Health and wellbeing of local communities in Crete largely depend upon the services provided by local ecosystems. Over recent years much progress has been made towards getting a greater awareness of the benefits provided by ecosystems that enhance local economic performance and social cohesion. Therefore, policy options such as NATURA 2000 network, that protect the natural environment, improve also living standards and quality of life and provide new opportunities for investment and employment in Crete.
Ecosystem services are the contributions of natural environment to human well-being, such as the direct provision of goods to local communities (e.g. food, timber, and medicines) or the formation of soils and soil fertility that sustains crop and livestock production. Valuing the benefits provided by ecosystems demonstrates that investing in natural capital can make economic sense. The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provided a comprehensive assessment of the state of the ecosystems globally and classified ecosystem services as follows:
- Provisioning services are the products obtained from ecosystems such as food, water, wood, fiber, natural medicines, pharmaceuticals, biochemicals and genetic resources.
- Regulating services are the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes such as air quality maintenance, climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, erosion control, water regulation and bioremediation of waste.
- Supporting services, necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services such as the importance of ecosystems to provide habitat for migratory species, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, primary production, water cycling and production of atmospheric oxygen
- Cultural services include non-material benefits that people obtain through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, recreation etc.
In line with the Millennium Ecosystem assessment, EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 sets biodiversity loss as a challenge in the European Union. The analytical framework and indicators for ecosystem assessments under Action 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 provide a critical evaluation of the best available information for guiding decisions for the advancement of biodiversity objectives.
With a broader focus on valuation of ecosystem services, LIFE Natura2000ValueCrete contributes towards better environmental decision-making processes by motivating local communities to fully take into account the costs and benefits to the ecosystems in NATURA 2000 areas in Crete and by highlighting the implications for human wellbeing, while providing local economy with new insights.