How important are grassland ecosystem services? Exploring differences in citizen and farmer perspectives in Southern Bavaria.

Grasslands cover one third of the Earth’s terrestrial surface and provide biodiversity, disaster risk, socio-cultural and economic services to humans, yet their ecosystem service contributions are vastly understudied in research. Understanding how ecosystem services are valued by people, and especially where differences and conflicts lie, is important for creating effective management strategies that benefit multiple stakeholders. To fill this research gap, Schmitt et al. (2021) researched ecosystem service perceptions by citizens and farmers in Bavarian pre- and- Alpine grasslands to better pinpoint areas of potential conflict, mismatch and agreement.

Schmitt et al. (2021) explored citizen perceptions and management of grasslands by examining the perceived suitability of grassland ecosystem services by citizens, along with the importance assigned to these ecosystem services by farmers in management strategies. The authors conducted surveys with citizens and farmers in Alpine and foothill grasslands under different management styles in southern Bavaria, Germany (see Figure 1).

Schmitt et al. (2021) found that citizen perceptions of suitable grassland ecosystem services matched well with the ecosystem services that farmers considered highly important in management decisions. However, the authors also found strong mismatches, while age and gender influenced perceptions of grassland ecosystem services. Through cluster analysis, the authors could identify two clusters of farmers, and three clusters of citizens, representing groups that differed in either farm characteristics or environmental attitudes, respectively.

Fig. 1. Location of the study area (red boundary). Surveys with farmers were conducted at the Office of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry Weilheim (red star); surveys with citizens via direct mail to households (black circles). (Schmitt et al. 2021).

In general, the authors identified a high number of matches between farmer and citizen perceptions, farmers perceived fodder production, soil fertility and other provisioning ecosystem services at higher levels of importance than most citizens did. In contrast, citizens valued flood risk reduction and recreation as highly important grassland services, while they were more critical of GHG emissions and water quality than farmers were. Schmitt et al. (2021) identified that stakeholder profession, age, gender, farming intensity and topography influenced the value they assigned to these services.

Schmitt et al. (2021) concluded that it was important to understand similarities and differences between farmer and citizen understandings of grassland ecosystem service importance. The way that they valued these services, and the corresponding groups that emerged, show the influences that different factors had on landscape perceptions. These matches and mismatches could be used to inform further research, policy, and planning, and therefore could be significant in creating management styles that benefit both farmers and citizens reliant on grassland ecosystems. 

Read the full article by Schmitt et al. (2021) here.

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