The concept of ecosystem services is increasingly being used by scientists and policy makers. However, most studies in this area have focussed on factors that regulate ecosystem functions (i. e. the potential to deliver ecosystem services) or the supply of ecosystem services. In contrast, demand for ecosystem services (i. e. the needs of beneficiaries) or understanding of the concept and the relative ranking of different ecosystem services by beneficiaries has received limited attention. The aim of this study was to identify in three European mountain regions the ecosystem services of grassland that different stakeholders identify (which ecosystem services for whom), the relative rankings of these ecosystem services, and how stakeholders perceive the provision of these ecosystem services to be related to agricultural activities. We found differences: (1) between farmers' perceptions of ecosystem services across regions and (2) within regions, between knowledge of ecosystem services gained by regional experts through education and farmers' local field-based knowledge. Nevertheless, we identified a common set of ecosystem services that were considered important by stakeholders across the three regions, including soil stability, water quantity and quality, forage quality, conservation of botanical diversity, aesthetics and recreation (for regional experts), and forage quantity and aesthetic (for local farmers). We observed two contrasting stakeholder representations of the effects of agricultural management on ecosystem services delivery, one negative and the other positive (considering low to medium management intensity). These representations were determined by stakeholders' perceptions of the relationships between soil fertility and biodiversity. Overall, differences in perceptions highlighted in this study show that practitioners, policy makers and researchers should be more explicit in their uses of the ecosystem services concept in order to be correctly understood and to foster improved communication among stakeholders. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.