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Making space for cultural ecosystem services: Insights from a study of the UK nature improvement initiative


Health-related benefits of nature are co-constructed through the interaction of people and their environments

This paper analyses the qualities that research participants attribute to the environmental space of a specific region and the cultural practices conducted and enabled within this region. Authors also discuss ways in which these ‘environmental spaces’ and ‘cultural practices’ contribute to the realization of benefits to well-being.

The focus of this study is on the cultural ecosystem services (CES) emerging from peoples’ interactions with the rural environment in a particular region in the United Kingdom. Data collection measures included a questionnaire, mapping exercise, and group discussions with adults and a participatory arts-based research process with children.

The questionnaire solicited general insights into the qualities people associated with the surrounding natural environment, the types of activities they engaged in, and associated benefits. The questionnaire was accompanied by a map of the study area on which respondents used green and red dots to signify areas considered “special, significant or valuable,” or places ‘unpleasant, neglected or challenged.’ Responses to the questionnaire and mapping exercises were used to inform group discussions among adult participants.

Children’s views of their local environment were solicited through a walking/mapping exercise. Fifty children aged six to ten participated in this process. Their map- making activity included the creation of visual representations of what they could see, touch, hear, and smell around them.

Findings indicated that adult participants generally associated the local landscape with the idea of character, beauty, and tranquility. Forms of engagement with the natural environment reported by the adults included walking, sitting around, eating and drinking outside, taking in a view, and gardening. Some respondents also commented on how interaction with the environment was best experienced as a sedentary, contemplative pursuit. Many of the adults referenced both mental and physical benefits they experienced through engagement with the natural environment. Females generally agreed more strongly than males about benefits relating to inspiration, spirituality, happiness and relaxation.

Aspects of the environment noted by the children as being of interest included stream and water, air, trees, moss, mud, and a variety of animals (such as sheep, birds, frogs, mayflies). They reported engaging with the environment through such activities as walking, painting, drawing, touching, fishing, and taking pictures. Benefits of such engagement noted by the children included fun, discovery, excitement, exhilaration, awareness, and learning.

One conclusion drawn by the researchers is that the services and benefits people experience while engaged with the natural environment do not simply arise from ecosystems but are co-constructed through the interaction between people and their environments. Additionally, authors discuss the implications of the study for applying the CES framework through a mixed methods research approach.


Fish, R., Church, A., Willis, C., Winter, M., Tratalos, J.A., Haines-Young, R., Potschine, M., (2016). Making space for cultural ecosystem services: Insights from a study of the UK nature improvement initiative. Ecosystem Services


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