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Facing the future for grassland restoration – What about the farmers?

Waldén, Emelie, Lindborg, Regina
Journal of environmental management 2018 v.227 pp. 305-312
European Union, aesthetic value, agri-environmental policy, agricultural products, ecosystems, environmental factors, farmers, farms, grassland restoration, grasslands, interviews, landowners, profitability, social factors, species diversity, surveys, Europe
In line with the 2010 Aichi Convention for Biological Diversity, the European Union has a goal to restore 15% of degraded ecosystems and their services by the year 2020 (target 2, Europe 2020). This includes restoration of semi-natural grasslands (SNGs). Management of both intact and restored SNGs is dependent on people's willingness to manage them. Due to low profitability, management abandonment still occurs all over Europe, which highlights the need to raise farmers' and landowners' perspectives. In this study, we combined survey data and in-depth interviews with farmers/landowners managing previously restored SNGs, to understand how they perceive the restoration process, the outcome and future management. Survey and interview data were analysed in relation to biodiversity and Agri-environmental payments data from the restored sites. Almost all respondents considered the restoration successful and the re-inventoried restored SNGs also showed an increase in plant diversity. Nevertheless, 10% of the restored SNGs were abandoned again post-restoration and 40% of the respondents were unsure if they would continue the management in the future. Abandoned management may cause a negative trend in terms of decreased biological, cultural and aesthetic values, in the local community, as well as for the society in general. Most respondents explained a strong dependency on Agri-environmental payments, both as a restoration incentive and for post-restoration management. Also non-financial support from authorities in form of feedback and advice was requested, as well as support from the local community and society as a whole. Future management in a longer time perspective was strongly coupled to the farm economy, i.e. received Agri-environmental payments at farm-level and profit from selling agricultural products, and whether the farmers had successors. We conclude that both social and ecological factors, here farm economy, authority support and proper management, must be in place for long-term success of grassland restoration.