• 24 June 2016

What can conservation strategies learn from the ecosystem services approach?

Photo: Sierra Nevada. Photo by Berta Martín-López.

Photo: Sierra Nevada. Photo by Berta Martín-López.

Protected areas such as national parks are a vital refuge for wildlife but can lead to conflicts with local people such as farmers, whose livelihoods can be affected by conservation regulations such as limits on the number of grazing livestock. One way of addressing this is to look at the way in which nature also provides value for people, through ecosystem services such as food and water provision, regulation of air and water quality, and recreation.

A new paper shows the extent to which the ecosystem services approach has been applied in the conservation strategies of two important protected areas in Spain, the Doñana wetlands and the Sierra Nevada mountains. A series of workshops, face-to-face surveys with local stakeholders and a review of management plans revealed that the two national parks provide multiple ecosystem services, and that some of the most important services are declining and need further attention to ensure their sustained delivery. However, although management plans take some account of provisioning services such as crop and livestock production and cultural services such as eco-tourism, the regulating services such as maintenance of climate, soil, air and water quality are rarely mentioned. The work also revealed that environmental managers and researchers have different perceptions and priorities regarding ecosystem services management compared with ecosystem service users. Recognising that different stakeholders have different perceptions of ecosystem services can be an important step towards their co-management.

The study suggests that these challenges can be tackled by understanding protected areas not as isolated ‘islands’ aimed only at conservation but as interconnected social-ecological systems, in which both nature and humans depend on each other. Dr Pam Berry, one of the authors, says the study shows that “we need much greater effort to assess the connection between protected areas and human well-being, as this can help to reduce environmental conflicts in protected areas, strengthen social support for their management and increase the well-being of local people.”

Read the full paper online.

"We need much greater effort to assess the connection between protected areas and human well-being, as this can help to reduce environmental conflicts in protected areas, strengthen social support for their management and increase the well-being of local people."

Dr Pam Berry, Environmental Change Institute

Photo: Flamingos in Doñana Wetlands. Photo by Berta Martín-López.

Photo: Flamingos in Doñana Wetlands. Photo by Berta Martín-López.

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