Abandonment of Traditional Agricultural Landscapes in Slovakia – analysis of extent and driving forces
Traditional Agricultural Landscapes (TAL) in Slovakia represent a mosaic of small-scale arable fields and permanent agricultural cultivations such as grasslands, vineyards and high-trunk orchards, occasionally with the presence of a form of anthropogenic relief (terraces, balks, stony walls) or historical settlements. Most of them were heavily transformed during the collectivization of agriculture (1950s - 1970s), when the small scale fields were ploughed-up and merged into large scale intensive fields managed by agricultural cooperative farms. After the shift to a market oriented economy in 1989, the abandonment of agricultural areas and especially of TAL occured. The aim of this study was to investigate the extent, main driving forces and trends of abandonment of the TAL in Slovakia. The data were collected at three scales: (1) Totally 3009 TAL polygons were mapped from aerial photos. The basic characteristics such as land-cover composition or rate of abandonment were recorded. (2) 589 randomly selected polygons were visited in the field, the mapped data was verified and an additional set of data (threat factors, forms of anthropogenic relief, vegetation data) was collected. (3) a detailed field study concerning the attitude of local people to the management of the TAL was conducted in three case study areas: Svätý Jur, Hriňová, Liptovská Teplička.
The rate of abandonment was evaluated from the percentage of managed plots within a TAL polygon. Totally 41% of TAL are regularly managed (more than 70% of managed plots within the polygon) , 41% are partly abandoned (30 – 70% of managed plots), and 18% are abandoned (less than 30% of managed plots). According to field surveys, the succession of shrub vegetation, as a consequence of abandonment, was noticed in 50-70 % of the polygons. Holiday or residence houses construction was recorded on less than 10% of the cases.
Statistical analysis of physical factors showed that the distance to settlement and slope steepness are main factors causing abandonment, soil fertility and isolation from regional capital cities are less important. The socio-economic drivers were analyzed from the interviews in three case study areas. Recent financial instruments in the Slovakian agriculture are perceived as very limiting to the farming development by most of the respondents and they identified “unfavourable subsidies”, their “complicated administration” and the “financial inaccessibility of modern technologies” as the greatest barriers. Other drivers perceived as obstacles are connected to “inadequate market” and the “weak support of local government”. Financial profit of is the top factor which would motivate the local people to farm. Majority of the respondents claim, that the management of the TAL became unprofitable since it requires the subsidy system favourable for small scale agriculture, what is however underdeveloped in Slovakia. Around 30% of respondents showed no interest in TAL management.