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In the trap of interacting indirect and direct drivers: the disintegration of extensive, traditional grassland management in Central and Eastern Europe

Dániel Babai, Research Centre for the Humanities, Institute of Ethnology, Budapest, Hungary
Béla Jánó, Valea Rece, Lunca De Jos, Harghita County, Romania
Zsolt Molnár, Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Ecology and Botany, Vácrátót, Hungary


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Micro-scale management of cultural landscapes with species-rich grasslands requires the operation of extensive, traditional land-use systems. These social-ecological systems are under increasing pressure of interacting drivers that impact on farmers’ individual decisions and force them to make trade-offs. We aimed to reveal the local understanding of driver interactions and related trade-offs focusing on a key element of a traditional social-ecological system. We studied the time of hay-mowing using participatory observation (105 field days), semi-structured interviews (n = 85), and focus group discussions (n = 2), analyzing the interacting IPBES-defined drivers that influence the choice of the time of mowing and related trade-offs in a small-scale community in a mountainous landscape (Gyimes, Transylvania, Romania) from the 1950s to the present. Local farmers perceived a number of direct and indirect drivers, as ecological, socio-cultural, economic, and political changes affected the optimal and actual time of mowing and increased the number of trade-offs. The most important factors were (1) the quality of the hay; (2) long-term yield stability by ensuring seed ripening, and (3) qualifying for financial support from agri-environment-climate schemes. Direct drivers influenced the phenology of vegetation and thus the time of mowing, while indirect social, cultural, and political drivers only impacted on the latter. The complexity of driver and trade-off interactions increased through time making adaptation more difficult. While farmers were navigating through the increased complexity, an informal social institution that previously optimized the work forces of farms gradually disappeared. The cumulative effects of drivers and trade-offs decreased the economic and social viability of the system. Our results suggest that the local community’s adaptive capacity has been drastically weakened. We argue that more flexible and adaptive regulations are needed to assure the continuity and ongoing adaptation of this and other Eastern-Central-European, centuries-old but still existing traditional management systems, which created and maintain high nature-value cultural landscapes.

Key words

agri-environment-climate schemes; Carpathians; cultural landscapes; land-use change; Natura 2000; qualitative approach; time of mowing

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087