Rural development policy can be viewed as a triangle, comprising: a) agricultural policy, with its objectives of food production and farm incomes; b) environmental policy, with its objectives of preserving habitats, species and landscapes; and c) rural development policy, with its objectives of providing jobs and maintaining populations.
Looking at the overall relationship between rural development and nature conservation, it is clear that rural development could be damaging to conservation, for example where it relies on insensitive infrastructure projects, intensification, inappropriate afforestation and large-scale land consolidation. However, there are also examples of rural development projects which are supportive of, and complementary to, nature conservation. These include efforts to maintain the viability of high nature value farming systems, to encourage farm networking and cooperation, to develop marketing of green products, appropriate diversification, etc. Many forms of agriculture, which are desirable from a conservation perspective, such as shepherding of sheep and goats, may also be supported by projects to maintain employment in viable rural communities.
One particular issue is where the proposed integration of environmental objectives into agricultural policies would lead to lower employment or incomes in rural areas. Such a change is likely to be acceptable only if some additional rural development measures are provided to help offset the potential negative effects. Thus the effective integration of agricultural, environmental and rural development policies is clearly the way ahead, and the meeting point for these three different approaches must be a commonly agreed and comprehensive statement of rural policy objectives.
What is required urgently is a specific strategy for high nature conservation value farming systems, including measures to prevent damaging intensification, abandonment or afforestation.