Key messages:

  • Interdisciplinary research with stakeholders in multiple landscapes is developing new approaches to cultural services and demonstrating how people love what they know.
  • Doses of nature improve mental, physical and social health in urban environments.
  • A high proportion of nature experiences are concentrated within a small proportion of urban populations.
  • Improving doses of nature depends on both increasing opportunities for direct and indirect experiences of nature and on increasing people’s orientation towards nature.
  • Deconstructing the different ways people experience nature across a population is important to develop recommendations for targeted health outcomes.
  • Biodiverse urban meadow plantings benefit both people and wildlife.
  • Perennial meadows increase perceived quality and appreciation of urban greenspace.
  • People prefer higher diversity and structure in urban meadows and more species of garden birds.

“Cultural ecosystem services might be seen as the Cinderella of the ecosystem services approaches because we have difficulty defining and valuing [them] …but probably difficult or impossible to do without.”  Director of CBESS.

Cultural ecosystem services are fundamentally about our connection with nature – valued capabilities and experiences in people’s minds.  However, the complexity of cultural services and the many disciplines involved as well as perceived implementation barriers means that they are often overlooked in decision making and planning [1].  The BESS programme has offered an opportunity to integrate different disciplinary approaches so that future decisions are better able to take cultural services into account [2].  For instance, joint BESS/NIA workshops brought together academics and practioners from different backgrounds to consider aesthetic and spiritual values and to develop the cultural services aspect of the Toolkit for Ecosystem Services Site-based Assessment (TESSA).

Developing generic approaches to modelling cultural ecosystem services

BESS funded a workshop for social and natural scientists, economists and policy makers, to further improve conceptual approaches to modelling cultural ecosystem services. This new approach is now being tested using data from the four BESS consortia.


Connecting with nature in urban areas

Annual Meadows, Helen Hoyle

Doses of nearby nature improve mental, physical and social health in urban environments [3, 4].  However, there is inequality in access to urban nature [5].  Research by the F3UES consortium found that people who regularly have direct experience of nature are the exception rather than the norm [6].  75% of the total time spent in nature was experienced by only 32% of this study population in Milton Keynes [6].  The most common experiences of nature were indirectly as a view through a window [6]. Despite the benefits of a natural view, a significant number of people had no good view of nature at home or work.  Opportunities to experience nature and people’s orientation towards nature interact [6, 7], with connection to nature positively associated with incidental (such as spending time outside at work) and intentional (visiting parks or private gardens) experiences of nature [6].  People living in neighbourhoods with low tree cover visited both public and private greenspace less often and for a shorter amount of time [7].  Improving people’s nature dose depends on both increasing opportunities to have indirect, incidental and intentional experiences of nature, and on increasing people’s orientation towards nature [4, 6, 7].  There is also a need to understand the extent to which particular ecological properties, such as biodiversity, are important for health outcomes, rather than area of greenspace alone [5].  This has implications for green infrastructure design, biodiversity restoration and the conservation of remnant habitats [6, 8, 9].

Participants from the F3UES meadow experiments

Urban meadows benefit both people and wildlife

Ed Burnett from Bedford Borough Council with information about the perennial meadows. Helen Hoyle.

Concerns about introducing urban meadows include feelings that naturalistic planting looks untidy and uncared for.  To explore this further, the F3UES consortium created a variety of urban meadows in partnership with Local Authorities in Bedford and Luton.  Local people preferred meadows to mown grass, with meadows that had more plant species and greater structural diversity being most favoured.  When shown photos, people also preferred meadows to herbaceous borders or formal planting [10].  Preferences for meadows were stronger in people who visited the countryside more frequently and had more knowledge of plant species [10].  Providing information about the biodiversity benefits of the meadows, the reduced need for mowing and summer appearance increased people’s acceptance of winter appearance [10, 11].
Garden birds act as 'ambassadors for nature'

Many consider the separation of people from nature to be both a public health risk and a barrier to reversing biodiversity loss.  Research by Daniel Cox and colleagues on urban bird feeding shows that biodiversity matters: people prefer seeing a variety of bird species rather than simply more individuals of the same species [12].  The ability to identify bird species is correlated with feeling more connected with nature while watching birds [12].  This suggests that wellbeing benefits to people could be increased both by supporting learning about and interaction with birds and by increasing songbird diversity [12].  In this way, garden bird feeders can act as ‘ambassadors for nature’ [13]

Connectivity and flow intensity for urban birds in Milton Keynes, UK, as modelled using 'Circuitscape' software for F3UES. Credit Darren Grafius.

