Trade-offs of European agricultural abandonment

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Agricultural land abandonment is a policy challenge, especially for areas with unfavorable conditions for agriculture and remote and mountainous areas. Agricultural abandonment is an important land use process in many world regions and one of the dominant land use change processes in Europe. Previous studies have shown that abandonment can have both positive and negative effects on several environmental processes, influenced by location and scale.

Preferred policies and management of these areas are debated given concerns for the loss of (traditional) agricultural landscapes and potential impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. We present a European-scale impact assessment of the possible effects of agricultural abandonment, based on eight indicators that are on the forefront of the agricultural abandonment debate. Using a multi-scale modelling approach, we expect between 71.277 and 211.814 km2 of agricultural abandonment in 2040.

Impacts on the indicators and trade-offs between the impacts are spatially variable. A typology of typical trade-off bundles at a 1 km2 resolution resulted in four typical trade-off clusters. All clusters identified are characterised by a loss of agriculture-related values, such as agro-biodiversity and cultural heritage. For two clusters, this was accompanied by positive effects on indicators such as carbon sequestration, nature recreation and mammal habitat suitability. Overall, our results indicate that location and scale are key to assess the trade-offs originating from agricultural abandonment in Europe. Identification of typical trade-offs bundles can help to distinguish potential desirable outcomes of agricultural abandonment and assist in targeting measures to areas that face similar management challenges.

Full reference: 

Van der Zanden , E.H., Verburg, P.H., Schulp, C.J.E., Verkerk, P.J., 2017. Trade-offs of European agricultural abandonment. Land Use Policy 62, 290-301.