European cross-site comparison of place-based ecosystem services in multifunctional rural landscapes

Authors and Affiliations: 

Fagerholm Nora and Plieninger Tobias
University of Copenhagen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management

Corresponding author: 
Nora Fagerholm

People assign a variety of values to the everyday landscapes where they live, work, recreate, encounter other people or, for example, search for relaxing and restorative experiences (Stephenson, 2008). These perceived values are place-specific and can also be translated to the benefits people derive from the structures and processes generated by nature, i.e. ecosystem services (MA, 2005). Recently, efforts to map place-based ecosystem services as perceived by people are on the rise (Brown & Fagerholm, 2015). The existing empirical evidence on place-based ecosystem services is, however, often limited to single studies and unlikely to be representative of landscape values and practices throughout and across societies. Promoted by agricultural support schemes such as the Common Agricultural Policy of European Union and responding to pressures such as agricultural intensification and land abandonment, many rural landscapes in the Europe are managed for multifunctionality (Plieninger et al., 2016). These landscapes provide potentially important place-based ecosystem services, but it remains largely unclear which ecosystem services are valued in different parts of landscapes and by different types of people.

The aim of this paper is to explore and compare place-based ecosystem services as perceived by local communities in European rural landscapes. We facilitated 2301 local residents in 13 European study sites to respond to a web-based mapping survey (PPGIS (public participation GIS)) to locate as points subjectively perceived values in the everyday landscape. The mapped values act as indicators for ecosystem service demand to quantify and explore their spatial patterns. The survey covers provisioning, cultural and regulating/supporting services through activities in the landscape (e.g. recreation, harvesting) and feelings and values (e.g. aesthetics, cultural heritage and inspirational values) related to specific places or areas. Based on the conceptual framework presented by Scholte et al. (2015), our interest is to explore the role of both characteristics of the survey respondents as well as characteristics of the landscape as determinants of socio-cultural values. We hypothesize that there are differences in the type of mapped ecosystem services in terms of respondents’ socio-demographic characteristics and relationship to a landscape. We also expect that ecosystem services are perceived more intensively in certain parts of a landscape related to certain land properties. We selected the 13 study sites in 10 different countries because they are typical of multifunctional farming landscapes in Europe with high proportion of semi-natural areas, representing a broad range of agroforestry systems and varying degrees of rurality and peri-urbanity as well as different levels of land protection.

We argue place-based stakeholder knowledge of landscape practices and values enhances substantially ecosystem service assessment and land management and is one of the novelties of the contemporary landscape sustainability science. The results provide knowledge on how to manage multiple place-based ecosystem services as perceived by people. The study emphasizes the importance of local-level perspectives for the development of contextualized and socially acceptable public policies for ecosystem services.


Brown, G., Fagerholm, N., 2015. Empirical PPGIS/PGIS mapping of ecosystem services: A review and evaluation. Ecosystem Services 13, 119-133.

MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis. Washington D.C: Island Press.

Plieninger, T., Draux, H., Fagerholm, N., Bieling, C., Bürgi, M., Kizos, T., Kuemmerle, T., Primdahl, J., Verburg, P.H., 2016. The driving forces of landscape change in Europe: A systematic review of the evidence. Land Use Policy 57, 204-214.

Scholte, S. S. K., van Teeffelen, A. J. A., & Verburg, P. H. (2015). Integrating socio-cultural perspectives into ecosystem service valuation: A review of concepts and methods. Ecological Economics, 114, 67–78.

Stephenson, J., 2008. The Cultural Values Model: An integrated approach to values in landscapes. Landscape Urban Planning 84, 127-139.

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