In this post Yael Teff Seker discusses the value of deserts and the importance of using more than just numbers to measure the benefits of nature. You can read her article with Daniel Orenstein here ‘The ‘desert experience’: Evaluating the cultural ecosystem services of drylands through walking and focusing

What is the value of deserts? They are able to provide us with services that might be difficult to understand if we only look at their biotic, living, elements. Until recently, ecologists measured the benefits that nature provides humans by using mostly numbers, noting the number of species and their abundance in certain area. Others focused on revenues from tourism. These left deserts as seemingly far less valuable than “green” areas. But it is often the values that we cannot easily quantify that are the most important to us when we think of our nature experiences. The desert may offer less sightings of flora and fauna, but it provides us with other services, such as privacy, reflection, learning, calmness, quiet, imagination, inspiration, and spiritual contemplation.

We used walking interviews to discover and assess these, by implementing a special type of “focusing” protocol, in which we asked people to address their “felt sense” about their experience of walking in the desert: how they felt about the general landscape, zooming in on particular aspects, other sensory experiences (sound, touch, smell, taste), and elaborating on all levels of their personal experience. These very open interviews allowed us to understand that the desert has the potential to give people a lot in terms of cultural services, and that these highly open focusing interviews allow researchers to tap into at least some new aspects of those services.

The following slideshow features images from the Negev Desert Bor Hemet case study, with the last image taken in the Scottish Cairngorms.

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