Ecosystem Services - Living within environmental limits

Ecosystem Services project
England's terrestrial ecosystem services and the rationale for an ecosystem approach

The 'ecosystem approach' (EA) has been widely recommended, both internationally and within the UK, as a way in which the overall health or integrity of ecosystems can be assessed and the multiple benefits derived from them, i.e. goods and services, better described and managed. Defra have initiated a very timely set of studies designed to look in detail at the potential of the ecosystems approach as an integrating policy framework.

The need for such work was emphasised at a recent meeting of the UK Global Biodiversity Sub-Committee of the Global Environmental Change Committee which considered the benefits of extending the approach developed in the Millennium Assessment (MA) to England's ecosystems. It was argued that by emphasising the contribution of ecosystem goods and services to human well-being, the MA approach potentially allowed the importance of ecological systems to be more fully considered in policy or planning decisions. The 'ecosystems approach' is one way in which this might be achieved.

In order to take work on the ecosystems approach forward, however, a number of key objectives have to be resolved, namely:

  1. Establishing and agreeing what an ecosystem approach involves and how it can be used to make an assessment of the outputs of ecosystem goods and services at national, regional and local scales. Such work would require a better understanding of how current thinking about environmental limits and values link into the ecosystems approach, and how such information can be used to help assessing the state and trends in the output and human use of ecosystem goods and services.
  2. Understanding how the principles of the ecosystems approach can be used in decision making at national, regional and local scales. Such work would involve looking at the content of the evidence-base and the types of decision-support tools that would be needed to implement the approach, in relation to current policy and decision-making frameworks. It would also involve looking at how the ecosystems approach would relate to other methods of policy development and appraisal so that synergies and cumulative pressures can be identified and optimal cost-benefit outcomes potentially achieved.

This study will address these two central issues and consider whether a case can be made for intervention on an ecosystem scale to ensure the on-going supply of ecosystem goods and services (overall objective). Given the importance of these issues, we consider that within the Phase II programme this project plays a key strategic role in taking Defra's thinking forward. Thus the integration of outputs with the other studies being considered by Defra has been an important consideration in the design of the work.

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