Mapping ecosystem services can aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.

Source: Derkzen, M., van Teeffelen, A. & Verburg, P. (2015). Quantifying urban ecosystem services based on high-resolution data of urban green space: an assessment for Rotterdam, the Netherlands. J Appl Ecol, 52(4), pp.1020-1032. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12469

Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using new methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ES, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. This method to map ES supply can aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.

Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ecosystem services, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. The authors say their method to map ES supply will aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.

Urban green spaces, which include parks and playing fields, have important benefits. They provide a range of ecosystem services (ES) and can help to mitigate problems that are particularly prevalent in cities, such as air and noise pollution. Despite their importance in urban areas, most studies of ES focus on rural or natural landscapes. This may be because existing methods to quantify ES struggle to cope with the high-resolution land-cover data necessary to assess ES in a city context.

To improve understanding of urban ES, this study derived new methods to quantify and map ES supplied by urban green spaces. The methods, based on land-cover data and a literature review, were applied to Rotterdam. The second largest city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam faces challenges common to many European cities, including heat stress, flooding and air pollution.

The researchers, supported by the European Commission via projects Transitioning Towards Urban Resilience and Sustainability (TURAS) and OPERAs: Ecosystem Science for Policy & Practice, selected six urban ES: air purification (defined as the lowering of background air pollution concentrations), carbon storage (gross above ground carbon storage), noise reduction (the capacity of vegetation to attenuate environmental noise), run-off retention (the combined effect of rainfall interception, infiltration and storage), cooling (temperature reduction by vegetation) and recreation (the potential of green spaces for everyday outdoor recreation). These ES were chosen due to their relevance for human well-being.

To determine the spatial distribution of each ES, the researchers mapped them onto the city landscape using data on the locations of eight different types of urban green space (trees, woodland, tall shrubs, short shrubs, herbaceous, garden, water, and others, such as allotment gardens and sports fields). This data was compiled from a combination of green maintenance maps, cadastral maps [a map defining land ownership] and land-use maps.

Indicators for each ES were obtained from a literature review and applied to the green space data within the geographic information services platform ArcGIS 10.1. The researchers calculated the ES supplied by each individual green space and at the neighbourhood and district levels. For each urban green space they multiplied the area by the ES supply rate per square metre. The ES supplied by individual green spaces was then aggregated to the neighbourhood and district levels.

Analysis showed that different green spaces have different capacities for ES delivery. The spatial arrangements of green spaces are also a key determinant of ES supply. For example, trees can be more effective in filtering pollutants from the air when they are close to the source of pollution.

Differences in the availability of green spaces can lead to significant spatial variation in ES supply across a city. In general, supply increases with distance from the city centre. The researchers say this is because central neighbourhoods tend to be more developed and are therefore less green. In Rotterdam, there were clear spatial discrepancies in ES supply; some districts completely lacked green spaces and therefore received low levels of ES, while others received high levels of numerous or even all ES.

This study shows that not only the amount but also the composition and arrangement of urban green spaces influence the type and level of ES provided to neighbourhoods. The methodology used here to map ES shows which services are supplied, where, in what quantity and by which green spaces. This approach will help urban planners to ensure that the ES needs of neighbourhoods are met, and ultimately to design more sustainable cities.


Policy Briefing: Urban Green Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services

An excellent briefing paper ‘Urban Green Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services’ has just been released – this is a responsive policy briefings developed by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology based on mini literature reviews and peer review.


Ecosystem services are the benefits provided to humans by natural systems that range from food and water to recreation and climate regulation and elements of the natural environment that provide benefits to humans are referred to as ‘natural capital’ . The best outcome for ecosystem service provision is optimal human health and subjective well-being.

The EU defines green infrastructure strategy as: ‘a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services – incorporating green spaces and blue if aquatic ecosystems are concerned plus other physical features in terrestrial and marine areas’. However, existing urban green infrastructure in the UK has not been strategically planned to deliver ecosystem services.

Research points to the benefits of exposure and frequency of exposure to green infrastructure for well-being – although the specific elements of the natural environment need further research to demonstrate clear correlation. In addition, there is growing evidence that green infrastructure can provide other ecosystem services in urban areas such as reducing the risk of flooding and cooling high urban temperatures. The demand for this will increase in relation to climate change.

