Humans love nature and want to be as close to it as possible - and at the same time well protected from its extreme conditions. Humans also want everything that nature and its ecosystems can offer, often to the extent of exploitation. Once the balance is disturbed, repairs and artificial solutions may shift the problem to other areas, or even aggravate it. So how about looking for solutions, which nature has easily to offer, and trying to understand how ecosystems work? Getting help from nature, for sustainable and balanced use of nature? Ecosystem services (ES) and natural capital (NC) are a way of expressing the benefit humans get from ecosystems for free. This includes providing and protecting functions such as food, fiber, water, fuel, oxygen and climate regulation, as well as cultural services, such as recreation and connection to nature.
The latest knowledge on ecosystem services, including tools, documents, experts and case studies, has been collected on Oppla and is continuously being updated. Case studies explore how ecosystems work and how they can work in a human environment.
For instance, urban dunes in Barcelona: a small inconspicuous plant with deep roots keeps the sand at the beach and prevents it from being washed into the sea, while forming a small but important barrier between the sea, the beach and the streets of seaside properties.
Similarly, cork production in Portugal and Spain, provides multiple benefits and livelihood for local and global populations. Cork is the fire resistant bark that protects oaks against wildfires. It can be harvested in seven-year cycles without lasting damage to the oak tree. Oak trees also produce acorns, which serve as fodder for free-grazing livestock (sheep, pigs, cattle), while providing shade from the burning sun. This unique ecosystem also produces a range of herbs, and has beneficial side effects for water protection, against erosion, and in natural wildfire reduction (as the livestock keeps the dry grass short). Cork and cork oaks are essential to the Portuguese and Spanish culture and pride, and yet also useful for modern societies: they offer the most advanced and lightweight sound and heat isolation in buildings - and even spaceships.
These are just two examples of how understanding and adequate management of ecosystems provide clean, safe and low maintenance solutions for many of society’s challenges. Any landscape or rural development strategy can benefit from a holistic approach to ecosystems.