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Rural landscapes in a changing world – Københavns Universitet

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Rural landscapes in a changing world

Intersecting driving forces, some linked to structural change in agriculture others to urbanisation in various forms, affect rural landscapes world wide. A newly established OECD network is set up to co-ordinate research on rural landscapes in a policy context and new collaborative planning approaches to rural landscapes are the focus of the Danish programme ‘DIAPLAN’.

GravhøjMost rural landscapes are agrarian landscapes with agriculture and forestry as the most important types of land use. Affected by combinations of market, technology, natural processes, public policy and by actions taken locally by farmers and foresters, rural landscapes are dynamic and change continuously, often with significant environmental impacts. Also other processes are causing landscape change on a global scale, first of all urbanisation.

The intersecting dynamics of agriculture and urbanisation must be included to understand current trends in landscape change and to design appropriate policy and planning solutions for the future.

Agricultural structural change

Relative increases in production costs (fertilizer, pesticides, energy) compared to food prices, the so-called ‘price scissors’, mean changing market conditions as do changes in energy policy towards support for bio-fuels – to mention two topical and somewhat contradictory development trends which both are affecting agricultural landscapes.

In regions with good conditions for agricultural production we can see clear signs of intensification and concentration of the agricultural production – often linked with new crop and husbandry systems, including irrigation and large scale livestock systems. In many regions with marginal conditions agricultural production is being extensified or abandoned up. In both cases such changes mean landscape changes often with clear impacts on biodiversity, cultural heritage and landscape character.

The de-coupling of economic support as part of current reforms of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is part of these change processes as are a number of environmental policy initiatives taken at various political administrative levels.

Urbanisation affect on rural landscapes

Parallel to such structural changes related to agricultural production also urbanisation in various forms affects rural landscapes at different scales in time and space and this is to a large extend ignored in the debates on the future of agriculture and food production.
Especially the traditional urbanisation process, the movement from rural hinterlands to urban centres, and migrations in the opposite direction from cities to the countryside, counter-urbanation are affecting rural landscapes.

This has happened on a continental scale in North America where traditional urbanisation processes more or less have emptied great parts of the rural Mid West for other socio-economic functions than agriculture whereas rural New England in the north east has been a favourite destination of people moving out of urban environments. The rural landscapes of the Mid West has been dramatically been transformed to homogenous production landscapes with significant consequences for biodiversity, natural resources (water and soil) and the landscape character whereas New England landscapes has changed to mainly forest landscapes in which the remaining commercial farms are under severe pressure from being taken over by urban residents and huge amounts of public funds are paid annually to keep these farms in business and thus the landscapes open.

In the rest of the world the same processes are affecting rural landscapes with different consequences from region to region. In Europe as a whole urbanisation and counter-urbanisation are playing a crucial role which is generally overlooked in landscape research as well as in policy making.

A place to live

When we (in 2008) asked owners of farm properties larger than 2ha in a study of 323 farmers in Eastern Jutland about their main motives to own the farm about two thirds of the farmers (representing app. 40% of the land) said that they primary motive to possess the farm was because it was a good place to live compared to 4 % who mentioned it was primary a production place and to 29 % who pointed at an ‘equal’ combination of production place and living place as the primary reason to have the farm.

Most of the farmers who see the farm mainly as a living were hobby farmers (farmers with incomes outside the farm which are bigger than those from the farm), who have a rather different ‘landscape practice’ than full time farmers. As a general trend, hobby farmers take much more land out of production than they take in, they establish significant more uncultivated landscape elements than they remove and several times more (in number, area, length) than full times farmers do.

In addition the share of land belonging to hobby farmers seems to be increasing whereas the share of full time farmers, that is of the commercial agriculture in decreasing. There are three main implications of these trends. First, the counter-urbanisation process must be included as a major driving force when landscape management and landscape change is studied. Second, it is by no means enough to see the farmer as a producer only, when policies, including agri-environmental policies are designed and implemented.

Also the farmer as property owner must be considered as a policy target which he or she rarely is, despite the fact that it is the owner who usually (although not always) the legally responsible person if legislation is violated. Third, the combination of agricultural structural developments towards larger, often highly specialised holdings and new incoming hobby farmers result in socially fragmented rural communities and growing interests for non-agricultural functions linked to the rural landscape as a residential and recreational place which in turn call for new policy and planning approaches to rural landscapes, including collaborative approaches to landscape planning.

DIAPLAN - new approaches to rural landscape planning

These needs are reinforced by demands from the wider ( mainly urban society) for a variety of public goods and services including clean drinking water; natural and semi-natural habitats hosting a diverse wildlife; a well maintained cultural heritage; and recreational access and opportunities. The research programme for integrated and dialogued based landscape planning (‘Diaplan’) is currently aiming at identifying and testing new approaches to rural landscape planning.

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