Ecosystem Services: The Opportunities of Rewilding in Europe

Yvonne Cerqueira, Laetitia M. Navarro, Joachim Maes,

Cristina Marta-Pedroso, João Pradinho Honrado and Henrique M. Pereira

Abstract Halting the degradation and restoring the full capacity of ecosystems to deliver ecosystem services is currently a major political commitment in Europe. Although still a debated topic, Europe's on-going farmland abandonment is seen as an opportunity to launch a new conservation and economic vision, through the restoration of natural processes via rewilding as a land management option. Despite the ecological interest of restoring a wilder Europe, there is a need to develop evidencebased arguments and explore the broad-range impacts of rewilding. In this chapter we study the spatial patterns of ecosystem services in the EU25 and their relationship with wilderness areas. Next we perform a quantitative analysis, at the scale of the Iberian Peninsula, of the supply of ecosystem services in the top 5 % wilderness areas, on agricultural land, and on land projected to be abandoned. We find that high quality wilderness is often associated to high supply of ecosystem services, mainly regulating and cultural. Assuming that high quality wilderness is a good proxy for the future of areas undergoing rewilding, our results suggest that rewilding efforts throughout Europe will enhance the capacity of ecosystems to supply regulating and cultural ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and recreation.

Keywords Ecosystem services Wilderness Benefits Farmland abandonment Human well-being Rewilding


Ecosystem services have been defined as the benefits humans derive from nature through a set of ecosystem functions. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA 2005) was the stepping-stone in providing a conceptual framework for ecosystem services, which allows for assessing the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being. Since its publication, multiple classification schemes for ecosystem services have been proposed, such as the framework of The Economics of Ecosystem Biodiversity (TEEB 2012) and, more recently, the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services or CICES (Haines-Young and Potschin 2012). The CICES was adopted by the European Commission for the Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystem Services initiative (Maes et al. 2013). The CICES categorizes ecosystem services into 3 groups: provisioning (e.g. food, fiber, fuel and water), regulating and maintenance (e.g. air quality, water and soil regulation, natural hazard regulation, climate regulation and disease control) and cultural (e.g. recreation and spiritual).

Although society can easily perceive provisioning ecosystem services such as crops, fish and freshwater, which are all direct benefits to humans, others, such as pollination, erosion control and climate regulation are less tangible. However, directly or indirectly, all ecosystem services underpin environmental and human well-being, economy, and businesses (MA 2005). Many services are not traded in the conventional markets and hence, their economic values remain invisible, tending to be undervalued and consequently overexploited (de Groot et al. 2012). Yet, once lost, replacement can be costly. Wetlands, for example, provide numerous regulating services (e.g. water purification and flood/storm protection), which are unnoticed, in contrast to provisioning services (e.g. timber and food), but highly valuable since degradation can lead to high replacement costs (Reed et al. 2013). Throughout the world, ecosystem services have been used as a tool in conservation and development as well as poverty alleviation (Tallis et al. 2008). The awareness that ecosystem services affect human well-being and economic development has resulted in their integration in the most recent EU Biodiversity Strategy (European Commission 2011a). This strategy aims at halting both biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services. It also includes the protection of wilderness, specifically old growth forest. Today, 45 % of Europe's land cover is forest (1 billion ha) but only 4 % is undisturbed forest (6 million ha). Protecting these ecosystems is important as they support particular ecosystem services, such as recreation and air quality (Maes et al. 2012a). Increasing the cover of wilderness areas in Europe trough rewilding of abandoned lands could improve the supply of these services (see Chap. 1). For instance, a recent initiative, “Rewilding Europe” aims at rewilding 1 million ha of land by 2020 (see Chap. 9). However, we have yet to determine what bundle of ecosystem services will rewilded areas provide.

In this chapter, we first investigate the supply and spatial distribution of ecosystem services on a pan-European scale. We then focus on the patterns of spatial overlap between the ecosystem services and wilderness areas. Next, we perform a quantitative analysis of the supply of services in the Iberian Peninsula, comparing the average supply between cultivated areas, high quality wilderness areas and areas currently cultivated but projected to be abandoned. Throughout the analysis, we consider the supply of ecosystem services in wilderness areas as a proxy for the future supply of services in rewilding areas. Finally, we discuss the various economic and ecological benefits of rewilding in Europe.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >