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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 48-56

Ecosystem services provided by a former gravel extraction site in the uk under two contrasting restoration states

1 RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire; School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
2 RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, UK
3 School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Correspondence Address:
Phillip J Blaen
RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire; School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.182803

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Date of Web Publication20-May-2016


Mineral extraction sites restored for nature conservation can provide areas of high quality habitat and enhance local biodiversity, yet the ecosystem services and associated socio-economic benefits delivered by such sites are not well understood. Here we use a combination of primary field data, benefit transfer, and visitor questionnaires to assess ecosystem services provided by a former gravel mining site restored for nature conservation. We quantify the marginal benefits accrued from the site by comparing ecosystem service delivery from the current nature conservation state to delivery under a highly plausible alternative restoration state; namely a public amenity park. Our results suggest restoration for nature conservation is associated with relatively high carbon storage, but that carbon sequestration is offset to some degree by greenhouse gas fluxes from saturated reed bed areas. We demonstrate through a zonal travel-cost method and individual interviews that restoration for nature conservation contributes to local amenity value by providing specialised wildlife viewing opportunities to visitors. Our results highlight the potential ecosystem services associated with mineral sites restored for nature conservation. Notably, this study strengthens the evidence base to support the case for biodiversity-focused restoration of these extraction sites, both to the minerals industry and governmental planners, by suggesting that such restoration strategies may play an important role in contributing to human well-being without impeding economic progress.

Keywords: carbon storage, recreation, sequestration, TESSA, travel cost, mineral site, United Kingdom

How to cite this article:
Blaen PJ, MacDonald MA, Bradbury RB. Ecosystem services provided by a former gravel extraction site in the uk under two contrasting restoration states. Conservat Soc 2016;14:48-56

How to cite this URL:
Blaen PJ, MacDonald MA, Bradbury RB. Ecosystem services provided by a former gravel extraction site in the uk under two contrasting restoration states. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Sep 26];14:48-56. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2016/14/1/48/182803

   Introduction Top

In both research and policy, there has been a considerable re-framing of the benefits of conservation in terms of protection of stocks of natural capital and the ecosystem services that flow from those stocks (Mace 2014). While research papers and policy documents have proliferated, it is now essential to make these concepts operational for those with the responsibility for stewarding our natural capital, at scales from national and corporate accounting down to individual sites. This is a considerable challenge for people managing sites, given the complexities of the concepts, the resources needed for assessment, and the need for assessment to be locally relevant.

A widespread example of this challenge concerns managers with responsibility for restoration and management of former mineral extraction sites. Following a period of active extraction, most sites are restored or converted to a final after-use. The choice of after-use is dependent on physical, geographical, and financial constraints, but may follow a range of paths; for example, reinstatement of agricultural land, management for biodiversity conservation, or creation of forestry plantations (Singh et al. 2002; Tischew and Kirmer 2007). These sites provide a huge opportunity to contribute to the restoration of natural capital worldwide, and can support a range of species of high conservation concern (Davis 1979; Beneš et al. 2003; Dekoninck et al. 2010). These are recognised as potentially valuable refuges for wildlife within heavily-modified agricultural and urban landscapes, and this provides an important driver for their restoration (Santoul et al. 2004; Krauss et al. 2009). But how could those managing such sites understand the wider ecosystem services impacts of their actions?

At present the relative values, distribution, and beneficiaries of ecosystem services provided by restoration sites are not well understood (Damigos and Kaliampakos 2003; Lienhoop and Messner 2009). In particular, there is a paucity of information available regarding how a biodiversity-focussed restoration strategy contributes to ecosystem services provision relative to other restoration options (but see King 2013). Consequently, in the light of recent calls for practitioners to demonstrate how ecological restoration can improve human well-being (e.g., Aronson et al. 2010), there is a need to better understand the social and economic benefits provided by mineral sites restored for nature conservation, in addition to their intrinsic conservation value. Such information is important to assist mineral companies and restoration planners in justifying their decision-making processes and in determining the most appropriate environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable after-use pathways for mineral sites.

