Heathlands are considered biodiversity hotspots of high conservation interest. However, they are at risk of degradation and disappearance in most parts of Europe mainly due to land abandonment, degradation, and conversion to other land uses. Heathlands are semi-natural systems: their maintenance and survival depends on specific practices such as extensive grazing or burning. Traditionally they provide a wide range of goods and services to societies. In this study we used the ecosystem services (ES) framework to analyze the changes in the demand for and delivery of ES for the heathland landscapes of the Cantabrian Mountains (NW Spain), since the 1950s. Particularly, we analyzed how the social changes since the 1950s have determined changes in stakeholders' demand for provisioning, cultural and regulating services and how these changes have influenced the vegetation dynamics and conservation status of these systems. We identified a general shift from the provisioning of grazing facilities and local products for the local-regional market to the provisioning of conservation services to satisfy national-international demand. For the present situation we found a clear mismatch between the conservation demand, management practices, and land-use forms. This mismatch threatens to lead to further landscape changes and loss of biodiversity. The results of our multi-scale and -services study can help to increase awareness of the value of currently obtainable benefits from heathlands among stakeholders and managers. The ES approach can improve understanding of the functioning of the socio-ecological heathland system, and inform the development of new management strategies for heathland protection.
- mountains nw spain