This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 265104


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VOLANTE Vision “Local Multifunctional

The vision in short

In this vision, the localisation of all land functions in a small area paves the way for a new approach to living, working and recreation facilities in Europe. This vision targets diversity, not just in nature, but in land use and in society.

The concept

The key idea in this vision is not to create a mosaic of distinct sectoral areas (agriculture, settlement, nature conservation, etc.), but to incorporate multi-functionality in existing zones. For example, agricultural areas will have biodiversity conservation, improved water quality and ecological corridors as well as a strong green economy: this will optimise multiple ecosystem services wherever possible. A radical shift in behaviour and a switch to more ‘bottom-up’ politics will ensure localised thinking and decision-making is commonplace. This is a vision where locally driven agro-environmental measures produce their effects where they are really needed. Access to the latest technology, facilitating the sustainable management of our resources or ensuring that everyone has a say, is common. A major benefit of this vision is a huge reduction in ‘food miles’ as many of the products we need are grown or manufactured locally.

Locally Multifuntional

How to reach the vision Local Multifunctional?

In the vision Local Multifunctional land use functions are not spatially separated but are often found together within a small area. The multi-functionality enables local communities to become more self-sufficient. This localisation of all functions in a small area enables the development of new living, working and recreation facilities for the citizens, which finally may change the whole social-ecological interactions.

The VOLANTE analysis suggests that it would be difficult to reach this vision, since none of the examined scenarios would fully comply with this vision. This implies that major changes in land use may be needed. Indeed, the local multifunctional approach seems not overly responsive to current European policy schemes, and in particular not to land use restriction or segregation policies. This implies that the Local Multifunctional vision seems to require the strongest changes in the political and societal system. Linking the available projections (which are mainly based on sectoral policies) to this vision suggests that the desired diversification of land-use, increase of self-sufficiency (e.g. comprising an equal trade-balance), carbon neutral economy, and avoidance of outsourcing land use related problems to overseas, presents huge challenges.

Policy implications of the vision Local Multifunctional

Central to this vision is multifunctional land use at a local spatial scale. Although most of the analyses of past trends have been applied at the national or regional level and therefore have difficulties in addressing this level, it is clear that the effects of displacement (disconnection of agricultural production and consumption), the lack of general greening of agriculture, but increasing areas of forest, as mentioned above in the comments to the vision Regional Connected, are also valid for the vision Local Multifunctional.

The vision foresees the emergence of new villages in abandoned rural areas; the past trend, however, shows that uncontrolled urban sprawl does take place in the rural areas. Most often the pressure for urban development is merely an expansion of existing villages or cities, which does not take place in remote and abandoned rural areas. The prevailing trend is, thus, towards a differentiation in areas with urban development and pressure for more urban expansion versus areas being abandoned by agriculture and local population too. But in many rural areas a trend of structural changes in agriculture imply possibilities for urbanites to buy former farm buildings and engaging in part time / leisure farming. This potential is most profoundly recognised in peri-urban areas, but few examples are seen of old villages in remote locations becoming retreats for the urbanites. This may imply new forms of living in the rural areas.

The call for many areas being involved in food production and the emergence of many, small and local markets represents a break with past trends. Yet, in some locations direct sales and niche production are observed, which support the realisation of this vision. And intensive agriculture can be found in peri-urban areas, supporting the possibility of more direct sales. In addition, the recent changes in the Common Agricultural Policy imply more emphasis on crop diversity at a farm level. In contrast to this vision, however, is an overall trend of polarisation in agricultural land use – intensification in regions with fertile soils and abandonment in locations with less favourable conditions.

Concerning the vision statement of nature protection areas being open to other uses this is in line with the implementation of Natura 2000 sites in many European countries. Here human intervention is not excluded and for several habitat types e.g. extensive farming, human management is a requirement to preserve the quality of the habitat. In some member states, however, the Natura 2000 implementation imply a ban on human interference, even though the implementation sometimes lack proper enforcement and e.g. illegal wood felling takes place.

The focus on enhancing biodiversity everywhere is against the past trends, as especially in economically challenged countries economic development tends to take priority over biodiversity and other environmental concerns. However, at the local scale often more nature has been created than removed on farmland in the past decade. This underlines that agricultural land should not be understood as a uniform category, as land use patterns may be heterogeneous, with mixed extensive and intensive types of land use. The analyses of the land owners’ motives for creating nature on farm land indicate that the desire to improve the quality of the property is an important driver.

Implementing this vision might be enhanced by adopting Rural Development Funds from the EU to provide chances for urban agriculture. Also a move towards sustainable provisioning services (fuelwood, local food) may be helpful. Current trends towards local food production support this development which is confirmed by long waiting lists for urban allotments in many towns. Also greening of the urban environment is popular. Marginal land is already being afforested, grant schemes being available to do so. Although agroforestry is a slow burn in Europe – it has a long history and new schemes may be initiated.

In relation to nature conservation, in some countries coppice woodlands are already being restored, while some woods allow mushroom harvesting, which can be very profitable. Also, a small but growing trend of urban greening can be observed e.g. with more and more green roofs. Rural Development initiatives are already in place, often with EU funding. Some rural areas are leading the way and could teach others. Increasingly, even agricultural colleges are adding farm diversification courses for their students.

Stakeholders’ views on Local Multifunctional

The fundamental tenet of this vision is the maxim food comes first: food production is promoted everywhere, in cities, forests and natural areas, in brownfields and on roofs and in gardens (opposite to the maxim of ‘trading more food’). The key idea of incorporating multi-functionality in existing areas is crucial: agricultural areas will have more biodiversity, preserve the quality of water resources and create ecological corridors; all sustaining green economy (payment for ecosystem services, e.g. areas with carbon values, high conservation values or high social and spiritual values, is considered a strong basis for local economy). Forests can be used for biomass, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, agriculture and outdoor activities.

Optimising multiple ecosystem services everywhere is key but the other essential concept is about localised thinking and decision-making. In this regard, knowledge of local territorial characteristics becomes an overriding tenet for development or planning. Expansion of metropolitan areas should be halted, leading to a transformation of the EU into a fabric of medium-sized dense towns leading to a hybrid-green countryside. A reduction in transport use and high-energy efficiency systems based on local networks will reduce energy consumption.


Urban development in the rural fabric has been almost prohibited for decades in many countries; to overcome this mind-set would require revolutionary thinking and massive investment as part of rural development initiatives. Since food production is a low-paying job, it is a challenge to keep workers living in cities, because competition for land in urban areas is intense. A huge evolution of several policies throughout Europe would be needed including urban planning as well as forest and conservation policies. This also has implications for education and training policies to ensure a new generation of smart urban farmers.

The conservation movement would not like agricultural exploitation of nature areas; current biodiversity protection laws would have to be rewritten to allow. Funding of research would be needed to prove that this is a viable prospect that would not affect biodiversity negatively. Also to allow for new technologies of green urban development, dedicated product innovation should be actively incentivised.

It is not sure whether people want to return to an outdoor, agrarian life, although there are many types of jobs available in rural areas. These would require proper infrastructure (internet etc.), and a change of mind-set to convince people that communal living would be an attractive proposition.


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