Understanding how changes in ecosystem properties feedback into land-use decisions remains relatively uncharted territory for land science in general and for ecosystem service science in particular. In Europe, debates on rural development can be framed in terms of opposing socio-political discourses. These include formulations of desirable, acceptable and unacceptable changes that contribute to changing the planning- and policy-based drivers of land-use decisions. We explored the relationships between such discourses and local descriptions of a mountain grassland area in the central French Alps documented using semi-structured interviews. We found that descriptions focused on either the (1) productive functions of the local grasslands, (2) the aesthetic qualities of the surrounding landscape or (3) its cultural heritage value (testimony to past land-use patterns and practices). We interpreted these descriptions as social representations and found that they were unequally represented in existing socio-political discourses identified at the European level, thus illustrating some strong political barriers between local perceptions of landscape changes and the policy drivers of those changes.