The delivery of benefits from garden birds depends on the features and layout of the surrounding urban environment - a residential area where greenspace was more connected had greater movement of birds compared with urban areas where greenspace was highly fragmented by roads [14].  In the more fragmented area there was greenspace where birds tracked in the study did not visit garden feeders at all [14].  Targeting ‘greening’ at particular points might help to improve movement of birds into these isolated areas and hence benefit residents [14].  This is the first study that uses tagged birds to model both the potential of birds to move among urban habitats (structural connectivity) and the amount that individuals actually move (functional connectivity) [14, 15]

Recreation and tourism on saltmarshes and mudflats

The CBESS team have used a range of research methods to understand the cultural benefits which arise from coastal  ecosystems. Monetary (choice experiments), non-monetary (ranking in questionnaires and interviews), deliberative (interactive workshops), and spatial methods (mapping recreational activity) have been employed in two study site regions, Essex Estuaries and Morecambe Bay. They found that 1.2 million hours of recreational activity per annum are associated either directly or indirectly with these coastal habitats in Essex alone.

To better understand how biodiversity underpins these services, CBESS has developed the Saltmarsh App which aims both to increase awareness of the importance of saltmarsh habitat and allow a wide audience to contribute research data [16].  CBESS research has also been investigating preferences that local people have for different coastal management options that aim to manage coastal flooding.

Lowland agricultural landscapes

Wessex BESS PPGIS survey.

Wessex BESS have investigated cultural ecosystem services across a gradient of grassland biodiversity.  People have been sharing their activities, attitudes and preferences using a combination of in-depth workshops [17], face-to-face interviews coordinated by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and a web based Public Participation Geographic Information System

Cultural values of uplands

Debbie Coldwell

The DURESS upland scenarios present alternative futures and their consequences by considering drivers of change, including social-cultural trends [18]DURESS researchers have interviewed over 1200 people across four Welsh rivers asking them to choose between alternative future scenarios for the river catchments.  This aims to look at benefits and costs associated with possible changes to rivers and to understand what people value.

Resources for policy and practice from BESS researchers:

Improving urban grassland for people and wildlife. A Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) policy and practice note co-authored by Helen Hoyle. 

Connectivity and ecological networks. Landscape Institute Technical Information Note. 01/2016

The Saltmarsh App

Upland scenarios: what will the future look like? Prosser, H., T. Pagella, and I. Durance, DURESS project report card. 2015.

Publications from BESS researchers:

  1. Raffaelli, D. and P.C.L. White, Chapter One - Ecosystems and their services in a changing world: an ecological perspective, in Advances in Ecological Research, Woodward, G. and O'Gorman, E.J., Editors. 2013, Academic Press. p. 1-70.
  2. The Quintessence Consortium, Networking our way to better ecosystem service provision. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 2016. 31(2): p. 105-115.
  3. Shanahan, D.F., et al., The health benefits of urban nature: how much do we need? Bioscience, 2015. 65(5): p. 476-485.
  4. Cox, D., et al., Doses of nearby nature simultaneously associated with multiple health benefits. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2017. 14(2): p. 172.
  5. Shanahan, D.F., et al., Toward improved public health outcomes from urban nature. American Journal of Public Health, 2015. 105(3): p. 470-477.
  6. Cox, D.T.C., et al., The rarity of direct experiences of nature in an urban population. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2017. 160: p. 79-84.
  7. Shanahan, D.F., et al., Variation in experiences of nature across gradients of tree cover in compact and sprawling cities. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2017. 157: p. 231-238.
  8. Soga, M., et al., Woodland remnants as an urban wildlife refuge: a cross-taxonomic assessment. Biodiversity and Conservation, 2014. 23(3): p. 649-659.
  9. Norton, B.A., K.L. Evans, and P.H. Warren, Urban Biodiversity and Landscape Ecology: Patterns, Processes and Planning. Current Landscape Ecology Reports, 2016. 1(4): p. 178-192.
  10. Southon, G.E., et al., Biodiverse perennial meadows have aesthetic value and increase residents’ perceptions of site quality in urban green-space. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2017. 158: p. 105-118.
  11. LWEC, Improving urban grassland for people and wildlife. Living With Environmental Change Policy & Practice Note 32. 2016.
  12. Cox, D.T.C. and K.J. Gaston, Likeability of garden birds: Importance of species knowledge & richness in connecting people to nature. PLoS ONE, 2015. 10(11): p. e0141505.
  13. Cox, D.T.C. and K.J. Gaston, Urban bird feeding: connecting people with nature. PLoS ONE, 2016. 11(7): p. e0158717.
  14. Cox, D.T.C., et al., Movement of feeder-using songbirds: the influence of urban features. Scientific Reports, 2016. 6: p. 37669.
  15. Harrison, L.J., P.C.L. White and S. Odell, Connectivity and ecological networks. Landscape Institute Technical Information Note. 01/2016  2016.
  16. CBESS, The Saltmarsh App.  2016.
  17. King, H., et al., Exploring cultural ecosystem services in the Wessex region. Wessex-BESS WP5 Project Report I. 2014, Cranfield University & RSPB.
  18. Prosser, H., T. Pagella, and I. Durance, Upland scenarios: what will the future look like? DURESS project report card. 2015.

Prepared by Laura Harrison, Anna Middlemiss and Charlie Parkin.