For centuries agriculture has played a multifunctional role in sustaining mountain biodiversity in Europe through the management of habitats, species and landscapes. With significant agricultural adjustment and contraction now in prospect, there is potential for major impacts on mountain biodiversity. Some of these changes may be deleterious, e.g. loss of locally adapted species and semi-natural habitats; others beneficial, e.g. new successional pathways providing opportunities for restoration of some of the large predators that occurred in the pre-agricultural landscape, e.g. raptors, wolves and bears. Mountain biodiversity, and the human communities that live and work amidst it, face unprecedented threats from social,
economic and environmental forces of change. These same forces also bring exciting opportunities for the integration of knowledge and expertise to achieve sustainable solutions across the mountains of Europe. Resolving these issues is the target of the BioScene project which started in December 2002 and which is co-ordinated from the Wye Campus of Imperial College London.
The aim of BioScene is to investigate the implications of agricultural restructuring and decline for biodiversity conservation in Europe's mountainareas. The target is to provide practical outputs enhancing implementation of Natura 2000 and the European Biodiversity strategy through integration of agri-environmental, biodiversity conservation and rural development policy. The project takes a case study approach to the analysis of the biodiversity processes and outcomes of different scenarios of agri-environmental change in mountain areas of six countries of Europe: Norway, UK, France, Slovakia, Switzerland and Greece. Stakeholder groups in each area will work with the project team to test the outputs.
In each study area we will define the form that various scenarios of future agriculture change could take, ranging from a Managed Decline Scenario, based on the effects of withdrawal of agricultural support in the transition to free market conditions and a Biodiversity Enhancement Scenario, based on a major reform of agricultural and rural development policy geared to maximising biodiversity conservation. Ecological modelling of landscape, habitats and species will be used to provide predictions of the likely biodiversity consequences of the scenarios for each study area which will be visualised in a series of innovative "BioScenes" using computer manipulated images and other media. The public reaction and perceptions to these different mountain "BioScenes" will be evaluated alongside the economic cost effectiveness of the conservation options required to deliver them. A region-specific sustainability appraisal will provide a revision of the "BioScenes" based on consultations and feedback from the stakeholders to evaluate the scenarios in relation to wider environmental, economic and social sustainability. The project synthesis will provide a cross-country comparative assessment and recommendations for new strategies, plans and policies for integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable rural development in mountain areas.