Assessing the cultural values of land uses in Malawi: An ecosystem services approach

by Sophie Van Eetvelt, undergraduate student (Master of Environmental Science), Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.

I’m just about to start the fourth and final year of a Master of Environmental Science in the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment. I’ve chosen the sustainable management pathway and enjoy the breadth of topics that my degree covers, however I never thought I’d end up researching cultural ecosystem services! Ecosystem services are a rapidly emerging area of research and it’s exciting to be part of such a new and dynamic field. I’d already decided that I wanted to conduct my dissertation research broadly around poverty-environment interactions and then the opportunity to work with ESPA’s (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) ASSETS (Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenarios) project in Malawi came up.

Working with a field team of six other Southampton students, I’ve spent a month in the Zomba region of southern Malawi. I conducted group interviews and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises in four villages in order to gain a better understanding of cultural ecosystem services, a generally neglected part of ecosystem service research. I am looking to understand the spatial distribution of such services, their current status and how they have changed in the past and may change in the future, and finally to critically analyse the methodology behind assessing cultural ecosystem services. I’m particularly interested in critiquing the use of a rapid appraisal approach for such a qualitative and spatially variable subject.

I now have just under a year to compile my data and produce a journal article-style dissertation. I’ve really enjoyed working in the field conducting PRA’s and it has definitely made me more aware of the possibilities for further research in this area after graduation. ESPA ASSETS has established research bases in Malawi, Colombia and now Peru – so who knows where this area of expertise will take me in the future!

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Original post available at the University of Southampton Multidisciplinary Blog.

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