Ecological restoration of agricultural land can improve its contribution to economic development
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Given the negative environmental impacts of intensive agriculture, there is an urgent need to reduce the impact of food production on biodiversity. Ecological restoration of farmland could potentially contribute to this goal. While the positive impacts of ecological restoration on biodiversity are well established, less evidence is available regarding impacts on economic development and employment. Potentially, prospects for economic development could be enhanced by ecological restoration though increased provision of ecosystem services, on which some economic activity depends. Here we examined this issue through the development of contrasting land use scenarios for the county of Dorset, southern England. Two scenarios of future agricultural expansion were compared with two scenarios of landscape-scale ecological restoration and the current situation. Impacts on provision of multiple ecosystem services (ES) were explored using InVEST models and proxy values for different land cover types. Impacts on economic employment were examined using an economic input-output model, which was adjusted for variation in ES flows using empirically determined ES dependency values for different economic sectors. Using the unadjusted input-output model, the scenarios had only a slight economic impact (≤ 0.3% Gross Value Added, GVA). Conversely, when the input-output model was adjusted to take account of ES flows, GVA increased by up to 5.4% in the restoration scenarios, whereas under the scenario with greatest agricultural expansion, GVA was reduced by -4.5%. Similarly, employment increased by up to 6.7% following restoration, compared to declines of up to -5.6% following maximum agricultural expansion. These results show that the economic contribution of rural land is far greater than that attributable to agricultural production alone. Landscape-scale restoration of agricultural land can potentially increase the contribution of farmland to economic development and employment, by increasing flows of multiple ES to the many economic sectors that depend on them.
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