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Cultural Landscapes BlogSustaining cultural landscape values. The need for a mature ecosystem services approach

Sustaining cultural landscape values. The need for a mature ecosystem services approach

7 July 2014/by Tobias Plieninger/Tags: cultural landscapes; driving forces; ecosystem services; landscape management; socio-cultural valuation

Until recently much of the research on global land-use change was focused on ‘wild’ lands and the shifting agricultural frontier, reporting trends such as deforestation, desertification, disappearance of wetlands, or burning of peatland. In the HERCULES project we acknowledge that we live in a ‘post-wild’ world today. Therefore, we need to pay equal – or if not more – attention to sustaining the values of the many landscapes of the world that have been shaped by human agency over centuries. In a recent special feature of the Ecology & Society journal, we draw attention to the fate of cultural landscapes, seeking to engage with generic processes of change by adopting and adapting an ecosystem services approach that is sensitive to local context.
Sustaining cultural landscape values. The need for a mature ecosystem services approach

Over the past years, the ‘ecosystem services’ approach (that aims to identify and valorize the multiple benefits that ecosystems provide to human well-being) has developed into a mainstream conservation paradigm. Although this framework is potentially powerful to guide landscape research and management, it has been rarely applied in this realm. Therefore, our special feature aims to enhance the theoretical, empirical, and practical knowledge of how to safeguard the resilience of ecosystem services in cultural landscapes. It comprises perspectives from social-ecological systems studies, landscape ecology, conservation biology, spatial planning, human geography, political ecology, and other research fields. The contributions cover African, Asian, European, North American and Latin American landscapes. They address cross-cutting research challenges: a) integrating cultural landscapes into the ecosystem services framework, b) analyzing ecosystem services provided by cultural landscapes, c) assessing drivers and impacts of landscape change, and d) managing landscapes for the resilient provision of ecosystem services.

The contributions give a rich description of the values, but also of the strong changes that many of the world’s cultural landscapes are undergoing. Many have assumed an ecosystem services perspective, but also show that the potentials and limitations of the ecosystem services approach to the analysis and management of cultural landscapes should be reviewed more critically. In particular, it becomes visible that conventional ecosystem services assessment (whether biophysical modeling or monetary valuation) needs to be complemented by socio-cultural approaches to acknowledge for diverging perspectives and land-use conflicts. Many contributions stress the inherently changing character of cultural landscapes, so that a dynamic view on ecosystem services and a focus on drivers of landscape change are needed. Finally, the contributions acknowledge that managing landscapes for ecosystem services provision may benefit from a social-ecological resilience perspective. This special feature emphasizes the fact that cultural landscapes are still living landscapes; it is neither feasible nor is it good for society to ‘freeze’ them ‑ some changes cannot be stopped, and some changes come with new values or correspond to particular needs. Most importantly, we argue that cultural landscapes illustrate that ‘conservation’ and ‘development’ need not always be stark opposites; in fact society can find ways for them to go hand in hand.

Tobias Plieninger
University of Copenhagen
Coordinator of HERCULES


The special feature is available here:

Photo by Hongyan Gu. The photo depicts the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in China

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