Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity (ESB)

Cultural services

The non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems are called ‘cultural services'. They include aesthetic inspiration, cultural identity, sense of home, and spiritual experience related to the natural environment. Typically, opportunities for tourism and for recreation are also considered within the group. Cultural services are deeply interconnected with each other and often connected to provisioning and regulating services: Small scale fishing is not only about food and income, but also about fishers’ way of life. In many situations, cultural services are among the most important values people associate with Nature – it is therefore critical to understand them.

Agriculture, forestry and fisheries are influenced and influence all types of ecosystem services. Below, we are looking at the interaction between the different production systems and the types of ecosystem services according to the typology of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

Recreation and mental and physical health

Nature-based opportunities for recreation play an important role in maintaining mental and physical health, e.g. walking and playing sports in parks and urban green spaces.

Agricultural landscapes can host numerous recreational opportunities, and are recognised as having mental health benefits.

Grasslands are great outdoors playing grounds from horse ridding to bicycling for example. Some countries are supporting farmers to keep extensive practices keeping the grasslands and pasture well maintained.

Aquatic systems provide important recreational and health activities around the world. Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture can directly support recreational services. Recreational fishing, for example, is linked to healthy aquatic systems.

Forests can host a wide range of sportive activities such as mountain biking.


Enjoyment of nature attracts millions of travelers worldwide. This cultural ecosystem service includes both benefits to visitors and income opportunities for nature tourism service providers.

Farm tourism is a rapidly growing market, allowing urbanites to reconnect with nature. Usually, attractive farms are those whose produce and products are environmentally-friendly, sustainable and very closely linked with nature.

Many landscape are a result of a co-evolution of nature and low-intensity livestock grazing.

Tourism in aquatic protected area or to fishing villages are examples of tourism services from the aquatic systems. The demand for tourism and recreation opportunities has grown steadily over the last 50 years, with a particular emphasis on marine and costal zones. Coral reefs are particularly important for tourism and have a high value associated with them. Recreational fishing is a growing tourism sector with an estimated 118 million fishers in the industrialised world.

Tourism in forests is now an important aspect to take into consideration when planning forest management. Tourism revenues can often bring an incentive for sustainable forest management.

Aesthetic appreciation and inspiration for culture, art and design

Animals, plants and ecosystems have been the source of inspiration for much of our arts, culture, and design; they increasingly inspire science as well.

Agricultural landscapes have high cultural values for many societies, as recognized through the Satoyama Initiative and Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Sites. Also, in certain societies specific rice cultivars are maintained solely for ceremonial use purposes.

Some agro-pastoral systems have resulted not only in outstanding landscapes, maintenance and adaptation of globally significant agricultural biodiversity, indigenous knowledge systems and resilient ecosystems, but, above all, in the sustained provision of multiple goods and services, food and livelihood security for millions of poor and small farmers.

Fish in public aquaria, wild species in tropical reefs, in crowded streams during spawning, or in lakes and along coasts, generate highly valued aesthetic services. Oceans have inspired artists and engineers for centuries. For example, humpback whale flippers could be inspiring the next generation of airplane wings.

Forests have inspired the development of many technologies such as the one to help capture rainwater in cities.

Spiritual experience and sense of place

Nature is a common element in most major religions. Natural heritage, spiritual sense of belonging, traditional knowledge, and associated customs are important for creating a sense of belonging.

Agriculturally-related diets are central to many world religions. For example, Dewi Sri, the rice goddess, is venerated in Bali, where rice is the staple crop. During the harvest, villages are festooned with flags, and simple bamboo temples dedicated to the goddess are erected in the upstream, most sacred corners of the rice fields. Small dolls of rice stalks representing Dewi Sri are placed in granaries as offerings.

The social significance of livestock among East African dryland pastoralists includes, but is not limited to, the following: rainmaking ceremonies, cleansing of families or communities, protection against curses or disease outbreaks, oral traditions, customary law and values, treating sick persons, naming ceremonies, initiation ceremonies and rites of passage, sacrifices as per the community’s cultural beliefs, as a source of life, without which life has no meaning, as a measure of wealth, use in bull dances and other festivals, social sharing of livestock breeds by exchanging males and females to enhance social links, source of dowry, bride wealth, birth celebrations and other life cycle ceremonies such as funeral feasts.

Society has always been linked to aquatic systems. Many societal structures are based on traditional management of fish and fisheries, such as the Qoli Qoli, the pacific island customary tenurial systems, Indonesian Panglima Laut etc. In addition, there are important traditions and festivals linked to annual fish harvesting cycles and important culinary traditions (specialized dishes and menus) have developed out of traditional ways of preserving and curing/processing fish to cope with gluts and lean periods. In addition, many proverbs, prayers, and tales attest to the cultural importance of fisheries around the world. There is also a strong individual identity as a fisher or fish farmer around the world and fisheries villages/communities are often at the heart of local development and identity.

Nature and wildlife have always had a part in ancient cultures hosting good and bad spirits.