Benefits of Rewilding for People: Ecosystem Services

Abandoned farmland is often perceived negatively as it is associated with the perception of unkept land and with the decrease on the economic usability of the land, particularly by the rural populations (Hochtl et al. 2005; Bauer et al. 2009). However there are many ecosystems services that are provided by this type of landscapes, particularly indirect and non-use services, which are often disregarded in the process of policy-making (TEEB 2010).

Rewilded areas can, at the regional scale, provide habitat for biodiversity with conservation results as high or higher than other land management options (Figs. 1.2, 1.5). This supporting service can lay the foundations for some cultural services (Fig. 1.5), because some of the species benefiting from abandonment are linked with recreation through hunting and tourism (Gortázar et al. 2000; Kaczennsly et al. 2004). For instance, in the Abbruze region of Italy, tourism has benefited from the advertisement of the presence of bears and wolves (Enserink and Vogel 2006). In addition to these direct and indirect use values, the large mammal species brought back by rewilding are amongst the species with highest existence values (Proença et al. 2008).Forest regrowth promotes carbon sequestration (Kuemmerle et al. 2008). The carbon stock in European forests has grown from 5.3 to 7.7 PgC between 1950 and 1999 (Nabuurs et al. 2003). Nonetheless, active afforestation can potentially yield higher carbon sequestration rates than rewilding by using fast growing species (Fig. 1.5). Natural regeneration allows soil recovery and nutrient availability, though erosion can increase in the first years following abandonment (Pointereau et al. 2008; Rey Benayas et al. 2007). Forests regulate hydrological cycles, particularly in mountain areas (Körner et al. 2005) and water quality is expected to locally improve in abandoned fields (Stoate et al. 2009). Nonetheless, the transition from grassland to forest, a higher water-use system, can reduce the quantity of water (Brauman et al. 2007). Afforested areas managed for timber provisioning are disturbed both for plantation and management, thus providing qualitatively less waterand soil related services than rewilded areas (Fig. 1.5).

Fig. 1.5  Qualitative assessment of the ecosystem services provided by rewilding, afforestation, extensive agriculture and intensive agriculture in Europe. The relative values given to the provision of each service by the different land management strategies are discussed in the text

Intensive agriculture areas and planted forests are designed to focus on specific provisioning services. Extensive agriculture offers a tradeoff between food provisioning, cultural services, and habitat for biodiversity, whereas rewilding provides a wide range of supporting, regulating and cultural services (Fig. 1.5 and see Chap. 3). The passive management associated with rewilding has much lower maintenance costs than other management options, and therefore significant returns of regulating and cultural services are obtained for limited levels of investment. Still, these services have characteristics of common goods (TEEB 2010), and therefore are rarely advantageous for the individual land-owner. Nonetheless, wilderness is linked to amenity-based growth and attracts urban individuals seeking different environments to both visit and work (Rasker and Hackman 1996): North American counties favoring wilderness showed faster growth in their employment and income level than counties in which the economy is mainly based on resource extraction.

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