When dairy farming, nature, tourism and erosion are linked to each other - An integrated landscape approach to overcome regional challenges

Authors and Affiliations: 

Francis Turkelboom, Marijke Thoonen, Lieven De Smet, Dieter Mortelmans (INBO), Erwin Wauters (ILVO), Anne Gobin (VITO)

Corresponding author: 
Francis Turkelboom

The Voeren region is nested in between 2 country borders (Netherlands and Germany) and a regional border (Flanders and Wallonia) and is famous for its attractive landscapes. This can be explained related by its undulating bocage landscape with a mix of forests, pastures, traditional orchards, picturesque villages and cultural heritage. This resulted in a rich biodiversity. Due to the attractiveness of the landscape and its convenient location close to several large cities, the region became an important touristic hotspot. Nevertheless there are indications that this unique landscape is under threat. The main reason is that the dairy family farms face severe challenges. During recent years, low milk prices determined by the international market and heavy impact of government regulations (e.g. requirements to reduce N emissions, plans to enhance natural area and its quality) have resulted in either increased pressure to farmers to intensify and expand their activities, or to sell their farms to arable farmers or non-agriculturalists. As a result, a decline of permanent pastures and hedgerows was observed. They are being replaced with temporary pastures, arable cropping (mainly maize) and non-agricultural use (e.g. hobby horses). If this trend continues, it will not only affect the agricultural sector, but also the touristic sector (by reduction in landscape aesthetics) and biodiversity conservation (by reduction of permanent grasslands). The risk for erosion and downslope flooding will also increase if arable cropping is replacing grasslands on sloping land (further aggravated since more peak storm events are expected).
As all these sectors are interrelated via landscape interactions, it became clear that pursuing single-sectorial objectives will only accelerate the on-going decline of the landscape quality. Therefore, an inter-sectoral forum was established for Voeren with their main goal to develop an integrated plan which can minimize undesirable trends, while preserving essential ecosystem services and ensuring climate resilience. Maintenance of the ‘typical cultural landscape of Voeren’ by grass-based dairy farmers was identified as the central theme for this plan. A research project was established to support this forum: via in-depth studies of the most important sectors, interviews with key stakeholders, assessment of land-use and climate dynamics, and participatory workshops, a common-agreed diagnosis was established. Two major strategies to turn the tide were agreed: 1) creating added value for the milk produced by family-based dairy farms, and 2) developing proposals for a territorial-adapted governance (alternative and adapted instruments, increased policy coherence, strengthening of links between sectors that depend on the typical landscape of Voeren). The strategies are being inspired by examples in other areas in Belgium and abroad and will be validated during stakeholder workshops. The final findings will be presented as policy recommendations.


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