On more -diversity on the agenda for Cultural Ecosystem Services research and practice. A personal take on the cultural ecosystem services conference in Exeter (1-2 July 2013).

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The inspiring landscape of Devon as a proper background for the social events at the conference

The conference on Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES) in Exeter (1-2 July) was a very interesting event brilliantly managed and organized by Dr Robert Fish and Prof Michael Winter from the Politics department of the University of Exeter and by Prof Andrew Church from the University of Brighton and nicely supported by the ecosystem services knowledge network, the University of Exeter,  ESRC and the North Devon’s Biosphere Reserve. A wide range of experts and researchers from different disciplinary domains exchanged their knowledge with the aim of casting light inside the “black box” of natural resource management. The organizers wished that it will be a “space where social researchers and natural resources managers are expected to perform magic” and my impression is that they were successful. From my point of view this meeting underlined the fact that amongst all the other ecosystem services CES are the ones that require more interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches. The ecosystem services paradigm has been developed to make the benefits humans get from nature more accountable and to stress the pivotal role played by biodiversity. In my opinion we can follow a reasoning through almost all talks in support of a wider use of diversity in CES research and practice. CES are not provided, they are co-created by people and the environment according to Dr Anja Byg from the James Hutton Institute. They are the product of human heuristics applied over environmental settings. This implies the fact that studies on cultural aspects have to be targeted on both sides of the interaction both the cultural/human and the natural. Moreover in the National Ecosystem Assessment UK-NEA(2011) “People’s engagement with environmental settings is dynamic: meanings, values and behaviours change over time in response to economic, technological, social, political and cultural drivers, and change can be rapid and far-reaching in its implications.”  So a great amount of drivers that imply different kinds of engagements. But in a wider point of view we can underline that we can have different kinds of engagement for different kinds of populations, as stated by Dr Liz O’Brien and Dr Jake Morris from Forest Research. So we are not dealing with “people” the “average person” but we are dealing with different kinds of “populations” with changing drivers in space and time. This implies the fact that every population and every individual applies his own place or environmental setting interpretation and it can change in time. At a higher abstraction level we have therefore: diversity of settings, diversity of populations, diversity of benefits and diversity in time. From a more practical perspective this implies a diverse and wide amount of disciplinary domains, diversity in methodologies, and data to collect and use to detect a wide diversity of place heuristics that can imply overlapping and conflicting interpretations. Several talks stressed the need for the involvement of different disciplinary domains as well as the need to involve more social scientists. Moreover, it has been suggested to adopt the analysis of social ecological systems. The domain of the arts was also mentioned in a specific talk while the need to involve other aspects from the humanities has been underlined amongst others by Rev’d Nigel Cooper ’s talk on spiritual CES. I would also suggest exploring on the most recent works from the digital humanities (Murrieta et al. 2013) and history.Diversity in populations implies the use of methodologies and technologies that are both inclusive and targeted to different kind of audiences. Since “Cultural services comprise a novel category of services that captures many of the non-use or passive use values of ecological resources” and “most cultural services are still regulated by custom and usage, or by traditional taboos, rights and obligations. Nevertheless, they are directly used by people, and so are amenable to valuation by methods designed to reveal people’s preferences” (Perrings 2006 p.10-11). To grasp people or populations’ preferences, we need to combine both qualitative and quantitative research. A widespread use of the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) (Natural England, 2011) data and its enhancement is one of the focal results of the workshop held during the second day of the conference. Information and data to be collected have to be multiple fragmented and incoherent as underlined by Chris Short, Dr Owain Jones and Jane Mills from the Countryside & Community Research Institute at the University of Gloucestershire in one of the talks that I found as providing wider perspective and implications. Another point that arose during the discussions is the suggestion to use a “Big data perspective” to grasp people preferences. Research and practice on CES is about the combination of diverse sources of information. As I underlined in my previous blog-post citizen science data and environmental volunteering data might be integrated with social media and photo-sharing websites to grasp populations’ preferences amongst environmental settings. Such sources of information have to be taken with caution as underlined by Dr Caitlin De Silvey from the University of Exeter in her talk (Casalegno et al. 2013) as similarly stated  by MacKerron and Mourato (2013). But as underlined before the diversity have to be very wide. To strengthen communication and information sharing Sue Williams from Natural Resources Wales underlined the importance of a shared terminology which is a basic feature for any interdisciplinary undertaking.

Casalegno, S., Inger, R., DeSilvey, C., & Gaston, K. J. 2013. Spatial Covariance between Aesthetic Value & Other Ecosystem Services. (T. Preis, Ed.)PLoS ONE, 8(6), e68437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068437

MacKerron, G., & Mourato, S. 2013. Happiness is greater in natural environments. Global Environmental Change. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.03.010

Murrieta-flores, P., Donaldson, C., Rupp, C. J., Cooper, D., & Gregory, I. 2013. Digital Literary Geographies : A Spatial Analysis of Lake District Landscape Writings, (283850), 283850.

Natural England, (2012). Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment. Annual Report from the 2011–12 Survey. Natural England, Sheffield.

Perrings, C. (2006). Ecological Economics after the Millennium Assessment. International Journal of Ecological Economics & Statistics (IJEES), 6 Special(F06).

UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2011. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.

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