The report goes on to define what constitutes an urban area plus the effects of increased urbanisation on the environment such as excessive air pollution form increased traffic in cities such as London and Birmingham and the statistically significant relationships between soil metal content and respiratory illness reported in Glasgow.

Natural capital – elements of the natural environment that provide benefits for humans -is discussed. The report states that the value of green infrastructure may be enhanced through appropriate management of its natural capital and that the Natural Capital Committee’s  4th Report recommends that local authorities and major infrastructure providers ensure that natural capital is protected and improved.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has funded an Ordinance Survey open data initiative to map green spaces throughout Great Britain. The data collected, along with property information, will be used to value natural capital in urban environments. [Ordnance Survey releases open dataset and free map of Britain’s Greenspaces  + OS MasterMap Greenspace Layer ] This will allow you to identify the variety of different greenspaces in any location plus provide information on their extent, function and accessibility, and the provision of ecosystem services.

The report identifies the following key services provided by ecosystem services with accompanying up-to-date references for links to research, reports and policy documents:

  • Urban temperature regulation
  • Provision of community food
  • Improving air quality
  • Reducing surface water flooding
  •  Noise Reduction
  • Carbon Storage
  • Environmental Settings and Biodiversity
  • Pollination

The report discusses how levels of service provision can be assessed and rcognises that further research in relation to how biodiversity generates ecosystem services benefits in different urban habitats and at different scales may be required to be able to effectively assess ecosystem condition. The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 requires member states to map and assess ecosystems with guidance for mapping and assessing urban ecosystems provided by the European Commission. [Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services, Urban ecosystem, 4th Report, Technical Report 102]

The report also recognises that not all contributions from ecosystem services are positive – these may be actual or perceived – such as the negative effects on human health from pests and diseases.  Cultural perceptions in relation to green infrastructure is  mentioned and these may vary between individuals depending on factors such as age, gender and socioeconomic status. The importance of public consultation is recognised when green infrastructure strategies are being developed to overcome such cultural perceptions.

Planning Green Infrastructure

Strategically designed and planned, green infrastructure can deliver multiple benefits for human well-being with Birmingham, Manchester and London already developing green infrastructure plans to address this. [ Green Infrastructure Task Force Report, 2015, Natural Capital: Investing in a Green Infrastructure for a Future London] England’s National Planning Policy Framework requires that Local Plans should take account of climate change over the longer term, including factors such as flood risk, coastal change, water supply and changes to biodiversity and landscape. Two variables are the combination of low density urban areas of built land interspersed with green spaces and  compact urban areas alongside separate, large, contiguous green space, such as city greenbelts with the proviso that some interspersion of accessible green infrastructure may be necessary to ensure that people continue to gain benefits. The report notes that despite the development of new ‘garden’ cities and towns in the UK  and proposals for legislation for New Towns Development Corporations there are no planning rules based on available evidence for ecosystem service provision from garden cities and new town developments.

The development of urban green space strategies

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee has recommended that local authorities work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards, and relevant bodies, to develop and publish joint park and green space strategies. The UK’s National Planning Policy Framework requires planning to be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the needs for open space, sports and recreation facilities and opportunities for new provision. The assessments should identify specific needs and deficits or surpluses of open space, sports and recreational facilities in the local area. However, in the UK, local authorities directly manage only a small proportion of the green space in urban areas, creating challenges for strategic management of urban green space.

How best then to optimise urban green infrastructure? At present the emphasis on green space provision is its amenity outcomes rather than the benefits derived from ecosystem service. Lack of evidence in relation to the economic benefits is commonly sited as the most significant gap in the case for investing in green infrastructure.

Releasing the potential of nature-based solutions through social innovation approaches

The EKLIPSE network is a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme that aims to, ‘build a Network of Networks: a virtual community of people that are willing and committed to work with colleagues to make sure their collective knowledge and values on biodiversity and ecosystem services are used to support decisions that impact our environment and our wellbeing.’ EKLIPSE plus the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS) and the BiodivERsA ERA-Net jointly organised a foresight workshop in Brussels in December 2016 on ‘Social innovation and nature-based solutions: What research is needed to face future societal challenges and emerging issues?’

