The influence of environmental change on the provision of cultural ecosystem services in selected rural villages, Limpopo Province

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Rural communities in communal areas in South Africa are vulnerable to significant environmental change, due to their heavy dependence on the local environment. The influence of local environmental change on the provision of ecosystem services (ES) has been well studied, but less attention has been paid to cultural ecosystem services (CES than the other categories of ES (provisioning, regulating, and supporting)) in the literature. This study fills this gap by focussing on the influence of environmental change on CES in rural communities. The study documents local environmental changes perceived by local communities, how these were perceived to impact the provision of CES, and how these perceptions differ across socio-demographic factors. Data were collected using key informant interviews (20) and survey questionnaires interviews (n=100). Survey respondents were stratified by village, gender, age group, and farmer type. The key findings were that residents identified a great variety of CES provided by the natural environment, including resources important in ceremonies, and as significant places for culturally important practices. These also included ES that would usually be classed as provisioning (e.g., wild foods) and supporting (e.g., grazing for livestock) services that had particularly important cultural value in addition to contributing to livelihoods. Furthermore, the residents identified significant changes to climate, soil, plants, animals, and water bodies, which were driven by local and external drivers. The most important finding was that the perceived influences of environmental change on the provision of cultural ecosystem services were mostly the changes influenced by climate. The village in which the respondents resided had a greater influence on the perception of CES and environmental change than other socio-demographic factors. This study provides valuable information and insight about local communities’ perceptions of cultural ecosystem services, and how they might be affected by environmental change.
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master of Science to the Faculty of Science, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2023
Environmental change, Cultural practices, Socio-demography