Authors: Cecelia De Ita, Lindsay Stringer, Luuk Fleskens, Andy Dougill, with input from study sites
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: De Ita et al. (2015) Report on stakeholder adaptation strategies in the CASCADE study sites. CASCADE Project Deliverable 8.1.


The combination of exploitation of the land, together with climate variability that has occurred in the Mediterranean, has resulted in the need for stakeholders to adapt as ecological thresholds are reached. Such changes are aggravated by the shortage of water resources and the unpredictability and uncertainty associated with weather and climate forecasts.

The intrinsic differences between bio-physical and climatic conditions across the study sites, plus the diversity in the socio-economic settings, make it highly challenging to compare the results and identify patterns in the changes and responses to change. While major land abandonment has occurred in Spain (Albatera), Italy and Portugal, an increase in grazing and croplands has also been reported. In contrast, study sites in Cyprus and Greece are still being used somewhat intensively. In Cyprus, pressure from tourism expansion has meant that there has been an increase in urbanisation and population , that has not been beneficial for the agricultural sector.

Regime changes

Stakeholders’ perceptions of changes, their responses to changes, and their forecasts and proposals for changes vary across all six study sites. In Italy and Greece, stakeholders reported that intergenerational transfer of knowledge and land based skills are diminishing. Further changes in rural practices (i.e. buying seeds instead of keeping seeds) and the shift to cultivation of crops (e.g. olive tree cultivation) that also allow a second job, may also interrupt intergenerational knowledge transfer, as it may alienate users from their land, so the next generation would not have a way of learning the necessary practical agricultural trades/skills.

Land abandonment has had deleterious effects in every study site, for example, through the increase of fires and the risk of this occurring in Cyprus, Portugal, Italy and Ayora; through grassland degradation in Italy; and increases in pests and alien species in Italy and Cyprus. In places where intergenerational replacement was low, stakeholders were more concerned about the environment and sustained more negative forecasts about the future of rural areas. These concerns are not specific to the Mediterranean. Land abandonment is increasing worldwide.

Intergenerational transfer and family succession in farms has been reported to have been reduced due to migration to urban areas. This trend has been noted specifically in rural Europe and the Mediterranean, suggesting that stakeholder concerns are empirically grounded. Such changes and trends have further implications for loss of local knowledge on the use of natural resources and on environmental management practices, as transfer of local knowledge has been highlighted in the literature as an important adaptation tool. CASCADE researchers have noticed that land use is very resilient to environmental degradation within a generation, but can change abruptly between generations (i.e. farmers will stay farmers despite the degradation, but their children will probably not continue to use the land). Such changes have already occurred in Italy. However, the traditional system of splitting farm to children still holds strong in Crete, and land redistribution is a big step towards efficiency, yielding beneficial outcomes in several areas in Crete.

Drivers of change

Stakeholders in Ayora and Italy were inclined to explore alternative energy, however, it is noticeable that in some parts of Greece there are efforts to control wind power expansion. In Ayora, windmills were signalled by stakeholders as drivers of change. Windmills were installed by a large energy company.  This suggests that private sector involvement in rural areas is growing in importance in driving change.

Qualitative research has shown that there is often a tension between management institutions and other stakeholders, regarding the environmental resources that institutions are managing. In 2 of the study sites, stakeholders mentioned policies and institutions as one of the drivers of change; in Italy policy incentives to cut vineyards and the ensuing change of crops were deleterious to the environment, while in Greece, subsidies for animal production caused an increase in grazing intensity. Furthermore, policies that avoid improvement of practices such as “goat removal” were also impeding the flexibility of stakeholders’ responses. Removing goats can improve conditions in cases of overgrazing, whereas in undergrazed areas a combination of livestock is more efficient as their foraging needs are complementary.

Adaptations to change

All management practices were considered as adaptations in these workshops. However, it is important to note that there may be activities and measures that were not reported at the time, as stakeholders may not have perceived them as adaptation practices. Further practices currently been carried out by stakeholders to counteract or reverse biophysical changes have been gathered by CASCADE researchers using the WOCAT methodology.

