Ecosystem services: why should we pay for the nature conservation

    17 Jun 2021

    In a previous article, we talked about what ecosystem services are and why this concept, first presented in the 2005 document, now has an impact on the legislation of entire countries. To understand the topic better, I continue to refer to the explanations of zoologist Oleksiy Vasyliuk, the head of the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group NGO, and his colleague Lyubov Il’minska (they are the authors of a book on this topic).

    Let’s investigate the role of ecosystem services by examples.

    European Union experience

    NATURA 2000 is a European network of ecologically important protected areas. The creation of the network is conditioned by two EU Directives in the field of nature protection: Birds and Habitats. Today, the NATURA 2000 network brings together the most valuable protected areas of the 28 EU member states and ensures the implementation of the commitments made under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The purpose of creating the NATURA 2000 network is to guarantee the long-term preservation of the most valuable and endangered European species and habitat types.

    The Natura 2000 network operates in all EU countries. The EU spends 5.8-6.1 billion euros a year on it. Meanwhile, the economic effect of such nature protection is 200-300 billion euros per year. This is a huge difference in investment and benefit.

    The program is funded by member states and EU funds. It focuses on the preservation of the most valuable species and habitats.

    Ecosystem services are included in the argument of this annual budget. Its authors write that all these investments return the economic effect.

    If we take, for example, Scandinavia, there, apart from nature, there are almost no large areas transformed by humanity. At the same time, Norway has the highest standards of living.

    Silent help to stabilize everything

    Here is a clear example of why nature is needed in its pristine form. Finland largely consists of wetlands. Peat in this area, i.e. in the tundra in the northern countries, binds a third of the carbon of our planet. If the peat starts to thaw now, the carbon will be spread into the atmosphere. This has not happened yet, and we owe it to ecosystems.

    They guarantee the reduction of natural disasters. Hail, floods and other troubles occur because the weather destabilizes. Let’s call to memory the science fiction movie “The Day After Tomorrow”.

    Natural disasters occur precisely because of the disruption of natural processes that have been formed for thousands of years. Everything was stable. And now nature cannot maintain the constancy of elementary processes.

    For example, in Europe too warm winter has happened. Because of this, wild bees wake up. Then -5° C hit them. What animals will pollinate almost all plants in Europe and much of the world?

    At this stage, we will not be able to influence these changes, except to start supporting nature with all our might.

    Food security. Almost everything we eat is pollinated by insects. Most pollinators in Europe are wild bees that live on steppe slopes and meadows.

    Tourism is the activity for which we actually pay. For example, tourists pay for equipment. I will eat something where I travel, and I want to bring something from there to remember. So I spend a considerable amount of money on tourism – starting from the cost of shoes and backpacks.

    Pure water is also taken from nature. Freshwater makes up about 1% of all water on the planet. About 3% of them are available to us because everything else it’s contained in glaciers. By the way, part of this water is polluted.

    Maritime territories. The bulk of seafood is caught in the world’s oceans. No one breeds fish, just fishing countries continue to deplete the world’s oceans by catching fish.

    In Japan and some other countries, seafood generally dominates the diet. The Japanese simply have nowhere to grow food for such a large population.

    Therefore, there’s one conclusion: the stability of people depends on nature. First of all, it depends on wildlife. It’s an ecosystem service that you can’t afford.

    Experience of the US Forest Service

    Foresters in the United States do not cut down forests actively. They sell minerals that are under them to other government organizations. They simply earn money by giving permission to extract coal or something else under their forests.

    Let’s look at the revenue statistics of the US Forest Service:

    ·        it receives $ 222 million from the sale of minerals;

    ·        it receives $ 142 million a year from recreation;

    ·        $ 121 million – from timber sales;

    ·        and only $ 6 million the service receives from the federal budget.

    And it is strange why other states do not do so, because it is profitable.

    Their jobs are distributed in such a way that almost half of those who work in the US Forest Service are people who are engaged in recreation. They provide rest for other people in the forest.

    By the way, even with all this, there are a lot of organizations in the States that fight logging.

