WORKSHOP – Natural Environments and Cultural Services


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According to decision making bodies such as the UK Government’s DEFRA and the UN Environment Programme, one of the reasons ecosystems have value is because they can provide human beings with cultural ecosystem services. The thought is that woods, say, or wetlands have value, not simply because they supply us with fuel, food and other material benefits, but because they can inspire us, for instance, or fortify our resolve, or hone our aesthetic faculties, or provide us with religious symbols, or shape our sense of who we are.

The practice of evaluating places on the basis of the cultural ecosystem services they provide raises a number of questions that are not just of intrinsic philosophical interest but also directly relevant to environmental policy and practice:

  • How exactly should we conceive of the providers of cultural services? Should we think of them as ecosystems? Are they better thought of as landscapes, for instance, or as places?
  • How do cultural ecosystem services relate to other sorts of ecosystem service?
  • Are all the cultural benefits we derive from evergreen forests, say, or stretchs of heathland best thought of as services? Can ecosystems generate cultural dis-services?
  • Can one be compensated for the loss of a cultural service? If so, in what circumstances – and how?
  • What methods can be used to price cultural services? Is it ever inappropriate to price a cultural service? If so, why?
  • If a certain ecosystem provides a cultural service, must it be valued by the people to whom it provides the service?
  • Is the capacity to yield such a service necessarily a value-enhancing feature? Does it matter which culture or sub-culture is benefitted? What does ‘culture’ mean in this context?
  • Some have argued that elephants and some other sorts of nonhuman animals have cultures. Could such animals derive cultural benefits from the environments they inhabit? If so, is this something that decision makers should take into account?
  • The ecosystem services approach is extremely popular, but how else might one try to account for the cultural value of ecosystems? What of multi-criteria decision analyses? What, in this context, can be learnt from disciplines such as anthropology and geography?

The workshop will address these and other, related questions.


  • Alan Holland (Lancaster)
  • Sian Sullivan (Birkbeck College, U. of London)
  • Martin Drenthen (Radboud)
  • Glenn Deliège (KU Leuven)
  • Paul Knights (Manchester)
  • Nigel Cooper (Anglia Ruskin)
  • Simon James (Durham)

THE WORKSHOP WILL RUN FROM 15:00 ON 23 June TO 15:00 ON 24 June.

It will take at St John’s College, Durham University, UK. St John’s College is located close to the cathedral on the wooded peninsular known as The Bailey. It is marked as number 17 on the map.

Durham-University-2Accommodation options:

The workshop’s organisers are grateful for the support provided by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council and the European Union FP7 project BIOMOT.

Although there is no charge for attending the workshop, places are limited. So to avoid disappointment please register in advance by writing to Simon James (