Knowledge Platform

General Information

The Austrian study region "Mittleres Ennstal" is located in the district "Liezen" in the north-east of Styria in Austria. The study region covers 252 km2 and consists of four municipalities. Two of the municipalities represent typical river-valley situations alongside the river "Enns", which flows through the valley: The valley part of the municipality "Aigen" can be taken as an example of the typical agricultural situation in valley-locations; the municipality of "Stainach" stands as example for a typical sub-regional supply centre, mainly consisting of the village of "Stainach" with 1,962 inhabitants (191 inhabitants per km2). The municipalities Oppenberg and Pürgg-Trautenfels represent the situation of two side valleys which lead away from the main valley on its both sides.

The geomorphic and climatic conditions in the study region are multifaceted: The region expands from the valley floor of the river Enns (640 m.a.s.l.) up to high alpine locations of the northern limestone Alps (municipality Pürgg-Trautenfels) and the "Niedere Tauern" (municipality Oppenberg) (altitudes up to 2,000 m.a.s.l.). Also temperature and precipitation show a significant variance. Average yearly temperatures reach from 5.6 to 7.3°C, average yearly precipitation from 549 to 719 mm per year. The landscape is characterized by sheer rock walls and block heaps as well as of gentle mountainous formations and the plains of the valley. The average share of forest on the total culturalized area (UAA plus forests) is about 40%, while significant differences exist comparing the single municipalities. The whole scenery of the valley is strongly influenced by the mountains which frame it. The valley itself is characterized by a multitude of landscape elements and relatively small structured agricultural fields. The higher located regions are characterized by a distinct alpine scenery that consists of alpine meadows, pastures and forests, again with a respectable amount of landscape elements.

Austria picture
© Markus Assigal 2012

Landscape Policy

Policies shaping the regional landscape are implemented from different levels (area located level / regional planning, such as priority areas for drinking water, to European policy level such as the Common Agricultural Policy). Many of these policies aim at environmental objectives like nature protection/conservation and improvement of the environment: In the study region much area is subject to Landscape protection (145.74 km2), Nature protection (11.88 km2), Natura 2000 Special protection areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (113,83 km2). In parts the study region belongs to the Alpine convention. Furthermore a Water protection area (7.88 km2) exists (Water protection area "Totes Gebirge"). Furthermore individual regulations in line with expert-permissions according to the Water Act, regional program to protect the quantity and quality of the deep groundwater area (20 m below surface) in the whole valley (§55g Abs. 1 des Wasserrechtsgesetzes 1959 (WRG 1959), BGBl 1959/215 idgF) . Nearly all of the agricultural area (93%) is classified as Less Favoured Areas (LFA).

Areas of Nature protection, Water protection, Landscape Protection (Data Source: Steiermärkische Landesregierung, Abteilung 7 Landes- und Gemeindeentwicklung).
Figure 1. Areas of Nature protection, Water protection, Landscape Protection (Data Source: Steiermärkische Landesregierung, Abteilung 7 Landes- und Gemeindeentwicklung).

The implementation of agri-environmental measures of the CAP is regulated through the "österreichisches Programm für umweltgerechte Landwirtschaft" (Austrian programme for environmental agriculture). The most important measures as regards amount of funding and amount of participation of area in the CSA region are: organic farming, environmental compatible management of grassland and arable land, animal welfare, mowing of steep area, abandonment of mineral fertilisation and chemical treatment on grassland, measures of nature protection (7.7%) and Alpine pasturing and shepherding.

Case study picture
© Karl Buchgraber 2004

Landscape Management

Agricultural land management in the "Mittleres Ennstal" is carried out by mostly traditional, family farms. On average 56% of the farms are characterized by full time farming. In total 88% of all farms are smaller than 5 ha. Most of these small farms are forage farms specialized on dairy farming or mixed farms. Pig and poultry farming play nearly no role. In the three municipalities Aigen, Oppenberg and Pürgg-Trautenfels, forestry represents an important source of income for the small farms. Agricultural land use first and foremost takes place as grassland, only in the river-valley municipalities 10-14% of UAA are used as arable land nearly exclusively for forage production. Grassland to a high percentage is managed with comparatively low intensity in form of alpine meadows and pastures and other extensive grassland. This holds true especially in the side-valley locations in the municipalities Pürgg-Trautenfels (PT) and Oppenberg (OP).

