This post was written by Associate Editor Peter Bridgewater from the University of Canberra to mark the recently published paper ‘Quantifying cultural ecosystem services: disentangling the effects of management from landscape features‘ by authors Eleanor Tew, Benno Simmons and William Sutherland.

As handling editor, he explains why he thinks the paper is so interesting and explicates on the methodology and findings of the paper.

Read the full paper here.

Peter Bridgewater can be found on twitter @Global_Garden0
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thetford Forest, in the Brecklands of eastern England is a large plantation forest, in fact the largest forest area in lowland England. It has a heritage feature, Grime’s Graves, a Neolithic flint mining area.  Thetford Forest is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England and is also part of the EU designated Breckland Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation.


Pinus nigra

Although the largest lowland forest in England, it is essentially an exotic monoculture of Corsican Pine (Pinus nigra) – created after the First World War to provide timber.  That ambition has not been realized, as this monoculture is made worse by a fungal disease that not only renders the crop unproductive for timber, but also leads to defoliation and tree disfigurement.  Despite this somewhat unflattering description, Thetford Forest was the site of an investigation by Eleanor Tew and colleagues examining the effects of land management on cultural ecosystem services.  Their investigation results are just published in our new Journal People and Nature.

Their interesting paper focuses on how land management decisions can affect some cultural ecosystem services.  Why is this topic relevant to our Journal?  Simply, the authors understand that many ecosystem services are co-produced by people and nature.  That co-production is key to why this is an issue worthy of discussion through our Journal.  And, given that cultural ecosystem services are of direct benefit to people you have reinforcing positive feedback; people to nature, nature to people.

Cultural ecosystem services deal with cultural practices in defined places or spaces, arising from the relationship between people and nature.  Critically, cultural ecosystems have not only instrumental or intrinsic values but especially relational values associated with them, as Kai Chan and others explain. They also suggest this is why Cultural ecosystem services are both “everywhere and nowhere”. These themes are central to the developing Journal, so this paper fits right in, as well as uniquely using novel technologies in the questions they pose.

Credit: Flickr 

Eleanor Tew and colleagues defined cultural ecosystem services in four categories: outdoors recreation, wildlife, scenic beauty and tranquillity, and heritage or educational value.

Using these categories, the paper set out to test four hypotheses:

1. Cultural ecosystem services vary with land management;

2. Visitors prefer forest to open landscapes;

3. Broadleaved species would be preferred to conifers; and

4. Tree mixtures would be preferred to monoculture.

The authors tested the hypotheses using public participation from a target audience of regular visitors, local residents, forest workers and folk with specialist interests (natural history, walking etc) through an interesting use of GIS technology called Map-Me.  This technique (developed by Jonny Huck and others at Lancaster University) was designed for capturing imprecise notions of place from the public. The concept of place is critical to understanding cultural ecosystems, but too often place has a precise form – the map-me program using a “fuzzy” approach to understand issues of people and place and is perfect for participatory exercises.

Although more respondents showed interest 172 went through the full participatory GIS stage.  Those 172 people generated over 1 million points using the “spray can” technique of the system.  Participants were asked to mark separate maps for each ecosystem service with the areas of the landscape that they valued for that service.  The authors used several other statistical techniques to ensure bias was reduced as much as possible, and to make sure their results were rigorously tested.  The data examined the combination of management and the natural environment for each of the four ecosystem services.

Using some statistical approaches, analysis of the data showed that their first hypothesis was correct – land management does affect cultural ecosystem values.  Interestingly the second hypothesis did not stand up – i.e. open space was preferred to forest.  But the low level of broad-leaved trees, and the dominance of diseased monocultural Corsican pine clearly affected that result.  On the other hand, areas of broad-leaved forest or mixed conifer-broad leaved, were preferred over coniferous plantations.  When Corsican Pine was excluded, however, the smaller areas of Larch (Larix spp.) or Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) were also preferred for recreation and wildlife services.  Among the broad-leaved areas sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) was significantly preferred to birch (Betula spp.) for recreation and heritage.  In fact, the mixed conifer broadleaved areas were most highly valued for scenic services, indicating that tree diversity is preferred, thus supporting hypothesis four.

Central to the papers main theme is that the consequences of land management are not fully understood where trying to interpret cultural (or for that matter all) ecosystem services; yet land use is an important component of cultural ecosystem delivery.  Of course, this is not necessarily all cultural ecosystem services and one criticism might be that the range of cultural ecosystem services covered was quite limited.  Nonetheless, dis-entangling the delivery of cultural ecosystems from the complexities of land management and on-going ecological processes is not an easy task, nor an exact science.


All-in-all a key conclusion is that land management does have high potential to improve delivery of cultural ecosystem services, and thus forestry policies generally should take this into account.  The preference for open space for all ecosystem services is interesting, as the biodiversity in open spaces, forest rides etc is different spatially and ecologically from that of the forest – the latter a point identified decades ago by Bill Williams and Joyce Lambert in one of their papers on quantitative ecology published in the Journal of Ecology in the 1960s!

The authors draw further conclusions, including the need for management to focus on diversity, whether species or ecosystem at forest scale or broader landscape scale.  Clearly, increasing tree diversity is an important imperative for forest managers to factor into their planning processes.  Interestingly, although not everyone appreciates the broadleaved forest, some preferring coniferous or mixed forest – a point identified by the landscape architect, the late Dame Sylvia Crowe, again in the 1960s.

They finally note that their methodology shows that it is possible to ascertain, in a statistically rigorous manner, whether land management (rather than landscape features) affects cultural ecosystem service values, and it provides detailed information about trade-offs between different management options. In our case study, we have been able to use these results to make a series of forest management recommendations to increase cultural ecosystem services values. Additionally, understanding how people value landscapes at this detailed level, presents an opportunity to increase engagement and connectedness to nature through changing land management at the site level.

Finally, on a personal note, while I enjoyed this paper (and its conclusions that are applicable globally not just in England) there is one statement I cannot agree with: “land managers do not have the time or expertise to disentangle complex human-environment relationships”.  As anyone who has been involved in land or water management knows well, that is exactly what they do!  And ironically, will now do it better as a result of this paper.