The participatory workshop explored how nature-based solutions (NBS) can be a response to, or a catalyst for, social innovation to address emerging issues in relation to human well-being and health, governance strategies, land planning and management, and restoration. The following document is a briefing paper developed from the workshop’s findings and outputs and highlights the key research needs to best support and promote nature-based solutions through social innovations in response to current societal issues. More information is available here


Key points

There is a high potential for NBS to address environmental and social challenges such
as loss of social cohesion, health, social inequity, loss of connection between people and nature, and inadequate governance models. Proposed NBS for example relating to multiple-purpose green and blue spaces in cities could be seen as multi-functional tools to reach many concurring benefits including educational, psychological, social and economic needs.

NBS and social innovation initiatives should be further developed through research on:

  • Assessing the effectiveness of NBS especially in terms of co-benefits:
    environmental, social and economic, including research on criteria for measuring effectiveness, trade-offs and synergies between impacts and benefits.
  • Holistic/systemic and trans-disciplinary processes to be both used and catalysed
    by NBS in land, water, city planning and management.

However, there are also limitations for NBS development and implementation and these are not always understood in the same way especially as an NBS should also increase the benefit for the environment and not just ensure it is “doing no harm”. Several articles have compiled information on NBS added value and limits and EKLIPSE has published an impact evaluation framework for NBS in relation to climate resilience in cities (Raymond et al. 2017).

Finally, NBS are not very well known as a concept by the wider public although many NGOs and other stakeholders may already be working on similar approaches under different names, e.g. green infrastructures, greening cities, ecosystem-based approaches, etc. Such initiatives would need more political and economic backing if they are to be used more widely, and bring effective opportunities.

To read the briefing document in full. 

In addition, EKLIPSE has launched a new “Call for requests” that will run until October 2nd.

  • Invitation to request knowledge for informed decision-making

Policy and other societal actors are invited to identify topics or evidence needs relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services and of EU policy relevance, requiring in-depth analysis and a consolidated view from science and other knowledge holders. We particularly encourage the building of consortia representing policy, research, NGOs or individual applications from policy or other societal actors.

Interested parties – including consortia – should apply by 2nd October 2017 by following the rules and procedures detailed below. The selected requests will be announced week starting 13th November, 2017 and will be publicized on the EKLIPSE website.
More information on the processes and the EKLIPSE project funded by the EU in H2020 is available at

  • Objective of the call

EKLIPSE coordinates innovative and transparent approaches for science, policy and societal actors to jointly provide the best available evidence leading to better informed decision-making. The topic and/or evidence needs are identified by policy and other societal actors. The objective of this call is to encourage policy and other societal actors to suggest topics and/or evidence needs to be addressed by EKLIPSE.


London Rivers Week: Hogsmill River restoration

Building on the success of last year, London Rivers Week, 26th June to 2nd July, 2017 aimed to encourage Londoners to take pride in the city’s waterways, understand the challenges they face and come together to create a healthy future for our rivers.

During the week City Hall held a conference entitled “Why Restore Rivers?” where developers had the opportunity to listen to the benefits of including river restorations. A brief document called How River Restorations Enhance Developments in London, outlining some of the benefits of such work, is now available.

London Rivers Week showcases some of these newly restored natural spaces and raises awareness about how they are vital for Londoners’ wellbeing. Environmental organisations including the Zoological Society of London, London Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Thames Estuary Partnership and the South East Rivers Trust have all joined forces with Thames21 and are putting on free events during the week.


Click on the map to read about 23 projects where you can visit to escape the city and get beside rewilded rivers, including 2 projects close to Kingston University. The Hogsmill River runs directly past the Kingston School of Art Faculty and the university’s Sustainability Hub the Biodiversity Action Group has worked with The South East Rivers Trust, constructing a natural riverbank to increase habitat provision and improve its appearance. Over three phases, timber deflectors were introduced, brash and gravel added to the river and then planted. Read more here: Hogsmill River transformed into wetland and Hogsmill River transformed into wetland – revisited

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Kingston School of Art: Post-graduate Landscape Architecture Courses

Coastal habitats: best practices review


New publication: LIFE and coastal habitats.  The latest LIFE Nature Focus publication highlights the issues threatening Europe’s coastal habitats. Coastal regions generate 40% of GDP, but development must be sustainable and must recognise the natural value of the varied coastlines. Only 13% of coastal species are in a ‘favourable’ conservation status, while 73% of coastal habitats are assessed as being ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’.


