WIT Press

Examining Change In Complex Social-ecological Systems Using Multiple Long-term Records: The New Forest – A Case Study


Free (open access)





Page Range

273 - 287




1,913 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


S. J. Pogue, J. A. Dearing, M. E. Edwards, G. M. Poppy


Social-ecological systems (SES) are complex, dynamic systems with strong interdependencies between their ecological components and the social actors that depend upon and shape them. They are characterised by resilience, multiple stable states and adaptive capacity. These characteristics vary across space and time as does the supply of the ecosystem services (ES) they provide.

Whilst such systems and their characteristics are well documented from a conceptual and theoretical standpoint, the quantitative examination of social-ecological interdependencies and their impacts on system dynamics has been less extensive. Furthermore, studies of historical ES delivery are rare, as most provide a ‘snapshot in time’ of present-day ES provision. Thus, little information exists on the impact of past cultural and natural influences on service delivery.

We use an ‘evolutionary’ approach to explore system change and ES delivery in the New Forest, a SES with a millennia-long history of human-environment interaction. This method uses palaeo-ecological records, documentary evidence, direct observations and land-cover time series to examine system dynamics and ES provision across space and time to better comprehend contemporary processes and dynamics.

Using this approach, we aim to answer the question: ‘Can the New Forest SES support multiple and potentially conflicting uses whilst remaining resilient to (undesirable) environmental and societal changes?’ Preliminary results indicate that actions aimed at enhancing the supply of one or more services often affect the delivery of others as well as system resilience.


social-ecological system, ecosystem services, evolutionary approach, resilience, New Forest, cultural landscape