Many traditional farming landscapes have high conservation value. Conservation policy in such landscapes typically follows a “preservation strategy,” most commonly by providing financial incentives for farmers to continue traditional practices. A preservation strategy can be successful in the short term, but it fails to acknowledge that traditional farming landscapes evolved as tightly coupled social–ecological systems. Traditionally, people received direct benefits from the environment, which provided a direct incentive for sustainable land use. Globalization and rural development programs increasingly alter the social subsystem in traditional farming landscapes, whereas conservation seeks to preserve the ecological subsystem. The resulting decoupling of the social–ecological system can be counteracted only in part by financial incentives, thus inherently limiting the usefulness of a preservation strategy. An alternative way to frame conservation policy in traditional farming landscapes is a “transformation strategy.” This strategy acknowledges that the past cannot be preserved, and assumes that direct links between people and nature are preferable to indirect links based on incentive payments. A transformation strategy seeks to support community-led efforts to create new, direct links with nature. Such a strategy could empower rural communities to embrace sustainable development, providing a vision for the future rather than attempting to preserve the past.