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This paper discusses the challenges involved in identifying the key agents of landscape development and in assessing ecological criteria for landscape management and conservation. Examples are drawn mainly from European landscapes; past history, present status and socio-economic context are related to current conservation problems. The paper emphasises the interrelationships between landscapes and biological communities and populations, and also their mutual dependence on long-term human impact, as bases for conservation. There is an urgent need to incorporate conservation management of habitats and landscapes into relevant agro-economic frameworks related to modern, sustainable use.