Here we present a detailed case study of ecosystem services provided by a former mineral extraction site restored for nature conservation in the UK, which follows an approach to addressing such a need. This approach includes engagement with local stakeholders to understand relevant services and pressures on the site, measurement of these services using a variety of low-cost but robust approaches, and determination of the relative delivery of services in the local context under conservation scenarios compared to other plausible restoration approaches (Peh et al. 2013). We discuss the utility of this approach and the lessons learned for this and similar sites.

   Methods Top

Study site

The study focused on Middleton Lakes Nature Reserve in Staffordshire, UK (52°34'59'' N, 1°42'25'' W). The 1.6 sq. km site is situated on the floodplain of the River Tame, and was utilised for gravel extraction by Hanson UK from the mid 1980s until 2006. Prior to gravel extraction the land was utilised for agriculture (Edina 2015), and thus, the primary ecosystem services provided by the site in its original state were crop production and provision of grazing land. Originally, the restoration plan was to create a public amenity park containing walking and cycle trails, bridleways and play areas for children, to be managed by Staffordshire County Council. However, following acquisition of the land by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in 2007, this plan was modified to create an extensive nature reserve with open lakes, reed beds, grassland, and wooded areas. The site receives approximately 30,000 visitors each year (RSPB 2013).

Approach and alternative restoration scenarios

Our approach involved: 1) identifying and consulting with relevant stakeholders; 2) working with these stakeholders to identify important ecosystem services at the site and the pressures upon them; and subsequently 3) identifying appropriate, rapid, low-cost methods to quantify ecosystem services at the site—methods that might be amenable for use by a site manager with limited resources. An important element of this approach is to compare potential delivery of ecosystem services between plausible alternative states. This provides insight into the marginal gains or losses in ecosystem services associated with a given restoration strategy, and is more useful to decision-makers than just quantifying gross benefits of a particular strategy (Balmford et al. 2011). Specifically, we made a comparison between:

  1. the current state, in which the site is managed for nature conservation; and
  2. the most-likely alternative restoration state, in which the site had been transformed into a public amenity park in line with the original plans.

To identify the primary ecosystem services provided by Middleton Lakes, we conducted a scoping survey that involved qualitative interviews with the range of stakeholders at the site; visiting members of the public (n=10), RSPB reserve managers (n=3), representatives of Warwickshire and Staffordshire County Councils (n=2), and the UK Environment Agency (n=1). Stakeholders were chosen to represent the views and opinions of both on-site (i.e., local scale) and off-site (i.e., regional to national scale) ecosystem services providers and beneficiaries. Interviews consisted of open-ended questions using an ecosystem services framework to structure the conversation and encourage participants to consider the benefits provided by the site, whether the benefits were specifically relevant to themselves or not. These interviews suggested that the primary ecosystem services provided by Middleton Lakes were global climate change mitigation and nature-based recreation. Ecosystem services were quantified for the current and most-likely alternative restoration states of the Middleton Lakes site using service-specific approaches developed as follows:

  1. For global climate change mitigation, vegetation habitat compositions were derived based on the current state of the site and the original restoration plans. Then, habitat-specific carbon storage and greenhouse gas flux estimates were calculated and applied to the habitat compositions of each restoration scenario (see below for details).
  2. For nature-based recreation, visitor behaviour was compared between Middleton Lakes and a nearby site, Kingsbury Water Park, located approximately 2 km south of the nature reserve. As a former gravel pit now restored to a public amenity park and managed by Warwickshire County Council, the 2.4 sq km site is representative of what Middleton Lakes would have become under the original restoration plan. The two sites have similar levels of accessibility, with most visitors arriving by car to one main parking area, and their close proximity means socio-economic conditions and population densities in their catchments are almost identical. In addition, soil type (clay loam) and underlying geology (mudstone overlain by sand and gravel deposits) are similar for both sites (British Geological Survey 2014). Although Kingsbury Water Park contains similar habitat types to Middleton Lakes, the relative proportion of these differs, with management focused on maintaining areas of recreational woodland interspersed with open pools. Additionally, in contrast to Middleton Lakes, the site contains more visitor facilities such as hard footpaths, picnic benches and play areas for children (see below for details).

