Traditional rural landscapes host a biocultural heritage acquired by rural societies, developed in a secular adaptation with nature. Hedgerows play a key role in preserving biocultural diversity and associated ecosystem services. Despite their benefits, in some European regions inappropriate hedge management has led to a drastic degradation of hedgerows, with significant effects on natural and biocultural diversity, landscape connectivity and sustainable flow of ecosystem services. In Central Spain, an ancient hedgerow landscape constitutes a valuable natural and cultural heritage recognized by the establishment of different protection categories. We quantify the main tendency of change of this landscape over time, detecting a process of rural social-ecological decoupling both inside and outside protected areas. The hedgerow network has progressively been degraded and destructured together with the decline and local extinction of woody species, all of them of traditional use and some recorded in red lists for species conservation. This reveals weaknesses in the design and management plans of protected areas that should be effective in conserving the heritage of cultural landscapes and their valuable biocultural diversity and provision of ecosystem services. There is a need to elaborate regulations for the protection of hedgerow landscapes in the Spanish legislation, based on social-ecological relationships.
Keywords: Cultural landscape; Ecosystem services; Landscape metrics; Protected areas management; Rurality loss; Social-ecological decoupling.
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