Landscapes and ecosystems that are managed by humans have the potential to be of much higher value to society than is currently the case, through the provision of ecosystem services. This was found for agricultural landschapes in the south of The Netherlands, worldwide in dry rangelands (on which one billion people depend for their livelihoods) and for highly threatened mangrove forests in Indonesia. An important condition is that land management gives ample room for nature and its services. Policymakers and the public have limited knowledge on which ecosystem services are provided through different management strategies and which conditions apply. Alexander van Oudenhoven defends his PhD thesis on this subject on January 21st at Wageningen University.
Combining agriculture with nature conservationCombining agricultural production, recreation and nature conservation has been part of a National Landscape’s ‘core business’. The landscape is called ‘Het Groene Woud’ (The Green Forest) and much emphasis is put on connecting nature areas through so-called green landscape elements, such as hedgerows, tree rows and berms. Considering these elements in the entire landscape’s management would result in the capturing of 640 tons fine dust (emission reduction of 15%). Moreover, pollination and natural pest control of agricultural crops would increase by 50% if these crops would be within less than a kilometre’s distance from nature.
26 wheelbarrows of soil lost per hectare due to intensive livestock grazingGlobally, one billion people’s livelihoods depend on dry rangelands (yearly rainfall of around 350 mm), predominantly through livestock grazing. Annually, intensive livestock grazing contributes about 26 wheelbarrows worth of soil loss (1300 kg) and water loss of 400.000 litres, as compared to natural ungrazed rangelands. Restoring rangelands or reducing grazing intensity can reduce erosion and water runoff. This is important to consider in a world where desertification, the transition from natural vegetation to deserts, is one of the major environmental challenges.
Mangrove forests combatting climate change and storm surgesMangrove forests in densely populated Java (Indonesia) are under enormous pressure, especially due to large-scale aquaculture development. Both one hectare of mangrove forest and one hectare of aquaculture pond can yield about a ton of shrimps, but fodder, pesticides will have to be added into the pond whereas the mangroves deliver the shrimps ‘for free’. Over a year, converting one hectare of mangrove forest will also result in a CO2 emission of 250 tonnes, the loss of around 20 tonnes of fuel and construction wood and lacking recreation opportunities. Moreover, a 200 metre wide stretch of mangroves (land inwards) would already suffice to protect local people against high waves and storm surges. Policy makers in Java have already considered Van Oudenhoven’s recommendations to include ecosystem services in land management strategies.
The three entirely different examples emphasise the consequences of not fully realising nature’s services provided to society. Generally speaking, nature conservation and less intensive land management will have a positive effect on ecosystem service provision.