Fondazione per la Ricerca sulla Migrazione e Integrazione delle Tecnologie
Close this search box.

Bisogni F., Soldi R., Cavallini S., Di Matteo L. (2022) "How can local and regional authorities use World Heritage agricultural landscapes as a tool for enhancing the economic and social sustainability of rural areas?"

Committente: European Committee of the Regions. 
Periodo: 2022
Url: How can local and regional authorities use World Heritage agricultural landscapes as a tool for enhancing the economic and social sustainability of rural areas?

The concept of ‘agricultural landscape’ falls under the ‘cultural landscape’ type within the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. The UNESCO website currently lists 49 cultural landscapes located in the 27 EU Member States. Out of these properties, according to our analysis, 23 sites (47%) encompass agricultural and pastoral elements, which may be considered an ‘agricultural landscape’. This study aims to analyse the value added by inscribing European agricultural landscapes on the World Heritage (WH) list in terms of enhanced economic and social sustainability of rural areas. The study also aims to provide guidance to European local and regional authorities (LRAs) for initiating and financing integrated projects, including cross-border ones, towards the inscription on the WH list. In the introductory section, European agricultural landscapes are mapped to highlight how they are concentrated in a relatively small number of EU countries, with France and Italy hosting the highest number of WH agricultural landscapes. In Part 1, the 23 WH agricultural landscapes located in the EU27 are categorised according to a few criteria in order to understand key socio-economic trends of the territory that are potentially influenced by being WH labelled. Three main groups are identified: sites with higher socio-economic performance than the regional average, including in the primary sector (Group 1); sites with higher performance of the primary and tourism sectors than the regional average (Group 2); sites with a socio-economic performance which is independent from the primary sector or lower than the regional average (Group 3). Towards the scope of this study, the most important groups are Group 1 and Group 2. In both groups the primary sector contributes to development, but in Group 2 the role of the primary sector is pivotal and therefore more important in determining the socioeconomic conditions of the concerned territories. It is from these two groups that five sites have been selected for the development of case studies (in Part 3), namely: Val d’Orcia (Italy), Alto Douro Wine Region (Portugal), Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars (France), Hortobágy National Park – the Puszta (Hungary) and Wachau Cultural Landscape (Austria). Case studies are structured to provide a description of the site in terms of history and geography. Then, the reasons and processes leading to the labelling of the site are presented, providing a brief overview of the reasons behind the inscription on the WH list. Management, stakeholders and funding arrangements are also detailed to understand the governance system, the actors involved and the resources used. Existing synergies and cross-border elements are also described, including the eventual presence of site brands, geographical indications of agricultural produce of the sites, as well as synergies with tourism and cultural trails. Socio-economic trends are then presented according to the indicators of GDP per capita, employment of the active population, employment in the primary sector and GVA per capita in the primary sector. Challenges and success factors in the management of the site are described according to the feedback received from interviews held with management staff of the sites. Finally, highlights are outlined as lessons learnt which may be useful for other sites to know. In addition to case study development, evidence was also collected through the carry out of an online consultation. The consultation aimed at collecting the experience and opinion of public authorities, civil society, and/or other entities/organisations that host/manage/interact with WH agricultural landscapes on the following: WH agricultural landscape labelling and its impact in terms of economic and social sustainability of rural areas; the process of inclusion in the WH list; the use of EU funds to preserve agricultural heritage; and the synergies between heritage, cultural, environmental and economic labels and between WH sites. Considering the specificity of the topic and the difficulty in identifying ‘informed’ invitees, a satisfactory total of 35 questionnaires from 18 EU Member States were received. The majority of the respondents (54.3%) represented a regional authority or another public entity at the regional level, while the remaining respondents were a local authority or another public entity at the local level with an agricultural landscape in its territory (17.1%), a public entity involved in the management of an agricultural landscape (17.1%), or another type of entity (11.4%). As regards the main reasons behind the decision to apply for a WH agricultural landscape labelling, the opinion and experience of the participants in the consultation converged towards rural development, prestige, conservation and tourism. According to the respondents, being part of the WH list also generates specific benefits for rural areas, mostly in terms of responsible tourism, better integration of the territory’s natural and cultural elements, and higher institutional commitment for these areas. The decision to bid for a WH listing, however, presents some barriers that are mostly related to governance. In fact, ownership-related problems, existence of disputes amongst stakeholders at the territorial level and lack of coherence amongst the wide variety of policies affecting rural areas were listed among the main issues experienced for taking the decision to bid. Regarding the accreditation phase, the majority of the organisations consulted (58%) experienced a limited internal capacity as the main barrier. Many of them needed support during the WH list inclusion process. Mainly institutional support and individual consultants were required. Accordinto the majority of the respondents, LRAs resulted in having a central role in facilitating organisations in initiating the labelling process (58%), followed by national authorities (47%) and local communities (42%). Local communities were identified as those actors who benefited the most from an agricultural landscape entering the WH list (48% of the respondents). In Part 2, the study provides an overview of the EU funds used to preserve the agricultural heritage. The main EU funds used towards this scope are