.