Economic benefits

As well as containing an irreplaceable natural heritage for Europe’s biodiversity and landscapes, wild areas can offer substantial economic benefits – for local communities, landholders and society in general.

In addition to payments related to biodiversity conservation, nature tourism in wild areas already contributes substantially to local economies, particularly in remoter rural areas where alternative sources of income and employment are relatively scarce. The ‘multiplier’ effect of income injections in the local economy can also be disproportionately strong in such areas.

In marketing terms alone, wilderness is a strong ‘brand’ – underwritten by experiential impact and size: the latter enabling a scale of activity that might compromise conservation objectives in smaller traditional reserves.

For example, in 2010 Oulanka National Park in Finland generated over 14 million euro per year in income effect (including local multiplier) and employed 183 personnel.

See the METLA study at: METLA Study

Studies in the Bayerischer Wald National Park (Germany) indicate a similar impact 

These benefit are increasingly paralleled by funding to landholders and communities for provision of ecosystem services (see Environmental Benefits).

Programmes addressing urban social issues such as youth development, healthcare and conflict resolution can provide further economic potential (see Social Benefits).

Linking with the TEEB initiative

Pavan Sukhdev, Coordinator of the EC funded study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEBPavan Sukhdev, Coordinator of the EC funded study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and current President of WWF

This capacity to provide cost-effective returns from investment in protection and restoration is a key feature of the report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) which is identifying initiatives that deliver a high rate of return.

A growing number of wild area projects are now being quantified on such a basis, which is intended to reinforce rather than substitute for more traditional values of biodiversity as an intrinsic benefit.

Further work is required to ensure that wild area benefits are linked to payment systems that bring direct benefit to local communities and landholders, in return for enabling appropriate protection and restoration measures.

To view the TEEB report:

Alternative land uses

Growing recognition and quantification of wilderness and wild area benefits is reinforcing support for their intrinsic and biodiversity benefits – leading to development of further innovative funding instruments. Cost per unit area of non intervention management can also be significantly lower

Extensive land abandonment and the marginal productive value of much existing land use, particularly in remoter or geographically more challenging areas, further emphasizes the economic basis for protecting and restoring wilderness and wild lands.

There is substantial potential to build a joint position among conservation, landholding, farming, forestry and other interests to promote appropriate funding and policy reforms in pursuit of this agenda – particularly with regard to CAP reform.

Addressing concerns

  • There can be some local reduction in income and employment resulting from exclusion of extractive activities such as logging and commercial grazing from core areas, but these involve minimal overall productive capacity and are usually of marginal profitability. Any such loss can be counter-balanced by the funding and income potential together with employment benefits outlined elsewhere.
  • The attitude of local communities towards wilderness and its wildlife is of central importance, and appropriate awareness raising of their benefits should form part of any protection or restoration programme.
  • Lack of service infrastructure can prevent local communities in areas adjacent to wilderness from benefiting fully from tourism and other opportunities. Training, business counselling, quality accreditation and marketing support are often needed to ensure maximum value added is gained.
  • Whilst all activities outlined here are non-extractive, it is important that their scale and conduct does not undermine the very wilderness values they are intended to help support. Clear management guidelines and codes of professional conduct are needed.

A checklist of economic benefits

Business related:

  • Direct income and employment generation – in contrast with likely diminution in subsidy for traditional farming in more marginal, particularly upland, areas.
  • Ecotourism and other tertiary activities – including agri-tourism (model farms), cultural and historic tourism, specialist sporting, corporate incentive and leisure fields. There is substantial scope for marketing joint packages, enhancing existing regional attractions.
  • Wild areas as a backdrop for corporate activities involving negotiation, training and team-building by participants from business and other organizations.
  • Ancillary local commercial activities provide additional income: accommodation, retail, transport, distribution and craft businesses – generating a “multiplier effect” whereby wealth generated is recycled in the local economy.
  • Use of “Wild” and related brands and logos in marketing promotions for local and regional agricultural produce, and other goods and services.
  • Increases in land values of properties within and alongside wild natural habitat areas, although this can create problems for local communities requiring special address.
  • Evidence of taxpayers ascribing substantial value to species in wild areas when questioned about allocation of their incremental levies between alternative uses. This can be used in representations to secure funding for protection or restoration.

Social related:

  • Income and employment gains, particularly in more remote areas, could provide opportunity to stem the decline of rural communities and bring support to local landholders.
  • Opportunity for sustainable development within local communities that can also help articulate and maintain traditional culture and lifestyles.
  • An effective location for urban social programmes, offering substantial benefit to participants and savings for taxpayers from outcomes – eg lower reoffending rates and custodial sentences for youth at risk, benefits from successful conflict resolution
  • Use of wild areas for physiological, recuperation and trauma therapy is also increasingly recognized as a cost:effective form of healthcare.
  • Capacity to accommodate a range of school and adult education programmes – thus reinforcing the role of conservation and sustainable development in school curricula.

Environmental related:

  • Substantial potential for carbon sequestration, with potential for carbon offset and credit funding
  • Flood mitigation bringing commercial returns in the form of downstream flood mitigation and.
  • Water storage, balancing of water tables in areas of more erratic rainfall with benefits for farming and urban land use in adjacent areas
  • Enhanced water and soil quality, mitigating impact of pollution and improving productivity of fisheries
  • Scope for developing sea defence alignments with rising sea levels, involving managed coastal retreat and creation of new coastal wild areas, for which there are also strong economic arguments.