The Economic Benefits of Rewilding
In the previous sections we used models of the spatial distribution of ecosystem services to look at the potential impacts of rewilding on biophysical metrics of indicator supply. We now review case studies of economic valuation of ecosystems services provided by natural habitats and by ecological restoration.
In Lowland England, studies on different land use management options have shown that the cost and benefits of changes in ecosystem services from rewilding outweigh those from arable and dairy farming (NERC 2012). In the Upland UK estimates show that managing the land for carbon storage and sequestration through the restoration of peatlands may be more profitable than pastoral activities (Reed et al. 2013). Peatlands, in Scotland, have been valued between 49 million € and 196 € per annum for carbon sequestration (McMorran et al. 2006).
Forest regeneration will also provide major increases in carbon sequestration. It has been estimated that within the Natura 2000 network, commercial and wild forest habitats generate the highest carbon value estimated at 318.3 € and 610.1 billion €, in 2010 followed by grassland systems ranging between 105.6 € and 196.5 billion € (ten Brink et al. 2011). In the Carpathians, the protection of old growth forest is expected to generate 26 million € through carbon offsets (ten Brink et al. 2011). In the Hoge Veluwe Forest, a protected area of the Netherlands, total economic benefit generated by forests is 2000 € ha/year, for the following services: wood production, supply of game, groundwater recharge, carbon sequestration, air filtration, recreation and nature conservation. This value is calculated to be three times higher than adjacent agricultural land (Hein 2011).
Although there is still a lack of available information on the economic value of water purification at the EU level, studies suggest that cities such as Berlin, Vienna, Oslo, and Munich benefit from the natural treatment from ecosystems in protected and non protected areas, with annual economic benefits ranging between 7 € and 16 million € for water purification and 12 € and 91 million € for water provision per city (ten Brink et al. 2011). In the archipelago of the Azores, the restoration of pastures to native forests would result in an economic benefit of 110 € thousand per year from water purification (Cruz and Benedicto 2009). These examples, though limited, demonstrate that protecting and restoring natural vegetation is of economic benefit, and could contribute to achieve the goals of the Water Framework Directive.
Floodplains (wetlands) are also important ecosystems for water cycle regulation, acting as natural sponges, they retain water in river basins, slowly releasing the water down river and into groundwater. Moreover, they play a fundamental role in filtering out pollutants and are home to much wildlife. Restoring the function of floodplains in EU countries could save approximately 1.4 billion € of treatment costs for water purification and reduce annual cost of flood damage, currently at 6.4 billion € and expected to increase (Feyen and Watkiss 2011). Of course, this type of ecosystem restoration has initial costs. The Danube Basin restoration project estimates that the recovery of 100,000 ha, would cost 500,000 €/km2, i.e. an investment of 500 million €. However, this value is still estimated to be much lower than the costs associated to damage control and the improvement of dykes (WWF 2010).
Degradation of natural ecosystems has also been linked to the intensification of other natural hazards (Dudley et al. 2010). For example, in the Swiss Alps the protection of old forests contribute to disaster prevention (e.g. avalanches and landslides) and have been analyzed at a value of 1.6–2.8 billion € per year (IPCDR 2010). Additionally, the role of European pristine scrublands and Belgian grasslands against soil erosion was valued at 44.5 €/ha (Kettunen et al. 2012).