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Landscape-Scale Conservation

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There is increased recognition of the need to restore ecological health at a landscape-scale, to secure long term environmental sustainability, especially in the face of climate change. This requires conservation planning to look beyond protected areas and discrete wildlife sites, to wider natural processes functioning across landscapes. 

What is a landscape?

Human beings see landscapes differently to other species.  We view things on a human-sized scale, taking in open moors, whole woodlands, and a mosaic of fields. A beetle’s landscape is something quite different – a small mound of soil is a hill, a grass verge is a forest, a single plant can be food and shelter.

What is an ecologically ‘healthy’ landscape?

Habitat patches do not exist in a vacuum; they are influenced by size, structure, shape, their position relative to one another, and the physical structure of the areas between them. Bigger habitat patches, closer together, set in less hostile surroundings are likely to be more functional, or ‘healthy’ in ecological terms. 

A landscape is made up of a variety of habitats, which in turn comprise communities of species of flora and fauna, plus a complexity of physical features and influencing factors such as topography, altitude, aspect, temperature, chemistry, hydrology, and so on; all of which vary at different scales.  Within species, too, there is diversity and complexity, we mustn’t forget that biodiversity includes genetic differences, and these are crucial when it comes to adaptation, an increasingly important factor in the face of climate change.

What we need to develop is a landscape which comprises complexity, diversity and variation on all scales and of all types. We can’t possibly begin to influence and plan and affect all the elements that go towards building a landscape, that is nature’s job, what we should be aiming for is enabling and helping nature to do that job. 

By moving away from monocultures, intensive farming and tidiness, and towards mixed land-use, extensive farming and scruffy, mixed-up bits of habitat of different sizes and structures, linked to other bits of diverse habitat, then we enable adaptation to climate change. We enable species to change their ecological niches and move to more suitable locations, be they further north, higher up, round the corner, or onto a neighbouring plant.

By having a better understanding of which species are thriving where, and what particular habitat requirements they have, we can try to improve their habitats. By understanding how different species interact with one another, their food, shelter, and reproduction requirements, we can help to ensure their survival.

Landscape function and ecosystem services

Now and in the future we need landscapes to perform multiple functions: to provide food, water, energy, timber, biofuels, recreation, carbon storage and biodiversity – otherwise known as ‘Ecosystem Services’.

How do we achieve this?

We need to think diversity. We can have a landscape which offers these things, but we need to have a better idea of which things and where, and how these different functions are linked. Where do biodiversity and ecosystem services go hand-in-hand, and where are the trade-offs? 

A number of the projects developed and supported by the Moors for the Future Partnership are investigating exactly this. Further information can be found on their website at www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk

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