Global climate change mitigation

Carbon storage and greenhouse gas fluxes were assessed using a combination of primary field data acquired during 2013–2014 and existing literature values. Firstly, the site was stratified into dominant habitat types: 1) Salix/Betula young woodland, 2) Quercus/Acer mature woodland, 3) grassland, 4) Phragmites australis reed bed, 5) sand bars, and 6) open water ([Table 1]). Habitat areas were calculated from a digitised map of the site. For the alternative restoration state, habitat areas were determined in a similar manner from the original site restoration plan.

Above-ground biomass for each woodland habitat type was estimated by measuring along 5 m x 50 m transects (n=10 for Quercus/Acer mature woodland; n=6 for Salix/Betula young woodland). Transects were randomly located and spanned both the centre and edges of each habitat type to account for spatial heterogeneity. For each transect, the diameter at breast height of all trees ≥10 cm was measured and the genus of tree noted, and above-ground biomass modelled using genus-specific regression equations (Schroeder et al. 1997; Jenkins et al. 2003) because species-specific equations were unavailable. Above-ground carbon was taken as 50% of the above-ground biomass (Chave et al. 2005). Below-ground biomass carbon stocks are strongly dependant on above-ground biomass stocks, and therefore below-ground biomass for woodland habitat types was calculated from above-ground biomass, using conversion factors from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Tier 1 database (IPCC 2006). As litter constitutes a relatively small component of total carbon storage, these stocks were also estimated from the IPCC (2006) Tier 1 database rather than direct measurement of litter carbon stocks. Similarly, stocks of carbon for above-ground biomass, below-ground biomass, and litter in grassland and reed bed habitats were estimated using values from Anderson-Teixeira and deLucia (2011) due to the relatively small contribution of these pools to total carbon storage.
Table 1 Habitat areas at Middleton Lakes under the current (nature conservation) and alternative (public amenity park) restoration states

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Soil organic matter typically represents the largest component of total carbon storage, and can vary markedly in response to local environmental conditions and management practices (Schmidt et al. 2011). At Middleton Lakes, for example, soil organic matter consists of the remnants of semi-natural soils interspersed with more recent soils that were added as part of the restoration process. To account for this potential heterogeneity, soil organic matter values for woodland, grassland, and reed bed habitats were determined from field measurements rather than literature values. A conventional soil auger (45 mm diameter) was used to extract 10 randomly-distributed soil cores from each habitat type. The depth of the organic layer was measured and a 1 cu. cm sub-sample was acquired from the upper, mid, and lower thirtiles of the organic layer of each core to account for within-core variability (i.e., 30 samples per habitat type). The carbon content of each sub-sample was quantified using the loss-on-ignition method (Nelson et al. 1996), and results were used to determine mean soil organic matter associated with each habitat type on a per unit area basis. Sand bars and open water were assumed to provide no carbon storage because literature values for these habitat types are sparse and range widely (Cole et al. 2007), and we lacked the capacity to sample these in person. Total carbon storage for the site in its current and alternative restoration states was estimated as the sum of above-ground biomass, below-ground biomass, litter, and soil organic matter for each habitat type multiplied by the habitat area. Cumulative errors were calculated as root mean square values of 95% confidence intervals across habitat types.

Net CO2 and N2O fluxes from grassland areas were taken from Allard et al. (2007) for grassland on mineral soil. Upper and lower estimates of net CO2 fluxes from woodland areas were taken from Morison et al. (2012) and Thomas et al. (2011), respectively. We did not differentiate between young and mature woodland areas due to a lack of published values for non-climax woodland. However, given that sequestration rates in tree stands are typically highest near the period of canopy closure (Morison et al. 2012), we assumed that net CO2 fluxes for rapidly-growing young woodland would likely fall somewhere between our minimum and maximum estimates for mature woodland (Morison et al. 2012; Blaen et al. 2015). Net fluxes of CO2, N2O, and CH4 from saturated reed bed areas were estimated from Kayranli et al. (2010), Audet et al. (2014) and Couwenberg and Fritz (2012), respectively. Fluxes of N2O and CH4 from unfertilised, well-drained woodland areas were considered to be negligible (Anderson-Teixeira and Delucia 2010; Morison et al. 2012). The net flux of each greenhouse gas (Mg ha [-1] a [-1]) was converted to CO2 equivalents (Mg CO2-eq ha [-1] a [-1]) and summed. Positive values indicate net atmospheric warming following the standard convention. Marginal global climate change mitigation benefits provided by the nature-based restoration strategy were determined by subtracting carbon storage and greenhouse gas fluxes of the site in its alternative restoration state from those of the current state.

