While the academic land sharing–land sparing debate peaked in the recognition that neither strategy alone may offer the best solution to integrate commodity production with biodiversity conservation, the lack of integrating the local realities of people and their cultural landscapes beyond mere biodiversity conservation is hampering the knowledge transfer from our scientific discourse to the policy agenda. Here, we focus on European cultural landscapes, which represent prime examples for the success but also the fragility of social-ecological agricultural systems that benefit from land sharing. In contrast, we challenge the effectiveness of land sparing for sustainable agriculture. Moreover, we question whether and how either sparing or sharing can actually be implemented on the ground. We conclude that creating and maintaining sharing systems nowadays is a normative choice that society can take. Based on this, we caution against the ongoing prioritization of optimizing the economic benefits perceived from such systems. We highlight the limitations of economic instruments to safeguard the multifunctionality of sharing landscapes. Taken together, we suggest that deliberations on the sparing–sharing discussion ought to be moved from a limited perspective on biodiversity towards a holistic consideration of landscapes as spaces that are shaped by and satisfy manifold aspects of human well-being, ranging from cultural to materialistic needs.
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