Cultural ecosystem services of Chinese typical landscapes: Rethinking non-material links between people and their landscapes

Yuehan Dou

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Maintaining and enhancing landscapes’ beneficial contributions to a good quality of life is a major challenge of our time. Landscapes have been and are being changed by processes such as urbanization, economic development and ecological restorations which may sharply change the landscapes, and these changes may affect the ways in which people interact with their landscapes. The concept of Ecosystem Services (ES) has been widely adopted by scientists and policymakers as a framework to assess the consequences of landscape interventions, on provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural ecosystem services. CES refer to the benefits people receive from ecosystems in the form of spiritual, religious, recreational, inspirational and educational experiences.

To inform decision-making for sustainable landscape management, an elicitation of people’s concerns associated with their landscapes from socio-cultural perspectives is. However, current approaches of investigating CES have been criticized for voluntary self-exclusion of disciplines, over-valuing tourist-attractive landscapes and neglecting critical social impacts or dynamics. Moreover, due to the limitation of accessible data and applicable methods, rarely does research capture the cultural diversity of CES perceived by local communities and little is known about how CES change under human interventions.

The objective of this research was to investigate the non-material links between people and landscapes by analysing CES from an interdisciplinary perspective, in four typical Chinese landscapes (Dryland agricultural landscape, wetlands, grasslands and coastal wetlands). The research especially addresses the subjective nature of CES perception and the socio-cultural consequences of ecological restoration and conservation projects through their influence on CES perception. The approach incorporates the perceived values that local communities attach to landscapes and overcomes the limited application of non-spatiality explicit CES in broader ecosystem assessment by assessing the perceptions of local communities. Data were gathered by questionnaires survey or semi-structured interviews depending on the local context, as well as participatory mapping and field observations to further diagnose CES appraisal and their spatial distribution.

Synthesizing the findings of this research, there are several conclusions we can draw: 1) In general, Aesthetic services, Recreational services, Education and science, Inspirations, Sense of place, Cultural heritage, Religious and spiritual services and Physical and mental health are all highly perceived in China’s typical landscapes including wetlands, grassland, cultivated lands and coastal wetlands. Social relations were only identified in wetlands and coastal wetlands. 2) Demographic characteristics affect the perception of CES, especially ethnicity, age and education. Although demographic characteristics determine how people perceive CES, no generic rules such as “women tend to perceive more CES than men” or “old people tend to perceive more CES than young people” could be found. 3) Landscape features play a different role in different landscapes, but dominant landscape features are perceived as more important by local communities. The appreciation appeared to be closely linked to the intensity of the interaction and common landscape features are more appreciated than special landscape features. 4) Human interventions, including ecological restoration, conservation and local economic development influence CES perception, by influencing the opportunities for local people to engage with their landscapes, as well as potentially influencing the demographic characteristics of local communities (such as occupation, income and even age composition). Ecological restoration tends to have a positive effect on recreational services but a negative effect on sense of place.

Despite the limitations of data and methods, we showed that considering cultural ecosystem services, local communities, and the way they interact with different landscape features in ecological conservation and landscape management can help to improve conservation effectiveness, and pioneer new co-management arrangements.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Bakker, Martha, Promotor
  • Carsjens, Gerrit-Jan, Co-promotor
Award date8 Sep 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463954631
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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