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Large tracts of the European rural land, most frequently in the Less Favoured Areas (LFA) are devoted to lowinput
and Large Scale Grazing Systems (LSGS) under severe environmental constraints. A small part of the rural population
strives to make a living under a risk of abandonment. Paradoxically, these areas harbour a great part of the European
High Nature Value (HNV) farmland. We argue that government intervention on these LSGS can only be devised after
proper knowledge of technical, structural and social constraints. LSGS may deliver environmental and social benefits but
current European Union (EU) schemes of support do not fit the requirements and spatial scale of HNV farming systems.
A new methodological approach and research agenda is described based on inter-disciplinary environmental and economic
research, stakeholders’ participation and differential diagnosis. The results summarise the main findings of the EUfunded
LACOPE research project in seven study-areas and broadly enlarge the analysis to other European LSGS with the
experience of collaborative experts. The LACOPE research project advanced the research agenda in the identification of
major LSGS and diagnosis of the seven study-areas. In most of these latter, grazing and biodiversity showed compatible
features, but severe structural and social constraints were identified, which require public intervention or enhancement of
social cohesion. Delivering of potential environmental assets is linked to economic and social viability of these LSGS.
Poor economic performance was more common than social fragility, with some LSGS well entrenched and supported by
local social values and cultural traditions. The core objectives of the proposed Rural Development Policy (RDP) of the EU
for the years 2007-2013 are compatible with the differential diagnosis proposed in the research agenda. However, the articulation
of environmental, economic and social analysis under current schemes of policy support (Natura 2000, LFA,
and agri-environment measures), can be questionable. A single space-scale of HNV farmland and system research can be
better suited to reach the core objectives of the RDP guidelines for environmental and economic convergence, programming,
monitoring and financial controls.