Adaptation efforts in some study sites were perceived to be the responsibility of land users. In Greece and Cyprus, stakeholders that were not in the ‘land user’ category answered that they did not need to adapt as they did not have any land or the land was private property, therefore they were unable to carry out any activity to prevent or manage detrimental changes.  In the same line, civil servants’ answers to adaptation efforts focused on promoting or providing support to land users to carry out environmental management activities.

In some countries, the same actions or adaptations were seen as either good or bad. In Italy, tourism was viewed as a positive alternative adaptation activity, while in Cyprus, stakeholders stated that it should be controlled as it threatens environmental resources.  The same discrepancy has been noted for wind turbines and water usage. This suggests that the types of strategies and adaptations proposed may need careful evaluation, taking into account both their costs and their benefits for the environment and society, looking particularly at which parts of society “win” and which “lose”.

Water usage perceptions and statements can be a subject of debate and discussion. In Albatera an increase in irrigation was mentioned as an adaptation response to regime changes. However, it is important to note that use of irrigation is also the result of having easy access to water, which in turn has caused further degradation of the land. In Greece, sedentary and transient land users have different access to water. It was reported by the CASCADE researchers, that only sedentary land users can take advantage of the dam, while transient land users feel that they were judged poorly by the authorities as they exploited spring water at higher ground. As a result of mainly agricultural consumption, spring and surface water has decreased, which is causing stress to transient users.

Expected changes

The expected regime changes, and how positive or negative people’s perceptions are, can influence how actively stakeholders respond, and how willing and hopeful they are to embrace change and the future results of change. This is observed in the literature too, where it is noted that social and environmental characteristics affect the resilience of a place, and how society will cope or adapt to climatic events.

In Italy there was a lack of consensus regarding the future changes that are expected. While some stakeholders predicted that farming and grazing will eventually stop due to the lack of a younger generation to take over, others expected a reactivation and revitalisation of rural activities, mainly through the improvement and modernisation of practices, such as mechanisation of farming, and the provision of training and incentives to younger generations, as well as a reduction in bureaucracy and greater engagement in exports.

In Cyprus every stakeholder expected that an increase in erosion and detrimental changes in vegetation and wildlife will occur. At the same time, land users stated measures required for adaptation circumscribed to policy enforcement and governmental support in the form of subsidies, rat baits and trees. These responses indicate a lack of self-empowerment, with stakeholders being dependent on external support. Stakeholders in Albatera showed a similar trend in their requirements for future measures. In contrast, stakeholders in Greece and Italy mentioned education, strategic organisation and better water management as future strategies for adaptation.  Research on how to implement these types of efforts needs to be backed up with qualitative information. Farmers’ responses to policy and environmental changes can be related to how they are presented to them. As every adaptation measure is mediated by culture, culturally informed approaches are needed to set up new measures. Cultural enquiry, for example through ethnographic research, can document knowledge, responses in behavior and practices.

Required policy and support

Stakeholders with environmental awareness, such as local naturalists, expressed that environmental education and consideration of long term impacts were a necessary step to reach more successful environmental management and adaptation goals. This point can be validated by the low number of stakeholders who mentioned the importance of the conservation of the natural landscape, although most manifested concern for the loss of resilience of the environment, and noted erosion and other consequences for anthropogenic land uses.

In Portugal, Italy and Spain, stakeholders stated that dissemination of information and knowledge about incentives and subsidies was required in order to improve accessibility so that local land users could make full use of such initiatives. More attention to how stakeholders engage with adaptation initiatives is crucial. As they are the first receivers of policies for adaptation, investing in dissemination and information is vital for the success of any initiative. Furthermore, stakeholders can perceive changes to create different degrees of risk. Regardless of how damaging invasive vegetation can be, wider research involving stakeholders in Spain found that it is only perceived as moderately problematic, which has, in turn, resulted in limited management efforts.


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