It is in the interests of all business sectors, from tourism to shipping and fisheries, to safeguard and improve the health of our coastal ecosystems. Adopting an ecosystem approach to their management fosters, rather than hinders, growth and jobs.

The LIFE and coastal habitats brochure, outlines the scope of best practices measures carried out by EU LIFE programme* projects to improve the status of Europe’s coastal habitats and management of Natura 2000 network sites – from dune habitat conservation in the Baltic to coastal lagoon protection in the Black Sea. It features sections on all the different types of habitats targeted by the programme and concludes with a focus on the cross-cutting management issues facing coastal regions.

The EU’s integrated policy response covers action on climate change, water pollution, habitat loss and all the other factors impacting on European coastal areas, and LIFE has been instrumental in showing how these policy objectives can best be achieved.

The report covers projects and examples of good practice for:

  • Coastal lagoons, estuaries and salt marshes
  • Dunes
  • Coastal grasslands and meadows
  • Reefs and seagrass meadows
  • Integrated management of the coastal – Natura 2000 network
  • Cross -cutting coastal management issues
    • Combating invasive alien species in coastal areas
    • Protecting species through coastal habitats conservation
    • Managing coastal tourism in Natura 2000 sites
    • Salt benefits business and biodiversity
    • Shoreline sites adapt to climate change


To download full report

* LIFE (“The Financial Instrument for the Environment and Climate Action”) is a programme launched by the European Commission and coordinated by the Environment and Climate Action Directorates-General.


Architects’ Journal competition: Kingston University Landscape alumnus highly commended

Kingston University Landscape alumnus Dimitris Grozopoulos has received a ‘Highly commended’ award from judges of the Architects’ Journal’s international ‘Visions of London as a National Park City’ competition. The competition was organised by London National Park City Foundation and supported by Architects’ Journal and TimeOut magazine. Dimitris completed his MA Landscape + Urbanism at Kingston University in 2016 and this project formed his final Masters’ project. This academic year, Dimitris has also contributed to teaching across the post graduate Landscape programmes here at Kingston University.


‘Visions of London as a National Park City’

The Architects’ Journal launched an international contest for ‘ambitious and creative’ ideas to transform London into a national park city earlier this year. The competition, open to student and professional architects, landscape architects and urban planners, attracted proposals to upgrade London’s natural infrastructure and integrate its gardens, streets, rivers, buildings and parks into a single landscape. The initiative, backed by Time Out London and The London National Park City Foundation, aimed to enhance the 1,572km2 city by adopting the principles of the UK’s existing rural national parks – better conservation, better enjoyment and better economy – for the benefit of its 8.6 million residents. Entries were reviewed for how well the vision embodies the spirit of the National Park City, how inspirational the vision is and how replicable or scalable it is. Competition judge Andrew Grant of Grant Associates said:

Here are ideas that would make us all think differently about London, about the quality of life we wish to lead and the importance of nature in cities. These are ideas that would translate to every town and city in the world and would make London a global leader in restoring the broken links between people and nature.’ 

London is England’s most populous city and the largest city within Europe. It features about 16,000ha of open green spaces – around 40 per cent of its total area. Key green assets include the eight former royal hunting grounds – Green Park, St James’s Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Bushy Park, and Richmond Park (pictured) – which together represent nearly 2,000ha of greenery. The city also hosts hundreds of urban garden squares, council-run parks, commons, heaths, forests, river path walks and greenways.

The Blue Line

Developed by architect Dimitris Grozopoulos, the Blue Line is a strategic proposal for Nine Elms that could be scaled up to the wider city of London, using existing railway infrastructure. Through small and medium scale interventions and the concept of ‘urban acupuncture’ the proposal seeks to improve water management and enhance biodiversity. Taking into consideration the historical context, local heritage and environmental necessity, the ‘Blue Line’ invites the local community to engage with and celebrate water in the public realm through a series of pocket parks with water as a joining artery.

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The project also includes a water management strategy incorporating a ‘water features toolkit’ that emphasis sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) and which allows proposals to be adaptable for those areas with different spatial and social characteristics. The toolkit includes elements such as water purification, social interaction with water including ‘play’ and irrigation.


Image Credit: Dimitris Grozopoulos