    The Birdwatchers phenomenon

    There are 47 million birdwatchers in the States. These are people who are officially in birdwatching clubs. They spend their free time observing birds. And they are good for the economy. Why?

    They buy camping equipment.

    They buy cameras with telephoto lenses.

    They buy an SUV.

    And in the States you cannot just come into the woods, put up a tent, light a fire. You need to stay at the campsite, and it’s not free. You need to buy food there. This is a must-have option; otherwise, you will not see the birds.

    And so in total birdwathers affect the replenishment of the US budget as an important source of income. Next with metallurgy, for example. For other countries, it is difficult to imagine that such people would be a separate item of state revenue. But in the US it works. It is good for everyone that these people spend more and more.

    As of 2012, birdwatchers brought in the US $ 40 billion.

    And in Holland almost all its inhabitants are birdwatchers.

    So the bottom line is that some people make money and others spend money on ecosystem services.

    Effect of beaver ecosystems

    Forest services are not usually benefiting from the activities of beavers – why should they have everything flooded?

    But in some US states, the Forest Service simply allowed the beavers to do whatever they wanted, rather than demolishing their barriers. Forest officials have done it where it was economically viable. And the forests returned to normal.


    If we preserve ecosystems, we will have at least a clear vision of our sustainable future. We will not have any significant surprises, such as two years in a row without rain (a nightmare for Europeans) or hail the size of our head. We definitely will not be ready for such troubles even in a hundred years.

    There are key species in nature, the loss of which destroys all other connections. Their existence is a determinative factor.

    We do not pay nature for the singing of birds, for clean air, for the fact that rivers are filled with groundwater and groundwater – with rain due to tree roots. We do not pay insects for pollinating plants.

    It is impossible to separate ecosystem services from each other. Once in a particular ecosystem or in the area of ​​its services, we receive a “free coupon” for all of them. That is, going to the forest, we breathe clean air, impregnated with essential oils for the lungs, enjoy the silence, birdsong, forest coolness, and humid microclimate.

    At the same time, we can collect a bucket of berries, take incredible photos. Of course, we could not pick berries, listen to birds and take photos. This is a feature of resource and cultural and social ecosystem services: they are often the opportunity to consume them rather than the consumption itself. We spend money on the excitement of finding mushrooms, not on the mushrooms themselves. Therefore, in some cases, the cultural significance of the use of a particular resource service may come to the fore and overshadow its core value. Yes, when picking berries and mushrooms, the health and leisure benefits are often more important than the economic benefits.

    Once in the ecosystem, we immediately receive all the services of its resource and cultural departments. In the same way, we can lose them all at once if the ecosystem itself is lost. In addition, the loss of ecosystems stops the supply of regulatory and support services. All life forms on Earth are connected by complex connections, and the disappearance of any component makes the whole system less stable. For example, pollinating insects should disappear as a mass of plant species with their fruits, seeds and the functions they perform in the ecosystem will fall out of the ecosystem. The extinction of each plant species deletes several species of insects from the ecosystem, reduces the number of insectivorous birds; also disappear fungi that live in harmonious partnership with plants in mycorrhiza. (A mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between a green plant and a fungus). Thus, by erasing at least one species from the natural ecosystem, we cause the destruction of a large complex structure, the stability of which depends on each of the bricks.

    So even more far-sighted is the understanding that only in harmony with all other species can we count on life in the future. That is why it is so important to preserve biodiversity.

    An important point needs to be added regarding supply services. All the natural resources that are available for human use are part of ecosystems. Ecosystems form such resources as part of themselves. We are talking about wood, the biomass of other living organisms, peat, other minerals, and, above all, soils. No natural resource is so exploited in all parts of our planet as fertile soils. However, in order to use the soil, it is necessary to destroy the ecosystem that creates it, with all its living content. Similarly, to obtain wood, it is necessary to destroy the trees of which it is a part. Therefore, for such ecosystem services, the use of which involves the destruction of individuals or the entire ecosystem – a scenario of sustainable use is impossible. You can’t grow food on the soil without plowing it; you can’t use wood without cutting down trees. Therefore, in order to preserve ecosystems whose services are available only in this way, a necessary condition is to preserve a sufficient part of such ecosystems intact.

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