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Assessing the influences of ecological restoration on perceptions of cultural ecosystem services by residents of agricultural landscapes of western China

Dou, Yuehan, Zhen, Lin, Yu, Xiubo, Bakker, Martha, Carsjens, Gerrit-Jan, Xue, Zhichao
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.646 pp. 685-695
agricultural land, attitudes and opinions, case studies, decision making, ecological restoration, ecosystem services, ecosystems, employment, forests, grasslands, interviews, land cover, land degradation, landscapes, livelihood, perceptions (cognitive), reforestation, residential areas, rural communities, soil erosion, traditions, China
Landscape change caused by ecological restoration projects has both positive and negative influences on human livelihoods, yet surprisingly little research on the cultural consequences of ecological restoration in agricultural landscapes has taken place. Cultural consequences can be captured in the ecosystem services framework as cultural ecosystem services (CES). However, assessment and valuation of these services to support decision-making for this essential ecosystem is lacking. To help fill this gap, we assessed the opinions of Chinese rural communities about CES and the changes in their perception under the Grain for Green program (GFG), a nationwide program to relieve the pressure on ecosystems (soil erosion and land degradation) by converting cultivated land or barren land on steep slopes into grassland and forests. We used Guyuan City in China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region as a case study, using a workshop to identify the CES provided by the agricultural landscape, followed by semi-structured household interviews to quantify perceptions of these CES. We found that all eight CES types identified by the workshop were perceived by the rural communities. Reforestation changed their perceptions of CES directly due to land cover change and indirectly due to the resulting economic changes and migration of mostly young workers in search of better jobs. Cultivated land was perceived as more important than forest for CES provision. In addition, residential areas were perceived as providing significant CES because of local traditions that produce close and highly social neighborhood bonds in agricultural landscapes.