, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 276-286

Integrated futures for Europe’s mountain regions: Reconciling biodiversity conservation and human livelihoods

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Abstract

Europe’s mountains cover nearly half of the continent’s area and are home to one fifth of the European population. Mountain areas are hotspots of biodiversity and agriculture has played a multifunctional role in defining and sustaining mountain biodiversity. Ongoing trends of agricultural decline are having negative impacts on mountain biodiversity. This paper presents results from an interdisciplinary European research project, BioScene, which investigated the relationship between agriculture and biodiversity in six mountain study areas across Europe to provide recommendations for reconciling biodiversity conservation with social and economic activities through an integrated rural development strategy. BioScene used scenario analysis and stakeholder participation as tools for structuring the analysis of alternative mountain futures. Three main BioScene scenarios were evaluated: Business as Usual (BaU), Agricultural Liberalisation (Lib), Managed Change for Biodiversity (MCB). BioScene brought together ecologists, economists, sociologists and rural geographers, to carry out interdisciplinary analysis of the scenarios: identifying key drivers of change, assessing the biodiversity consequences and evaluating cost-effectiveness. BioScene used a sustainability assessment to integrate the research outputs across natural and social science disciplines to assess the broader sustainability of the scenarios in terms of biodiversity, natural resources, rural development, social development, economic development and institutional capacity. The sustainability assessment showed that the MCB scenario was potentially the most sustainable of the three BioScene scenarios. Through the reconciliation of potentially conflicting objectives, such as conservation, economic development and human livelihoods, and with a strong participatory planning approach, the MCB scenario could represent an alternative approach to BaU for sustainable rural development in Europe’s mountains. BioScene confirms the necessity for natural and social scientists to work together to seek solutions to environmental problems. Interdisciplinary research can assist with the definition of integrated strategies with the potential to reconcile the ecological, social and economic parameters that determine a sustainable future for European mountain areas.