Interdisciplinary blog

Sustainability Science at Southampton EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Brittany Camp

Brittany Camp – ‘Using citizen science to evaluate the provision of cultural ecosystem services’.

I am about to start my third year in a Bachelor of Science, Biology, degree at The University of Southampton and am considering continuing my studies to a Master of Science (MSc) degree programme. Whilst my degree encompasses many aspects of the function and interactions of living things, from sub-cellular through global biosphere levels, I enjoy focusing on the ecosystem level. This internship project is in collaboration with Dr Simon Willcock, in the Centre for Biological Sciences. The field of research for this project is ecosystem services, specifically the somewhat understated division of cultural ecosystem services.

Cultural ecosystem services describe the non-material benefits people gain from nature, such as spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences. These benefits commonly prove difficult to evaluate as they lack a common unit, e.g. money as with many material benefits obtained from nature. Because of this, quantitative approaches to evaluate cultural ecosystem services are controversial and somewhat lacking when compared to other divisions of the ecosystem services field. Therefore, the importance of cultural ecosystem services can often be under-estimated in land use planning.

It is easy to see how valuing cultural ecosystem services of an area of land can be complicated. The benefits of cultural ecosystem services are unique to each person, as people will appreciate different aspects of a landscape uniquely. Furthermore, the accessibility of an area of land must be considered as well, for example, if an area of land has the potential for many cultural ecosystem services in high value, but is inaccessible to most people, does its value in terms of cultural ecosystem services decline? This must therefore be considered in decision making.

Evaluating cultural ecosystem services is therefore often done using the public. Commonly surveys are carried out with the ultimate aim to quantify and assign value to cultural ecosystem services. The aim of this project is to adapt existing text-based cultural ecosystem service surveys into image-based surveys. VisualDNA has identified image based to provide higher response rates, and the success of image-based compared to text-based surveys will be assessed in this project. Furthermore, the project aims to assess whether the general public can be used as field scientists to collect data (citizen science) via the Imagini mobile phone app (created by VisualDNA) can be used to evaluate the effect green spaces have on peoples’ moods. Application of this information to future land use scenarios may provide information enabling decision-makers to better understand how to adapt future infrastructure to better coexist with future environmental change.

Data relating to cultural ecosystem services across the world are particularly poor. Results from this pilot study may aid on-going research by: 1) indicating the best method by which researchers can obtain survey data; and 2) using citizen science to obtain a global dataset on the relationship between nature and peoples’ moods. This information can be used to support PhD applications as well as allowing decision making regarding land use to be better informed.

Categories: Blog. Tags: Brittany Camp, epsrc, idr, interdisciplinary, interdisciplinary research, simon willcock, ss@s, Sustainability, Sustainability Science, Sustainability Science at Southampton, University of Southampton, USRG, and vacation bursary.