Future sustainability of the conservation management of socio-ecological landscapes is typically reliant on on-going agricultural management. Such management may be threatened by changes in the drivers of management and the fragility of the stakeholder networks that deliver management. This study examined evidence for the risk of abandonment in a series of case study high nature value (HNV) grassland sites. The work found that the motivation of farmers to participate in the conservation management was typically limited and often marginal. Landowners and conservation stakeholders who relied on partner farmers to manage such sites often struggled to recruit and retain their participation, leading to increased turnover among managing farmers and to some sites being under-managed. Primary reasons for difficulty of recruitment and farmer turnover included a lack of candidate farmers in the local landscape, and the marginal and fluctuating economics of grassland management. A trend towards greater financial incentivisation of farmers was evident, which policy-makers responsible for agri-environment schemes should note, and elsewhere some conservation organisations were seen to be bringing grassland management in-house. Farmers’ motivations to participate in conservation management of such systems may continue to weaken and abandonment may therefore become a significant risk to the successful conservation of such systems. Conservation stakeholders need to foster good relations with their farmer-manager partners and not further depress their limited motivations to participate, as well as consider carefully whether farmer stakeholders are being adequately compensated for their efforts.
- Species-rich meadow
- Agri-environment scheme
- High nature value grassland conservation
- Traditional meadow management
- Recruitment of farmers
- Economic incentivisation