Inclusion of ecosystem services in the management of municipal natural open space systems.

Published online
19 Mar 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Wessels, N. & Sitas, N. & O'Farrell, P. & Esler, K. J.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
South Africa


Unprecedented urbanisation in the Global South is transforming natural urban landscapes, impacting on the ability of nature to provide essential ecosystem services. Within the context of pressures facing many urban natural open spaces, particularly in Africa, we used a local municipality in South Africa as a case study to (i) identify local government priorities for a natural open space system; (ii) develop an understanding of whether, and how, ecosystem services are considered by local government, and the reasons thereof; and (iii) ascertain the extent of proactive planning regarding regulating and other ecosystem services, including the temporal and spatial scales, and implications. In-depth qualitative interviews (n = 12) were undertaken with senior municipal officials representing departments whose work impacts the environment. Municipal decision-support documents were also analysed for any direct and/or indirect references to ecosystem services. Planning for, and management of, ecosystem services provided by natural open spaces is influenced by interwoven infrastructure, municipal service delivery and equity challenges, complex institutional constraints and poverty, with little focus on the socio-economic opportunities and other benefits of natural open space systems. Values, perceptions and knowledge also influence the management of ecosystem services. The study contributes to understanding the opportunities and challenges for the future governance of natural open space in the Global South, which require explicit consideration in municipal planning, management and budgeting processes. Policy and management implications identified include prioritisation of the regulating functions provided by natural open space systems, pivotal to the urban resilience agenda; building on the inherent appreciation of nature features as city assets, while achieving socio-economic upliftment; improved (on-site) collaborative management of natural open spaces; and involvement of local government officials in the preparation and updating of environmental policies and decision-support documents, to ensure skills and knowledge transfer and interest are entrenched in local government departments.

Key words