Guidance for the rapid assessment of cultural ecosystem services

Cultural ecosystem services are complex and despite their fundamental importance for human well-being they are often overlooked in both ecosystem services assessments and decision making. 


People may struggle to articulate these services and their benefits, which may be highly personal and subjective, according to each individual’s views, needs and values. The perceived importance of cultural ecosystem services, and their contributions to well-being, can vary widely between individuals and groups, and their benefits can reflect or include shared, social values that may differ from the values of individuals.

GRACE (Guidance for the Rapid Assessment of Cultural Ecosystem Services) defines cultural ecosystem services as encompassing environmental spaces (e.g. forests, gardens, desert, seascapes, farmland) and cultural practices (e.g. creating and expressing, producing and caring, playing and praying) that together give rise to the experience of valued material and non-material benefits (Church et al., 2014, UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow-on. Work Package Report 5: Cultural ecosystem services and indicators. UNEP-WCMC, LWEC, UK). It was developed by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) based on years of collective experience, and incorporates concepts and practices from the field and from literature. Primarily aimed at conservation and development NGOs working with communities, GRACE is intended to help decision makers recognise and understand the cultural benefits provided by the natural world, and take them into account in decisions about how to use and manage nature.

There are three key questions that are central to GRACE: (1) What aspects of nature do people benefit from? (2) How do these contribute to well-being, and to whose? (3) How might changes affect the delivery of these services and the well-being derived from them? The recommended approach to addressing these questions includes a combination of in-depth interviews and group discussions, using methods that are widely used to facilitate participatory processes with local communities, particularly in developing countries. Intangible values are explored by starting with open questions regarding the benefits provided by ecosystems and then using more targeted questions to progressively focus on the specific benefits provided by cultural ecosystem services.

GRACE was developed as part of FFI’s Valuing Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services projecta 5-year project to increase the knowledge and awareness of biodiversity and ecosystem service values in complex agricultural landscapes. Primarily funded through FFI’s partnership with British American Tobacco, the project was implemented in collaboration with local partners and stakeholders at 4 pilot sites including Bali’s Subak rice terrace landscape which is known for its unique culture, biodiversity and productivity. Here, GRACE was used to help local people identify the CES benefits they consider most important for their well-being and their recommendations for government and other actors to support the protection of Subak whilst promoting equitable and sustainable development.

For further information on GRACE ( or to provide feedback, please contact Helen Anthem at FFI ([email protected]).

Work area: 
Social Policy
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