Nature-based recreation

The recreational value of Middleton Lakes was assessed using a zonal travel-cost model to estimate the consumer surplus of visitors to the site (e.g., Fleming and Cook 2008), complemented by a questionnaire of visitor motivations for site visitation. The travel cost method is one of the most powerful economic valuation techniques available to measure environmental amenities (Blaine et al. 2015), and was considered appropriate because it is used frequently to model recreational activities (e.g., Fleming and Bowden 2009; Hynes et al. 2009), and is based on revealed, rather than stated, visitor preferences (Hanley and Barbier 2009). Moreover, it uses publicly-available data, and is thus, widely transferable to other sites. Visitor questionnaires were conducted in person in the single car park at Middleton Lakes during July 2013 and were distributed over both weekdays and weekends (see supplementary material [Additional file 1]). The location for questionnaires was chosen because almost all visitors travel by car and enter the reserve at one location. Visitors that formed part of organised groups such as educational trips were excluded because it was assumed they did not necessarily choose the destination. To increase the number of cases in each model, questionnaire results were supplemented with external data on visitor home locations derived from surveys conducted independently by the RSPB during 2013. For the alternative restoration state, questionnaires were conducted at Kingsbury Water Park (site described in detail above), and results supplemented with external data on visitor home locations derived from surveys conducted independently by Warwickshire County Council during 2013.

To quantify the recreational value of Middleton Lakes and Kingsbury Water Park, the area surrounding each site was stratified into eight concentric zones, into which questionnaires were grouped according to visitors' home locations. The round-trip travel cost per visitor (TC) was estimated as:

where D is the distance travelled to the site as calculated from Google Maps, F is the fuel cost (set at GBP 0.175 km [-1]), P is the parking fee, n is the number of people in the car, and A is the additional spend per person at the site (e.g., café purchases). Subsequently, the mean travel cost for each zone was calculated based on the number of visitors in the sample.

The number of visitors from each zone was divided by the total number of visitors sampled and then multiplied by the total number of visits per year to each site, based on data supplied by the RSPB and Warwickshire County Council (WCC) for Middleton Lakes and Kingsbury Water Park, respectively, to estimate the total annual visits from each zone. These were divided by zone populations (ONS 2013) to calculate a visitation rate (VR) per capita for each zone.

Zonal visitation rates were regressed against mean zonal travel costs to obtain trip generating functions. Exploratory analysis revealed log-log models produced best fits for each site based on scatter diagrams, F statistics, R[2] and Akaike information criterion values, and thus the functional forms of the equations were:

lnVR = α + β (lnTC)

Trip generating functions were used to create demand functions for the sites by increasing zonal travel costs repeatedly and predicting visitor numbers from each zone under each new cost. Logarithmic functions prevented the calculation of zero visitation rates; therefore choke prices (the price at which visitation rates fall to a minimum) were identified where the number of visitors from each zone reached one, following Fleming and Cook (2008). Subsequently, demand functions were integrated to calculate consumer surpluses for each site.

To quantify the marginal recreational value of the nature-based restoration strategy, visitors to Middleton Lakes were asked if they would still visit if the site had been restored to a public amenity park, and the proportion who answered in the affirmative was multiplied by the current consumer surplus for the site.

In addition to the revealed preference approach of the travel-cost models, stated preference survey methods were employed at both Middleton Lakes and Kingsbury Water Park, to better understand the motivations for respondents choosing to visit the sites and provide more information regarding the wider role of the nature-based restoration strategy in providing ecosystem services within a landscape context. Firstly, respondents were presented with a standardised list of reasons for visiting each site (derived from pilot visitor surveys, n=15) and asked to choose those that they considered to be important. Secondly, to explore visitor preferences for different restoration strategies in more detail, respondents were asked to rate how their enjoyment of Middleton Lakes would change had the site been restored to its alternative restoration state as a public amenity park using a standard Likert scale (ranging from 1 = “enjoy much less” to 5 = “enjoy much more”). A similar approach was taken for respondents at Kingsbury Water Park. Differences in reasons for visiting and visitor enjoyment preferences between the two sites were compared using Fisher's exact and Mann-Whitney U tests, respectively, with significance set at p < 0.05.

