This is demonstrated in ‘Jesseren’, a rural village in Belgium, where a comprehensive farmland consolidation is ongoing. The parcels in this area are reorganized which enables a more efficient agricultural activity and at the same time a percentage of the farmland will be developed into area for nature and landscape development including valuable grasslands, orchards, erosion control and vegetation buffer strips nearby streams. These elements will be beneficial for e.g. water management and biodiversity. To enhance recreational activity, a network of walking and cycling routes will be developed in the area as well.
These benefits of nature, or ‘ecosystem services’, are central to a European project that is examining how to put the concepts of ecosystem services and natural capital into practice – the OpenNESS project. Wetlands, forests, grasslands and other ecosystems perform a variety of functions to maintain themselves, such as providing habitat for wildlife that pollinates plants and helps them reproduce, or water purification. When we view these functions through the lens of the benefits they provide to humans and their well-being, we define them as ecosystem services. We all depend on ecosystem services, perhaps without realizing it. Think of the air we breathe, the food we eat, or the pleasure we experience from exploring nature.
The farmland area in Belgium is one of 27 OpenNESS case studies that are providing evidence and tools so land managers, businesses or local authorities can better integrate ecosystem services into their land, water and urban management and decision making.
Currently the Belgian case is studying efficient, sustainable and widely supported ways to implement and manage the natural elements in the agricultural landscape. The main focus lies at
- Increased societal benefits of the natural elements in the landscape for diverse stakeholders;
- Additional value from products derived from the maintenance of the natural elements (e.g. wood for energy uses, local marketing and processing of fruit from the orchards, reuse of residues of grass and hay from grassland and roadside maintenance, etc.);
- Increasing local support for landscape conservation by encouraging involvement of the wider public.
The outcomes of this study and what it takes for stakeholders to put ecosystem services into practice, together with other case examples, literature and synthesis papers from OpenNESS and its sister project OPERAs are compiled in a centralized, interactively searchable platform where land managers, companies, local planners and many others can quickly, easily and reliably find the right sources and experiences to support their efforts to work with nature. One of the key features of this platform, called Oppla, is a question and answer service – a true consultative and personalized service, which has been launched recently. Oppla is an online platform but more importantly it is a community of practice, connecting various groups in society that hold knowledge, experience and tools on ecosystem services and natural capital to the many actors who put the concepts into practice in their daily work. Landowners and land managers are among the most important groups in this respect, having a lot to offer and share when it comes to truly valuing nature, ecosystems and their services.
Trisha Franke and Ben Delbaere, ECNC - for the OpenNESS project
Picture: Conservation of ancient high-stem fruit orchards in De Cirkel, source: www.openness-project.eu/node/153The information and views set out in this Cultural Landscapes Blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the HERCULES project nor the European Commission.
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