Let nature be: Land may be more beneficial to humans when left to nature

Let nature be

Land may be more beneficial to humans when left to nature

Let nature be

Land may be more beneficial to humans when left to nature

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant

A new study found that land is more beneficial to humans when left to nature rather than harvested for resources.

If you had to place a price tag on the value of your favourite forest, what would it be? Perhaps this seems like a strange question. But, placing an economic value on nature presents one path towards protecting both the well-being of humans and biodiversity as a whole.

mallard ducks swimming through marsh
Mallard ducks swimming through marsh. Photo by Kristjan Kotar from Unsplash.

Nature takes great care of humans by providing countless ecosystem services. But, do we see more returns when land is left to nature or when humans cultivate the land? A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) found that land left to nature takes the cake in providing more benefits to humans than harvesting for resources.

The study compared the economic value of land subjected to (a) nature conservation such as protected areas and ecological restoration and (b) human modification such as agriculture. In the 24 sites studied across six continents, conserved and restored land provided greater economic benefits through ecosystem services including flood prevention and carbon storage compared to the profits generated from forestry and farming cereals, rubber, tea and cocoa. The researchers suggest that their findings may even be on the conservative side as some ecosystem services and their economic value are challenging to calculate.

The value of a marsh

Hesketh Out Marsh, a salt marsh located in Lancashire (U.K.), was valued at $800 an acre according to the research. Marshes are superstars at storing large quantities of carbon thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions and mitigating the climate crisis. Even if this marsh was converted to cropland or grazing grounds for livestock, the marsh is worth more in its natural state with carbon locked up in its soggy soils.

How do we take this research forward?

The researchers suggest that there is good reason to provide incentives to private landowners who engage in nature-focused land management. For example, the study spotlights England’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. ELM will financially support farmers in small and large-scale environmental projects including planting trees and hedges, restoring peatlands and supporting river habitats for flood prevention. The research also encourages further conservation of existing habitats and investment in ecological restoration.

Row of trees with fall leaves
Photo by Whitehorse1961 from Getty Images/Canva

How can you support nature?

1. Support current protected areas and the restoration of degraded habitats.

2. Listen to our podcast episode with Dr. Lenore Newman on the connection between food and biodiversity here

3. Learn about how small farmer’s fields can reduce biodiversity loss and increase wild plants, birds, beetles and bats.

4. Find out how you can support biodiversity in your backyard

5. Watch The Biggest Little Farm on Netflix to learn about how one intrepid couple gives up life in the big city to revitalize a farm just outside of Los Angeles through fostering biodiversity and sustainable farming practices.