Our simple framework for analysing experiences with non-human natures

By Emilia Pramova,  Bruno Locatelli, Merelyn Valdivia-Díaz,  Améline  Vallet, Yésica Quispe  Conde, Houria Djoudi, Matthew J. Colloff, François  Bousquet, Jacques Tassin and Claudia Munera Roldan

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Ecosystems contribute to human wellbeing in diverse ways. Immaterial contributions, such as those related to recreation, mental health, cultural identity, and sense of place, are also known as “cultural ecosystem services.”

Cultural ecosystem services arise from our interactions with, and interpretations of, places, ecosystems, and different living and non-living things. These interactions can be sensory (e.g., hearing sounds), affective (e.g., feeling awe), and cognitive (e.g., conceptual and reflective processes such as thinking). Exploring all three dimensions can help to better understand cultural ecosystem services and how we experience them. This can have implications for equity, conservation, and human wellbeing.

We embarked on such an exploration through open discussions with 28 people in the Abancay region of Apurimac, Peru. We used 15 photographs of representative places in the region as prompts, asking each interviewee to choose five photos and talk freely about them. We coded their statements following a simple framework that depicts the affective, cognitive, and sensory dimensions of experience and related settings and activities.

Our interviewees shared diverse narratives, rich with personal sensory experiences, emotions, thoughts, symbolism, and memories. Most statements included either an affective or a sensory element. Our main objective with this paper was to show this diversity of environmental experiences.

Direct sensory and emotional experiences of an environment build connectedness with nature, sense of place, and foster wellbeing. Connectedness with nature also increases conservation behavior. But cultural ecosystem services are not equally accessible to all and the pathway between nature experiences and wellbeing is shaped by socio-economic, cultural, environmental, and personal factors. Cultural ecosystem services are situated in places and any action that affects places (including how people experience and interpret them) also affects wellbeing. Such actions can be a source of justice or injustice. Incorporating the diversity of people’s lived experiences of place and nature – sensory, emotional, cognitive – in land-use decisions can lead to more inclusive landscape management and to enhanced conservation and human wellbeing outcomes.

The 15 pictures commented on by interviewees