The quality of agricultural area in the study region is comparatively low, with an average yield index unit of 13.03. The share of very low site qualities is with nearly 50% very high. About 60% of the UAA in the study region is found in altitudes between 1.000 and 2,000 m.a.s.l. with relatively short vegetation periods. About 30% of the UAA is faced with slopes between 25 and 35 degree. Particularly the management of the high alpine area is only in parts mechanized and involves a significant amount of manual work. It represents a big workload for the farmers. However, the management of the alpine locations strongly shapes the aesthetics of the local landscape, as the alpine and steep locations – without agricultural management – would be subject to reforestation. Reforestation of the alpine areas would significantly change the character of the open mountain views.

Case study picture
© Karl Buchgraber 2004

Landscape Structure and Elements

The "overall" landscape of the study region is strongly characterized by the predetermined nature-given landscape features. Here, particularly the mountain "Grimming", the high alpine mountain ranges with their white lime-stone rocks, the alpine climate resulting in snowy winter landscapes and the river valley situation represent strong and dominant "natural" landscape elements. The "cultural" landscape in the study region is characterized by the historical and on-going interaction between the natural conditions of a high alpine location and the human efforts of producing forage and food via agricultural management under partly difficult basic situations.

The "agricultural" landscape is first and foremost shaped by the small-structured grassland management (average field sizes about 1 ha) of the traditional family-farms, which are used as meadows and pastures for dairy cattle husbandry. In the valley-plains grassland-management is completely mechanized, whenever possible, fields show regular rectangle structures. In parts the fields in the valley are divided by hedgerows and speckled by old wooden huts, used for winter-forage storage. From the expert evaluation in the ad-hoc study it becomes obvious that field-sizes in the valley locations increase at the moment, in parts at the cost of landscape elements.

In the alpine locations, summer meadows and pastures show irregular shapes and are surrounded by alpine woods and speckled by single trees and hedgerows. In the alpine locations, wooden farm-houses and alpine huts are to be seen as important landscape elements themselves.

Landscape structure and elements in the river-valley. Source: Google maps.
Figure 2. Landscape structure and elements in the river-valley. Source: Google maps.

Landscape structure and elements in the alpine locations. Source: Google maps.
Figure 3. Landscape structure and elements in the alpine locations. Source: Google maps.

Landscape Functions and Services

The spatial structure and composition of the landscape in the Mittlere Ennstal, in combination with the predetermined natural basis conditions, determines the provision of a variety of landscape functions that deliver manifold landscape services. As regards provisioning services, the agricultural landscape in the river valley as well as in the alpine locations is nearly exclusively used to produce forage for dairy farming. From the forage area agriculture produces milk and beef. Alpine meadows and pastures guarantee summer forage for sheep, dairy cattle cows and heifers, while the valley grassland and arable land guarantee winter forage for animal husbandry. Forests are used for the production of timber.

Considering cultural services, the agricultural and forestry management in the study region in combination with the natural basic condition creates a landscape that is evaluated with high landscape-aesthetic scores considering landscape originality, diversity, beauty and peculiarity, rarity of characteristics, historic-cultural importance and outstanding natural creation. The landscape in the Mitteres Ennstal holds a remarkable potential for recreation; many local traditions are connected to the agricultural landscape, such as thanksgiving traditions, "Alm-Abtrieb", traditional songs, arts, etc. Farmers are very active holding social and political offices.

The area also provides regulating services: The forest management in the mountain slopes creates buffers against avalanches and mudslides. In particular the maintenance of grassland management and the extensive forest management contributes to erosion prevention and carbon storage. The large-scale technical melioration since 1860 focused on straightening the river Enns, led to a strong reduction of flood events.

