Local community can improve ecosystem management

Local people's knowledge of local resources and ecosystem dynamics is significant for sustainable ecosystem management, a study from Stockholm Resilience Centre shows

Kristiandstads Vattenrike Photo: S-E.Magnusson Biosfärkontoret
A study by researchers Lisen Schultz, Carl Folke and Per Olsson was published in 2007 in the journal Environmental Conservation.

The article entitled Enhancing ecosystem management through social-ecological inventories: lessons from Kristianstads Vattenrike, Sweden, investigates the role of local actors in ecosystem management in the area of the river basin Kristianstads Vattenrike located in southern Sweden.

Unrecognised source of knowledge
The study shows that engaging local actors such as farmers and landowners may not only lower the transaction costs of sustained conservation but also improve incentives for sustained ecosystem mangement.

- Local actor groups, or local steward groups, represent an undervalued and sometimes unrecognised source of knowledge and experience for ecosystem management, researcher Lisen Schultz says.

She works with ecosystem management and 'bridging organizations' in adaptive governance. Schultz also participated in the The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a UN-programme engaging 1360 experts from 95 countries in analysing the health of the planets ecosystems.

- Even if some may seem to have a narrow focus, aiming at favouring certain habitats or species, the activities of local actors need to be recognised as a potential source of stewardship of biodiversity and ecosystem services, she says.

Contribution through local knowledge and quick response to change
In the study of Kristianstads Vattenrike, several hundred active local actors were identified, ranging from place-based farmers to national NGOs. Based on interviews of the local actors, participatory observation and review of various written documentation, some key features emerged.

Local actors can provide a range of input and expertise based on:
- on-site management
- monitoring and response
- local ecological knowledge
- generating support for ecosystem management
- specialised networks

Bridging local actors with international research and management
Together with Science Director Carl Folke, the researchers propose that governmental agencies and NGOs devoted to environmental conservation should take advantage of local steward groups and avoid policies and actions that exclude people from the land.

- Many of the social processes that support or obstruct conservation take place at local levels. Engaging local actors in environmental planning and decision-making can improve incentives for ecosystem management and complement scientific knowledge, Per Olsson says.

His primary research interest is in linked social-ecological system dynamics and resilience and has worked extensively in the field of ecosystems management and adaptive governance.

He believes that such local groups should be given high priority and be applied in programmes like the EU Water Framework Directive and UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere reserves.

- These groups conduct on-site management, long-term and place-based monitoring and provide quick responses to environmental change, Per Olsson says.

Source: Schultz, L., C. Folke and P. Olsson. 2007. Enhancing Ecosystem Management through Social-Ecological Inventories: Lessons from Kristianstads Vattenrike,Sweden. Environmental Conservation 34: 140-152.

Reference and key findings


Schultz, L., C. Folke and P. Olsson. 2007. Enhancing Ecosystem Management through Social-Ecological Inventories: Lessons from Kristianstads Vattenrike,Sweden. Environmental Conservation 34: 140-152


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201