   Results Top

Global climate change mitigation

The total carbon stock of Middleton Lakes in the current (nature reserve) state was estimated to be 14559 ± 1876 Mg C ([Table 2]). The largest carbon pool was represented by soil organic matter (9625 ± 1290 Mg C) and the smallest by litter (932 ± 492 Mg C; [Figure 1]). Under the alternative restoration state (public amenity park) scenario, the total carbon stock was estimated to be 11301 ± 1436 Mg C, with the largest carbon pool represented by soil organic matter (7479 ± 1086 Mg C) and the smallest by below-ground biomass (865 ± 395 Mg C). Therefore, the marginal carbon storage benefit provided by the current nature-based restoration strategy at Middleton Lakes was estimated to be 3258 ± 440 Mg C.

Net greenhouse gas fluxes in the current and alternative restoration states were estimated to be -149 to -227 and -456 to -605 Mg CO2-eq a [-1], respectively. These were dominated by CO2 sequestration, although emissions of N2O (current/alternative: 60/10 Mg CO2-eq a [-1]) and CH4(current/alternative: 69/11 Mg CO2-eq a [-1]) also exerted substantial influences on the overall greenhouse gas balance in both states. Accordingly, the marginal change in greenhouse gas flux between the current and alternative restoration states indicates that the nature-based restoration strategy sequestered between 78 and 149 Mg CO2-eq a [-1] less than under the alternative restoration scenario.
Table 2 Estimates of carbon storage by habitat type at Middleton Lakes under the current (nature conservation) and alternative (public amenity park) restoration states. AGB, BGB and soil organic matter denote above- and below-ground biomass and soil organic matter, respectively. Errors (in italics) represent 95% confidence intervals for AGB (except reed bed), BGB (except grassland) and soil organic matter. Published literature errors were not available for carbon stocks in litter, reed bed AGB, and grassland BGB. Therefore, these errors were estimated conservatively as ± 90% of mean values following IPCC (2006) guidelines

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Figure 1 Mean carbon storage in above ground biomass, below ground biomass, litter and soil organic matter pools at Middleton Lakes under the current (nature conservation) and alternative (public amenity park) restoration states. Note: See Table 2 for further information on error bars

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Nature-based recreation

Visitor questionnaires resulted in a total of 71 and 120 responses for Middleton Lakes and Kingsbury Water Park, respectively. Total visitor numbers to Middleton Lakes and Kingsbury Water Park, as recorded independently by the RSPB and WCC, were 31,200 and 305,400, respectively. Annual visitation rates per capita at Middleton Lakes were markedly lower than at Kingsbury Water Park ([Table 3]). There was a significant (p<0.05) negative relationship between travel costs and annual visitation rates at both sites, with a steeper line gradient at Kingsbury Water Park than Middleton Lakes ([Figure 2]). Demand functions for each site in their current states yielded annual consumer surplus estimates of GBP 104,655 a [-1] (GBP 3.36 per visitor) for Middleton Lakes and GBP 628,714 a [-1] (GBP 2.06 per visitor) for Kingsbury Water Park, with a total combined recreational benefit of GBP 733,369 a [-1]. The mean proportion of visitors to Middleton Lakes stating they would still visit if the site had been restored to a public amenity park was 0.49. Therefore, the marginal added recreational value of the nature-based restoration strategy was calculated as GBP 53,374 a [-1].

