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Biodiversity and Protected Areas as factors for development

Given that the natural capital of GEOSPECS areas (generally excluding border areas) is one of their main assets, this can be an opportunity in economic terms, as it either attracts residents (and visitors), or provides opportunities for the exploitation of resources, thus contributing to generating income for the area. However, the natural capital of these areas is also a value per se. These areas provide vital ecosystem services to the European continent. Some are generic to any ecosystem (photosynthesis, soil stabilisation, nutrient cycling, etc), but others are particular to GEOSPECS areas. Mountain ecosystems play a key role in the water cycle for Europe as a whole. They influence temperature and precipitation patterns, and modulate the runoff regime. Water from both rain and snow is stored on and in mountain vegetation and soils and gradually released. It transports sediments downstream, providing nutrients for lowland areas, replacing fluvial and coastal sediments, and contributes to groundwater recharge in lowland areas (EEA, 2010b). Coastal ecosystems have always played important roles in providing food, not only by directly generating a variety of seafood products like fish, mussels and crustaceans, but also by providing nursery habitats for many commercially important marine species. Other services include shoreline stabilization, bioremediation of waste and pollutants, and a variety of aesthetic and cultural values (European Commission, 2011). SPAs (but also some ORs, especially French Guyana) have extensive forests which are not only a resource, but important in terms of carbon sequestration.

Although an academic debate is underway as to how these services can be adequately valued, they do not currently receive any market pricing - a reason why they are also referred to as "positive externalities". If the true value of the natural capital of GEOSPECS areas were taken into account, it would become apparent that these areas are immensely valuable for Europe as a whole, even if they often do not generate as much value in terms of GDP.

GEOSPECS confirms that the coverage with protected areas is higher in all categories of geographic specificity (except for SPAs) than on European average. Although this is no proof, it is certainly an indication of the high value of their natural capital.

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.

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