Excluding border areas, the most prominent heritage of many types of GEOSPECS areas is their environmental capital: the beauty of the landscape (and sometimes unique wildlife) is a source of pride and is considered to be one of the main advantages of living in these areas. Environmental capital is even greater for those regions that can boast more than one type of landscape (such as the Scottish Highlands and Sicily). This not only attracts residents, but also tourists, and thus contributes to employment opportunities.
In many cases, a rich history and culture can be added to the environmental assets, and this may be linked to the geographic specificity, particularly for coasts, where the historic importance of ports is an element of cultural heritage, and island and mountain areas and ORs, where the isolation adds to the preservation of traditions. In many small communities, social capital is strong in the form of preserved traditions, tightly-knit communities and even values such as courteousness - but more so in the more isolated areas, i.e. islands, sparsely populated areas and many mountain areas. This is valued highly by many residents, but can also be perceived as "suffocating". Border areas, for their part, can have particular social capital in that they are places where different cultures meet and are thus exposed to different influences: multicultural, "open" societies can therefore emerge in these areas - but this is not necessarily the case, as identity-based, exclusionary behaviour can also develop in border areas.
The combination of these elements makes these areas attractive living spaces. However, this can in turn cause conflicts, as a significant inflow of pensioners and second-home-owners drives up house prices, which can exclude younger population segments who cannot afford housing anymore. Evidence of this was found in the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides case studies, in both coastal case studies and, to some extent, in the SPAs of Spain and Tornedalen. In combination with outmigration of younger people (due to a lack of employment opportunities and/or a lack of education institutions), this means that these areas face a strongly ageing population, which in turn puts pressure on welfare systems in these areas. Evidently, even though natural capital and social capital are an important factor in choices of residence, they cannot compensate a lack of job opportunities and lack of access to services.
These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.