Shades of grey challenge practical application of the cultural ecosystem services concept
Abstract Despite rapid advances in development of the ecosystem services (ES) concept, challenges remain for its use in decision making. Cultural ES (CES) have proven particularly difficult to pin down and resultant “shades of grey” impede their consideration by decision-makers. This study undertakes a literature review of CES to highlight the shades of grey, briefly illustrates findings by reference to the Swedish mountain landscape, then addresses potential implications for practical decision making. The concept of CES is complex and difficult to operationalize. The root of confusion appears to be a lack of rigour in identifying CES, hindering identification of proper methods for determining: the ecosystem elements that underpin CES; the beneficiaries of CES and how they value benefits delivered; and how CES may vary in space and time. We conclude by proposing a framework of questions, which we relate to the ES cascade model, that is intended to help researchers and decision-makers to reflect when considering CES. Answers to the questions should enable decision-makers to prioritise policy development or implementation in relation to the differing needs of potentially competing beneficiaries and what needs to be done or not done to the ecosystem, where, when and by whom. Highlights We reviewed cultural ecosystem services (CES) studies to highlight shades of grey. Many studies did not identify links between CES and ecosystem elements. Many studies did not identify the beneficiaries that perceive the CES. Many studies did not identify the spatial extent or timespan of CES delivery. We propose a framework of questions for CES assessments to better inform practical decisions.
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