by Thomas Dax, Ingrid Machold and Thilo Nigmann
The International Conference on Research for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (5-7 October 2016; Bragança, Portugal) provided an excellent opportunity to present the research objectives and first findings of the PEGASUS case studies carried out in Austria. Speaking during the Symposium on “moving towards sustainable mountain socio-ecological systems: the challenge and promise of cross-level governance”, Thomas Dax from BABF (the Austrian partner in PEGASUS) presented the main conceptual ideas of the project and the first results of one of the 3 case studies in Austria, set in the mountainous Lungau region of Austria.
The Lungau mountainous area is part of a recently approved Biosphere Reserve in Austria. The presentation of the first findings showed that the relevant main environmental and social outcomes of most interest for stakeholders in the case study area are those that are traditionally representative for mountain regions in this region, such as biodiversity, protection of the specific Alpine cultural landscapes and securing an active and socially resilient rural community (“rural vitality”).
Based on the selection of key indicators, the case study found that the Biosphere Reserve designation has had impacts in the region in terms of land use (there is a very high share of organic farmers in the area, about 50%), nature conservation measures and demographic development (e.g. positive external migration balance in recent years).
The case study also found that, in the region, land use is highly dependent upon public support especially funds made available through the Austrian Rural Development Programme, the design of which have a significant impact in the Lungau region as a result. With respect to land use, it seems particularly important to monitor intensification trends in grassland use as well as conversion between agricultural and forest land use.
As tourism is one of the sectors with the highest potential for job development, a thorough investigation of the various dimensions of ‘sustainable development’ seems important if the high-quality goals of the Lungau Biosphere Reserve are to be achieved.
The analysis of the initial phase of the implementation of the Reserve’s objectives show that awareness raising and enhancing local participation processes is crucial for sparking changes towards more sustainable pathways in this mountain context.
Photo credit: Marie Clotteau