Following LEADER to the Peatlands
Encouraging and supporting new approaches to rural development was central to different phases of ‘LEADER’ initiatives within the European Union (EU). The initials of LEADER stand for: ‘Liaison Entre Actions de Development d’Economie Rurale.’ You can find out more on the LEADER+ website. But here is a summary:
LEADER I started the process. Then LEADER II put the approach of territorially based, integrated, participative rural development into more widespread use. LEADER+ continued the programme in the period 2000-2006. It was designed as an EU ‘laboratory’ to promote the creation and testing of innovative methods for sustainable rural development.
LEADER+ was built on support for three actions
- strategies for integrated territorial development based on a ‘bottom-up’ approach
- co-operation between rural areas
Partnerships called Local Action Groups (LAGs) were crucial to delivery of pilot schemes under LEADER+. This was the case with the trans-national ‘Connecting people with our Peatland Heritage’ project. It was run by a partnership of LAGs, national agencies and local groups from the four EU member states which participated.
The lead LAG for the projects was Lomond and Rural Stirling Leader+ in Scotland. In Finland, Perapohjolan Kehitys ry Leader+ and partners steered the peatland work. In France, Centre Ouest Bretagne and local partners took the lead. In Ireland, it was Offaly Leader+ and local partners.
The total cost of the project was 494,214 Euros. The EU provided EUR 203,378, other public funds EUR 197,531 and private funds EUR 93,305.
Priority themes laid down by the European Commission for LEADER+ were:
- making the best use of natural and cultural resources; (this was the most popular theme with LAGs and the one through which the peatland work was done)
- improving the quality of life in rural areas
- adding value to local products, in particular by facilitating access to markets for small production units via collective actions
- the use of new know-how and new technologies to make products and services in rural areas more competitive
The environmental and cultural focus of the peatland project’s theme had considerable overlap with other LEADER+ themes. By creating new access to a local peatland and promoting innovative ways of interpreting it, for example, peatland work could certainly ‘improve the quality of life’ in a rural area and potentially ‘add value to local products’.
A further important aspect of work done through the ‘Connecting People With Our Peatland Heritage’ project was its inclusion of several sites in the ‘Natura 2000’ network. There were some 18,000 of these sites in the EU in 2000-2006, each designated as European importance for nature conservation.