Inter-country differences in the cultural ecosystem services provided by cockles.
Coastal systems provide many cultural ecosystem services (CES) to humans. Fewer studies have focused solely on CES, while those comparing CES across countries are even rarer. In the case of shellfish, considerable ecosystem services focus has been placed on nutrient remediation, with relatively little on the cultural services provided, despite strong historical, cultural, social and economic links between shellfish and coastal communities. The ecosystem services provided by the common cockle, Cerastoderma edule, have recently been described, yet the cultural benefits from cockles remain mostly unknown. Here, we documented the CES provided by C. edule in five maritime countries along the Atlantic coast of western Europe, classifying evidenced examples of services into an a priori framework. The high-level classes, adapted from the Millennium Assessment and the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services, were: inspirational, sense of place, spiritual & religious, aesthetic, recreation & ecotourism, cultural heritage and educational. A further 19 sub-classes were defined. We followed a narrative approach to draw out commonalities and differences among countries using a semi-quantitative analysis. Examples of CES provided by cockles were found for all classes in most countries. Cockles supply important and diverse cultural benefits to humans across Atlantic Europe, making it an ideal model species to study CES in coastal areas. Most examples were in cultural heritage, highlighting the importance of this class in comparison with classes which typically receive more attention in the literature like recreation or aesthetics. We also found that the cultural associations with cockles differed among countries, including between neighbouring countries that share a strong maritime heritage. The extent to which cultural associations were linked with the present or past also differed among countries, with stronger association with the present in southern countries and with the past in the north. Understanding the wider benefits of cockles could deepen the recognition of this important coastal resource, and contribute to promoting sustainable management practices, through greater engagement with local communities. This study is an important step towards better integration of CES in coastal environments and could be used as a framework to study the CES of other species or ecosystems.