the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). During the period 2014-2020, €4.7 billion have been allocated under the ERDF to create local jobs at heritage sites and attract visitors to specific cities and locations. The participants in the online consultation confirmed that EAFRD and ERDF are the EU funds that contribute more effectively to agricultural heritage preservation (70% and 64%, respectively). According to the study survey, 70% of the respondents considered also using INTERREG to support their agricultural landscapes and their innovation and 39% considered using H2020 and LIFE+. During the interviews carried out within the context of the study with institutional representatives, site managers, and civil society organisations, the opportunities to reinforce the link between the EU funds and agricultural heritage preservation were discussed and explored. Available funding opportunities such as LIFE+ and INTERREG have been indicated as effective means for contributing to the preservation of Europe’s agricultural heritage. Moreover, three core elements were identified as areas of attention. They are: awareness raising, empowerment and the need for an integrated approach. In this sense, it emerged that in order to better benefit from the funding opportunities illustrated above (i.e., LIFE+ and INTERREG), it is first necessary to increase the heritage actors’ awareness on available EU funds and consequently empower them to access these funds. Furthermore, analysing and properly disseminating the results and the consequences of heritage investments emerged as essential to avoid one-time funding project experiences. The last element is the integrated approach to agricultural heritage funding. Such an integrated approach is deemed important not only to optimise the interaction between different policies but also to contribute to maintaining vital rural areas at risk of depopulation and, consequently, to preserve both the cultural and natural heritage. Part 4 of the study presents the potential synergies existing between heritage, environmental and economic labels. As also evidenced in the case studies, synergies between cultural heritage, environmental and economic labels are found in almost all agricultural landscapes that have natural protected areas within their boundaries, such as Natura 2000, or parks. According to the survey results, in the majority of the cases (68%), the respondents indicated that their agricultural landscape has, in fact, Natura 2000 sites. Geographical indications are confirmed to be present in WH agricultural landscapes by 37% of the respondents to the survey. In case of labels coexisting with that of the WH, the respondents with an agricultural landscape on the WH list have identified these main synergies: stronger management (53%), stronger interaction with communities and stakeholders (47%) and more effective use of available financial resources (41%). According to the evidence and success factors collected throughout the study’s sections by means of desk research, statistical analysis, an online questionnaire and several structured interviews with key stakeholders at the institutional and territorial level, the study concludes on the value the WH label may add to rural areas and on ways territorial stakeholders may pursue the labelling process for their agricultural landscapes. In fact, Part 4 also proposes guidelines to support LRAs in navigating the different steps of the WH list nomination process. Step 1 ‘Initiation’ defines how to propose the site to the State Party for inclusion in the Tentative List. As this is a necessary stage of the nomination process, LRAs willing to play a role in the process should first verify the national procedure that funnels sites into the Tentative List, considering that the process for applying differs from country to country. Consequently, LRAs that believe they have relevant sites in their territory should carry out site identification and analysis aimed at understanding the suitability of the candidate sites also with respect to their Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). LRAs also need to be sure about the motivation for nomination. This is essential in order to be well-prepared and organised for developing a nomination with an efficient use of time and resources. The awareness at the territorial level is crucial and can be verified and increased through preliminary consultation. Finally, institutional support at a central level for the potential future nomination of an agricultural landscape should be sought at the very beginning of the process. During Step 2 ‘Implementation – Preparation of the nomination dossier’, the entity in charge of preparing the nomination documents should be clearly identified and empowered by the interested parties, while the participation of the local stakeholders must also be ensured. The definition of the site governance and of relevant monitoring indicators is also necessary to ensure sound management, as is the identification of sponsors to sustain the nomination process. According to the findings presented in the study, recommendations are ultimately proposed to encourage LRAs to use the WH labelling instrument for improving the economic and social sustainability of their rural areas. Firstly, there is a need to clarify the concept of ‘agricultural landscape’ within the cultural landscape type by using easily understandable terms. Benefits brought to society by cultural heritage and WH agricultural landscapes have to be monetised, thus increasing the attractiveness of the label and the interest in initiating the nomination process. Benefits brought to private actors by WH agricultural landscapes should be   balanced by mechanisms of private contributions to cover the costs of the WH nomination. Moreover, the European agricultural landscapes should be structurally supported in their cross-border cooperation, so as to also exchange practices for facing challenges that in this study are found to be common to agricultural landscapes. In this sense, the promotion of a hybrid approach in the heritage conservation of agricultural landscapes that also considers the development of rural areas under the socio-economic perspective could boost innovation processes, also leveraging on the new generations. In general, a better use of EU funds for the conservation and preservation of cultural and natural heritage should be fostered by raising awareness on funding opportunities and empowering territorial stakeholders in accessing these funds. LRAs have the opportunity to encourage WH accreditation of their agricultural landscapes by focusing on the mapping of the potential sites and on the technical support to be offered to potential candidates. The study concludes by highlighting additional research questions that could be explored further in the future.