Views on nature: the pros and cons of ecosystem services

bouwmaPresentation by Irene Bouwma, Alterra
Eurosite Annual Meeting 2016, Serres, Greece
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People differ in the way they value nature and even what they consider as nature. An EU-wide survey in nine countries showed that attitudes towards nature vary widely among European citizens. However, most people (about 60%) agree more with an ecocentric view of nature. They more or less endorse the intrinsic value of nature, which includes biodiversity, wilderness and the integrity of wild animals. There is far less support (around 25%) for the anthropocentric notion that nature should be used for meeting human needs rather than be left in its natural state. The results furthermore show that the respondents have a broad, multi-objective perspective on the management of protected areas. Protected areas should not only be managed to protect species, plants and the landscape but also to safeguard several services such as flood protection and production of clean air and water.
The concept that nature provides services for humans (e.g. ecosystem services) goes back a long way – Socrates (471-399 BC) already referred to it. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2000, really gave an impetus to this concept and it is now firmly established in science and policy and, to a lesser extent, in nature conservation practice. We all know examples where the protection of ecosystem services is synergetic with nature protection – for instance in river rehabilitation for flood protection and peatland restoration. But we often forget to pose the important questions like “how do people see nature?” or “how do they value and appreciate it?”
This question was the starting point for the Nature Outlook – a project undertaken by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The different views people have on nature lead to a variety of desired futures. Connecting to the different motivations of people may help to increase the engagement of citizens and businesses and to bridge the gap with other sectors, such as agriculture and energy. Four perspectives, each exploring a desired future state of nature and possible pathways to get there, were elaborated in the Nature Outlook. The elaboration of the perspectives shows that some perspectives that value particular ecosystem services are synergetic or can be combined in certain areas with nature protection while other perspectives are difficult to combine or are even conflicting. Overall every political and/or social decision process is a result of a compromise between different perspectives on nature. Acknowledging and understanding these different perspectives – including those focussing on different ecosystem services – enhances the decision process.
For more information please contact Irene Bouwma or visit the Nature Outlook website.