The natural basis condition in combination with agricultural management also creates room for many supporting services: There exist many areas with high-value landscape features in terms of nature and water-protection, habitats for rare species, etc. The low intensive management of the alpine meadows and pastures is associated with the protection of valuable alpine flora and fauna species dependent on e.g. the openness of the landscape (e.g. orchids, chamois). In parts also the low intensive agricultural management in river valley locations contributes to the existence of rare species living and breeding in agricultural meadows and pastures. Also forestry management influencing habitat and supporting services, e.g. in terms of the maintenance of Natura 2000 habitats, etc.

Case study picture
© Karl Buchgraber 2004

Socio-Economic Benefits

The supply of services in the study region is met by demand of a variety of beneficiaries. About 10% of the local population is working in the agriculture/forestry sector. Agriculture in the region on the one hand influences and fosters, on the other hand benefits from landscape services. As regards provisioning services, the agricultural area guarantees the production basis for cattle husbandry in terms of forage production. As regards regulating services agriculture profits of the local climate, erosion prevention, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, pollination and biological control, and the reduced risk of natural extreme events. Agriculture also benefits from the cultural landscape as many farms offer the possibility for overnight-stays and small scale agro-tourism. Furthermore, alpine farm-houses and summer huts are frequented by hiking tourists. Also Forestry mainly benefits from provisioning services (supply of timber, supply of water) and regulating services (erosion prevention, prevention of natural hazards such as mudslides and avalanches). The cultural services supplied by the landscape are strongly appreciated by the local society. Landscape is perceived as a source of inspiration, recreation and health. Of regulating services mainly local climate, air-quality and the moderation of extreme events are perceived as positive. Of provisioning services clean water and the possibility to collect "wild" food like berries, mushrooms, etc. are appreciated. Tourism in the study region mainly benefits of cultural services (landscape aesthetics) and regulating services (local climate, air-quality, precipitation in form of snow for winter tourism, prevention of extreme events). Tourism also benefits from habitat and supporting services (bird-watchers, etc.). About 6% of the local population is working in the tourism sector. Producers/manufacturers processing agricultural/forestry raw materials and products benefit from provisioning services fostered by agriculture and forestry (e.g. saw mills, dairies).

Regional competitiveness

As regards competitiveness, the study region falls behind other regions in Austria and also behind the country’s average. The income level in the district "Liezen" is by 9% lower than the Styrian average and by 11% lower than the national average. However, the unemployment quote is with 5.9% (2010) lower than the average of Styria (7%) and Austria (6.9%). The average tax revenue per inhabitant in the Municipalities Aigen, Oppenberg and Pürg-Trautenfeld is with a range from 750-850 € among the lowest of the district Liezen, only in Stainach tax revenue is with 950-1,100€ comparatively high (RLP 2011). At the moment, the municipalities of the study region are faced by a constant and severe migration especially of young and educated people. Following the prognosis of the Styrian Chamber of commerce, this trend will continue over the next 40 years. As a consequence, the demographic structure moves into the direction of an "older" society-structure. While in 2013 the distribution between inhabitants aged 0-19 years and inhabitants older than 65 is nearly balanced, the share of young people in the year 2050 is estimated to be only 16% while the share of "old" people will – with about 33% - be twice as high (Wirtschaftskammer Steiermark 2013).

References & Further Reading

Schaller, L., Ehmeier, V., Kapfer, M., Kantelhardt, J. (2014). Agricultural landscape as a driver of regional competitiveness - The role of stakeholder networks in landscape valorisation. Proceedings of the third Congress of the Italian Association of Agricultural and Applied Economics (AIEAA). June 25-27, 2014, Alghero, Italy.

RLP (Raumplanung Steiermark) (2011). Regionsprofil Liezen. Amt der Steiermärkischen Landesregierung Abteilung 16 – Landes- und Gemeindeentwicklung, Graz.

Wirtschaftskammer Steiermark (2013): Standortstudie Liezen 2013+ - Handlungsfelder für die Regionalpolitik. Steirische Regionalpolitische Studien Nr. 06/2013. Institut für Wirtschafts- und Standortentwicklung der Wirtschaftskammer Steiermark, Graz.

Responsible partner/person

Lena Schaller, Martin Kapfer, Jochen Kantelhardt
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)
Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Economics
Feistmantelstr. 4, 1070 Vienna, Austria