Valuing Cultural Ecosystem Services in Cultural landscapes of the maltese islands

Annrica Zammit *±1 – Mario V Balzan2

1 Institute of Applied Sciences, Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology.
± Corresponding author: (


Human cultures are predominantly shaped and influenced by their natural surroundings. At the same time, the human being has always tried to structure the natural environment in order to increase the availability of valued services. It is of utmost importance that one recognizes the intricate link of different cultural services such as aesthetic enjoyment, spiritual fulfillment, recreation and intellectual development between human societies and ecosystems (Daniel et al, 2012). Incorporating cultural services within ecosystem services assessment is essential for a holistic understanding of the contributions given by ecosystems to human well-being and in making an informed decision in land management trade-offs. According to Pleninger et al (2013) the sites that have high intangible value for the local community are water bodies as they have a high aesthetic value and grasslands due to attributed educational value. Given that such sites are seldom included in markets, economic valuation methods are becoming an important tool to estimate environmental costs and benefits of policies and land use change. In revealing the economic value of sites that provide cultural ecosystem services, local communities are willing to pay high amounts in order to improve and safeguard these areas (Kenter et al, 2011).

The aim of the research is ‘to identify and assess the value of cultural ecosystem services associated with sites within the Maltese landscape’.

Materials and Methods

The research was conducted in the Maltese Islands, an area characterized by an archipelago of three main islands including Malta, Comino and Gozo. The islands cover a total area of 316km2 and are in the centre of the Mediterranean basin. Even though the Maltese landscape has been dominated by human activities throughout the years, the landscape is able to provide and cater for cultural benefits.

The research approach for assessing the cultural ecosystem services in Malta was through the application of a contingent valuation method, whereby through questionnaires, respondents were asked which areas with the Maltese landscape provide cultural ecosystem services and their associated values including recreational value and aesthetic value (Pleninger et al, 2013; Tengberg et al, 2012). In valuing the chosen areas in economic terms, respondents were asked their Willingness-to-Pay (WTP) for using and managing protected areas. When it comes to distribution of the questionnaire, the sample size chosen was that of 300 respondents in order to represent the Maltese population. The questionnaire presented close-ended multiple choice questions. Moreover, the questionnaire presented open-ended to invite the respondents to reflect and give their opinion. An example of this type of question is: ‘Please mention 3 area/sites of scenic beauty you have visited in the Maltese Islands including Malta, Gozo and Comino’.

Results and Discussion

Gender of respondents was well balanced, with 55% being female and 45% male. The respondents came from 61 different localities within the Maltese Islands and this resulted in a more comprehensive analysis of local perspective on valuable sites and associated cultural services. Respondents attributed high aesthetic value to coastal landscapes, followed by watercourse habitats, agricultural habitats, garrigue habitats and sandy habitats. While the least preferred habitats for their aesthetic value were green urban habitats. In contrast, several green urban areas were attributed a high recreational value given the array of services provided including picnics, playing with children, walking, with a dog and including short walks, climbing and hill walking, eating and drinking out and meditation. These services are considered an important aspect of community life given that such services contribute to the well-being and both physical and mental development of each community member.

Moreover, according to the majority of respondents, a necessary measure that needs to be taken in order to safeguard the identity and values of sites such as coastal landscapes is the establishment of protected areas. The establishment of protected areas will aid in protecting valuable sites from further development and degradation. Given that land use change and development increased in recent years, a high percentage of respondents (70%) perceive that  both the recreational space and aesthetic value of the landscape has been affected. When respondents were asked whether they are willing to pay for using protected areas for recreational services, 64% are not willing to pay for such services since having access and interacting with the natural environment is a basic human right. While 36% would be willing to pay between 1€ to 10€ given the importance of these activities for their well-being.

Figure 1

 Figure 1. A figure illustrating whether respondents are willing to pay for the use of protected areas for recreational activities such as picnics, hiking, walking, cycling, fishing, camping and swimming.


Cultural and amenity services provided by ecosystems are essential for the well-being of the human person as they are inextricably linked to the stability of our inner state. We suggest that there should be a stronger awareness about the importance of cultural ecosystem services and their socio-cultural valuation amongst policy makers and local society. Cultural services are important as they are directly experienced by the local community and most often they are experienced in bundles and thus a holistic approach needs to be adopted in managing sites of cultural importance (Plieninger et al, 2013).


I would like to express my gratitude to my tutor Dr. Mario. V. Balzan for the continuous support for my research project. To my family, especially my father for the constant encouragement and support throughout the process of project implementation.


Daniel, T et al  2012.  Contributions of cultural services to the ecosystem services agenda PNAS, 23, 8812-8819.

Plieninger., T et al  2013. Assessing, mapping, and quantify cultural ecosystem service at community level Land Use     Policy vol. 33, pp. 118-129.

Tengberg., A et al  2012. Cultural Ecosystem Services provided by landscapes: Assessment of heritage values and identity Ecosystem Services vol.2, pp. 14-26.

Kenter, J.o., et al  2011.The importance if deliberation in valuing services in developing countries- Evidence from the Solomon Islands Global Environmental Change pp.1-17.