Photo credit: Alice Hague.

Glen Creran Woods, Scotland.

By Alice Hague, Anke Fischer, Anja Byg, Alba Juarez-Bourke, Scott Herrett, and Antonia Eastwood.

Read the full paper here.

Policy makers use concepts such as “ecosystem services,” “natural capital,” and “nature’s contributions to people” to try and account for the ‘value’ of nature within neoliberal economic frameworks in which the logic of markets dominates decision-making, and to explain nature’s benefits in a way that is not otherwise well-captured within a market system. Within policy and practice, there is also a concerted push towards managing ecosystems for ‘multiple benefits’ and objectives, with the hope that the right management can produce ‘win-win’ situations for conservation and other benefits. But with a focus on the importance of managing for multiple benefits from nature, it can be hard to argue for the conservation of species and habitats that are inconspicuous, where the biodiversity is not spectacular or difficult to access and experience. Our study is part of a wider research project about ecosystem services and benefits from woodlands in Scotland.

In our paper, we explore how residents, visitors and local stakeholders describe their experiences and perceptions of the benefits they receive from a woodland area that has national and international conservation designations – but where those designations are for species, such as lichens and mosses, and habitats, such as scrub woodlands, that are not easily recognisable by non-experts. We found that despite a broad level of support for managing woodlands for conservation and biodiversity aims, conversations regularly turned to wanting ‘more’ to be made of the woodlands in some way. Participants valued the woodlands for recreational opportunities, for example, and wondered whether additional paths could be created to enable more visitors to explore the area – thereby creating additional benefits for more people through improved mental health and wellbeing. Some participants pointed to opportunities for public engagement activities to attract visitors to the area, anticipating added benefits for the local tourism and hospitality sectors, and concern for biodiversity conservation was reflected in ideas of creating opportunities for people to learn more about the benefits and experiences of wild places. Interestingly, ideas about creating additional benefits from the woodlands were often couched in stories of historic and cultural uses of the land – a strong sense of humans being integral to shaping the woodland ecosystems to provide for their needs.

Our research conversations thus uncovered a perspective whereby people were keen to optimise the use of the woodlands for wider benefit (although participants were also cautious not to argue for overuse). While participants recognised and respected the value of biodiversity and conservation, they also wanted to create additional benefits for people and communities.  Our research thus suggests that managing sites for conservation alone might cause challenges in acceptability, especially where the focus of conservation aims is on species and habitats that might be of little obvious value to the non-specialist.