Questionnaire results showed significant inter-site differences in the motivations of respondents visiting each site ([Figure 3]). Although the opportunity to view wildlife was the dominant reason for visiting both sites, this was particularly marked at Middleton Lakes where 100% of respondents listed this factor as important. In contrast, visitors to Kingsbury Water Park exhibited more diverse motivations for travelling to the site, listing scenic beauty, opportunities for exercise and dog walking as significantly more important than visitors to Middleton Lakes. The large majority of visitors to each site stated that they would enjoy the site less if it had been restored to the alternative state; that is, Middleton Lakes visitors would not want Middleton Lakes changed to an amenity park, while Kingsbury Water Park visitors would not want Kingsbury Water Park to be changed to a nature reserve (Mann–Whitney U(5) = 11.5, p > 0.05 two-tailed; [Figure 4]).
Table 3 Distance to site, sampled visitors, populations and annual visits per capita for concentric zones around Middleton Lakes (nature conservation site) and Kingsbury Water Park (public amenity park site)

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Figure 2 Annual visitation rates per capita as a function of travel cost (GBP) for Middleton Lakes (nature conservation site) and Kingsbury Water Park (public amenity park). Note the axes are ln transformed

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Figure 3 Reasons for visiting Middleton Lakes (nature conservation site) and Kingsbury Water Park (public amenity park site) listed as important by questionnaire respondents. Inter-site differences in visitor preferences were assessed using Fisher's exact test, with * and ** denoting significance at p<0.05 and p<0.01, respectively

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Figure 4 Responses of visitors to Middleton Lakes (nature conservation site) when asked to consider how their enjoyment would change had the site been restored to its alternative state as a public amenity park, and vice versa for Kingsbury Water Park (public amenity park site)

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   Discussion Top

This instrumental case study represents a rapid and cost-efficient approach to assess ecosystem services delivery at a former mineral extraction site restored for nature conservation. As such, it offers new insights into the potential socio-economic benefits provided by this former industrial location, which may be representative of other sites of a similar nature. While not designed to be a full ecosystem services assessment or cost-benefit analysis, the approach is both relevant and accessible to conservation managers.

Global climate change mitigation

Carbon sequestration and regulation of greenhouse gas fluxes are recognised increasingly as global public goods due to their potential for attenuating excessive rates of climate change (Lal 2004; Bonan 2008). The approach employed here indicated the nature-conservation restoration strategy results in greater carbon storage than would have occurred under the public amenity park restoration plan. This was attributed primarily to increased reed bed and grassland areas with high carbon storage per unit area associated with the nature-conservation restoration strategy versus increased Salix/Betula young woodland with low carbon storage per unit area in the public amenity park. However, net sequestration is lower than would occur under the public amenity park restoration scheme due to higher CH4 emissions (with high warming potential) associated with increased reed bed habitat areas with aerenchymous shunts—plants with soft tissues capable of conducting gas between shoots and roots (Couwenberg and Fritz 2012). In contrast, the public amenity park, characterised by reduced reed bed and increased woodland cover, has higher carbon net sequestration potential.

As is typical of many environments (e.g., Schmidt et al. 2011), most carbon storage was found in soil organic matter. However, with the exception of reed bed areas, soil organic matter values calculated from direct sampling were lower than published literature values for similar habitats (Anderson-Teixeira and deLucia 2011; Alonso et al. 2012). This likely reflects the comparatively young nature of Middleton Lakes in its current restored state following mineral extraction and temporal constraints on organic soil development (Frouz et al. 2013). A limitation of our study was that appropriate literature values for carbon storage and greenhouse gas fluxes from inland waters were unavailable for these restored systems. The quantity of primary data required to generate accurate values meant that this was beyond the scope of this case-study, but given that this is a rapidly-developing field (e.g., Cole et al. 2007) we suggest that work following a similar approach may be better placed to incorporate these carbon cycle components in the near future.

