This study will estimate the benefits derived from the “ecosystem services” provided by the terrestrial ecosystems of England, such as woodlands, rural landscapes, rivers and moorlands.
Ecosystem services are the processes by which the natural environment produces resources that are useful to people, including goods like timber and fish, and services such as purifying water, pollinating crops and providing a natural defence against flooding. Indeed, at a fundamental level, natural ecosystems perform critical life-support services upon which human civilization depends.
Ecosystem services provide us with economic benefits in a number of different ways. Some of these benefits are reasonably straightforward to value, such as via the value of timber grown in plantations. Other natural services can be valued by considering how much it would cost to replace the service with a man-made equivalent, such as the land stabilisation service provided by a coastal dune system.
Ecosystems also contain biodiversity (birds, animals, vegetation and so on) and they often make up beautiful and traditional landscapes. People are sometimes willing to pay money to ensure that species and landscapes continue to exist - this is called their existence value. Another type of value is the experience enjoyed by people carrying out recreational activities in natural areas.
Although this approach focuses on the economic value of natural places, it is not necessarily in conflict with the view that natural resources are intrinsically valuable and should be preserved irrespective of their value to us. It simply seeks to inform decision-makers about the economic implications of different policies towards managing natural systems.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) discussed the role of ecosystems at a global level. The current study will specifically concentrate on terrestrial ecosystems in England and will calculate the value of ecosystem services at regional and national levels. Results will inform the development of an ‘Integrated Policy Framework’ which will enable the delivery of Defra’s vision for the natural environment. This vision is of a diverse, healthy and resilient natural environment, which provides the basis for our survival, well-being and prosperity now and in the future.
The study will be carried out in two stages. The first stage will build on the work carried out in Phase 1 of the National Environment Programme, which included a significant amount of work in identifying the ecosystem services involved, assessing the key issues and outlining the tools available to quantify these values. However, this work has not proceeded to the point where any valuations have been carried out, and there has been limited progress in applying this theory to the actual situation in England.
Stage 1 will concentrate on applying existing knowledge and information to the context of England’s terrestrial ecosystems. It will employ a consultative approach, involving an interdisciplinary team, to clarify which values are most important and which, if any, require dedicated valuation studies. A valuation framework will be developed to aid in organising and directing the assessment of the different categories of value. An initial, qualitative rating will be made of the magnitude of each service in each type of ecosystem.
Stage 2 will use the framework developed above to place values on each service. It will be possible to value some services using the benefits transfer approach. In addition it is likely that it will not be possible or appropriate to quantify some other services. However in order to ascertain some service values primary data collection and analysis may prove very valuable. A flexible approach will be required regarding the precise tools to be used and a decision on this will be made during the course of Stage 1.
The study will also provide a methodology for combining and aggregating values, discussing the relationship between ‘total value’ estimates and marginal values. A small number of case studies will be employed to investigate these issues in real-world situations.
A gap analysis will highlight any ecosystem services that could not be valued and will identify the most significant uncertainties involved in the study.
Finally, the study will make recommendations for further work that can help us to better understand the value of ecosystems and the goods and services they provide us with.