Nature-based recreation

A full understanding of the relative recreational values of the two sites would have required off-site interviews to balance those conducted on-site. These were beyond our capacity in this research, nevertheless some interesting patterns emerge. Visitor questionnaires at two former mineral sites, one restored for nature conservation and the other as a public amenity park, representative of the most likely alternative restoration state, revealed marked inter-site differences in recreational amenity values and visitor preferences. Consumer surplus estimates indicated the gross annual recreational value of the nature conservation site is approximately GBP 0.5 million lower than the public amenity park. This was attributed primarily to a tenfold difference in visitor numbers between the two sites. Such a difference may be due in part to the moderately smaller area of Middleton Lakes relative to Kingsbury Water Park, but may also be related to differences in the publicity received by the two sites. However, estimates of consumer surplus per visitor were around 50% higher for the nature conservation site, indicating the nature-based restoration strategy delivers a more valuable experience to each visitor despite a substantially lower annual visitor total. Moreover, our results suggest the nature-based restoration strategy contributes an additional GBP 50,000 a [-1] to the total recreational value of the local area. This value is of the same order of magnitude as those reported by similar recent studies of sites restored for nature conservation (Peh et al. 2014; Blaen et al. 2015). A comparison of travel costs and visitation rates indicates that home locations of visitors to the nature conservation site are more spatially-dispersed and that visitors are willing to pay more to reach the site than visitors to the public amenity park site, suggesting recreational benefits associated with restoration for nature conservation are less substitutable in the landscape than those associated with the public amenity park.

Our results imply a range of stakeholder types who are motivated to visit recreational sites in the area for different reasons. Visitors to the nature conservation site represent a niche group seeking a specialised experience, based around wildlife viewing opportunities. Indeed, 100% of questioned visitors to the nature conservation site listed the opportunity to view wildlife as an important reason for visiting. In contrast, visitors to the public amenity park site exhibited more diverse reasons for visiting, such as exercise and dog walking, although viewing wildlife was still important to many respondents.

Although most visitors stated they would enjoy each site less under the alternative restoration scenarios, the diversity in landscape recreational opportunities was recognised by many visitors who were enthusiastic in their praise of the local area offering “something for everyone”. Similar societal preferences for heterogeneous landscapes have been demonstrated in other contexts (Dramstad et al. 2006; García-Llorente et al. 2012) and underline the value of multi-functional environments in delivering ecosystem services to society, particularly those in peri-urban areas where the demand for contact with nature can be high (Fuller et al. 2007; Dearborn and Kark 2010). If our study sites are representative of similar restored mineral extraction sites, these results suggest that mineral sites restoration for nature conservation can play an important role in recreational ecosystem services provision by delivering specialised wildlife viewing experiences to a small group of visitor stakeholders with highly-focused interests, which complement, rather than compete with, more general amenity areas in the wider landscape.

   Conclusion Top

Given the global abundance of mineral extraction sites, it is perhaps not surprising that these locations have received substantial interest for their potential to provide high-quality wildlife habitat (e.g., Krauss et al. 2009). However, while previous research has focused predominantly on ecological conservation aspects, this case study investigated some of the socio-economic benefits of ecosystem services provided by a former mineral extraction site, demonstrating that restoration for nature conservation can yield ecosystem services that benefit both local and global communities. Our results showed that the nature conservation restoration strategy is associated with relatively high carbon storage, but that rates of carbon sequestration are lower than under an alternative public amenity park restoration scenario. In addition, restoration for nature conservation can provide specialised wildlife viewing opportunities that contribute to local recreational ecosystem services provision, thus highlighting the valuable role played by peri-urban conservation areas in facilitating high-quality interactions between people and the natural environment (Dearborn and Kark 2010). Wider application of the rapid, economical and accessible approach to ecosystem services assessment presented here is likely to be of use for conservation planners to highlight the potential of biodiversity-focused restoration to the minerals industry and demonstrate that such efforts can provide an array of public benefits and need not be a barrier to economic progress. The evidence base to support this case is currently limited (but see King 2013). Therefore, examples such as this study are required to justify the choices made both by minerals companies, in seeking permission for one end-use over another, and by governmental planners, in relation to spatial planning decisions, and the need to evaluate and balance economic and other societal benefits appropriately. As such, the results of this study, together with more traditional conservation arguments, could assist with the development of future restoration schemes that benefit both biodiversity and human well-being.

   Acknowledgements Top

This work was funded by the RSPB and the INTERREG North-West Europe programme RESTORE (financed by the EU European Regional Development Fund). We thank Warwickshire and Staffordshire County Councils, the Environment Agency (England), Hanson UK, the ILS-Institute for Regional and Urban Development (Dortmund) and numerous RSPB staff members, particularly Rob Field, Malcolm Ausden and Nick Martin.[46]

   References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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