Source: Tapia, C., Abajo, B., Feliu, E., et al. (2017). Profiling urban vulnerabilities to climate change: An indicator-based vulnerability assessment for European cities. Ecological Indicators. 78:142-155. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.02.040
This study assessed the vulnerability of 571 European cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by climate change and results could be used to design policies to mitigate the impacts. With more than 75% of the EU’s population lives in urban areas understanding how cities may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change is, therefore, crucial in planning for the future.
In this study, which was supported by the EU Project RAMSES 1, researchers carried out an indicator-based vulnerability assessment (IBVA) for 571 European cities. The IBVA used a set of indicators to assess urban vulnerabilities to climate stress and their consequences: (i) heatwaves on human health; (ii) drought on water planning, and; (iii) the socio-economic impact of flooding, including fluvial, pluvial and coastal flooding.
IBVAs help to identify factors that lead to vulnerability to climatic hazards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) definition of vulnerability is “the propensity or pre-disposition to be adversely affected,” 2 by climate change and this also encompasses the lack of capacity to cope with and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Indicators were developed from a review of published literature to identify the climate threats most relevant to European cities and were classified into five broad categories, comprising:
- human capital
- socio-economic conditions
- built environment
- natural and ecosystem services
- governance and institutions
Data for the 571 cities assessed by the IBVA were mostly taken from the Urban Audit database, which has been used previously for other climate-change vulnerability assessments. New indicators based on big data were also produced to assess different aspects related to adaptive capacity such as awareness of the main climate stressors. Coastal-flooding vulnerabilities were assessed for the 92 coastal cities within the database. The fluvial-flooding assessment was completed on the 365 cities with water bodies with a catchment of at least 500 square kilometres.
The researchers grouped the cities into seven different clusters according to their relative degree of vulnerability to each of the three climate stressors.
Cities that showed higher vulnerability to heatwaves were predominantly located in the central areas of the EU and in the southern regions of new Member States and the Baltic republics. This was in part linked to elderly populations, higher pollution levels and small dwelling size, which, in combination, increase the urban sensitivity to heatwaves. Surprisingly, many of the cities with lower vulnerabilities to heatwaves were located in some of the warmest areas of Europe, which is likely due to raised awareness of heatwaves in these regions.
Cities more vulnerable to droughts, such as Brussels, Ludwigshafen am Rhein and Marseille, were found across Europe, without a clear spatial distribution pattern. Overall, higher vulnerabilities are explained by comparatively less diversified economies, growing populations and less efficient water-management systems (i.e. higher resource consumption at greater water costs).
Vulnerabilities were found across Europe, although lower susceptibility was found in the British Isles and Scandinavian countries, compared to high vulnerability scores in the Mediterranean countries, Bohemian and Danubian regions. The factors influencing flooding included socio-economic conditions (e.g. income levels and employment rates), physical features, such as the extent of soil sealing and the awareness of citizens, and the commitment to adaption of the cities’ governing institutions. For coastal flooding, cities over the Atlantic coasts, western Mediterranean and Baltic showed higher vulnerability than the Italian Peninsula, the UK and the Scandinavian countries, which were shown to have a higher capacity to adapt, as well as higher awareness and commitment to addressing coastal flooding.
The study results demonstrate the challenges European cities face due to climate change, with cities across Europe vulnerable to the effects of either floods, heatwaves or droughts. For each city, the causes of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change are dependent on the specific geographical and socioeconomic conditions. The research emphasises the importance of city-level assessments, particularly for cities identified as vulnerable to one or more of hazards in this assessment, in order to inform adaption planning. They also say that the IBVA used here could be developed to include the adaptation measures already established in European cities, in order to understand whether these measures have reduced a city’s vulnerability to potential climate hazards.
Cities comprise a range of social systems, buildings, infrastructure and natural features, which makes planning for the future difficult. The researchers say that the assessment can be used by city planners and can contribute to the development of EU policies to adapt to climate-change. They say the results enable comparison across European cities, because the definitions and indicators are consistent for all the cities assessed. The researchers highlight that vulnerability is most directly linked to social conditions and that tackling these issues could lead to policy interventions that have win-win scenarios for both urban resilience and socioeconomic issues.
- This research received funding from the EU’s Seventh Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration (Project RAMSES).
- IPCC (2014): Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, Annex II: Glossary.
With global populations increasing and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours there are ever increasing demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe the Earth’s natural assets; soil, air, water and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. The European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy has released its recent In-Depth Report, ‘Taking stock: progress in natural capital accounting’ which presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.
The aim of natural capital accounting is to show how natural resources contribute to the economy, and how the activities of the economy affect natural resources — often, in order to inform better decisions. These detailed statistics, regarding such items as inputs of water or energy, and outputs of pollution, are intended to contribute to the design of better economic management strategies overall. ‘Natural capital accounting’ is defined by the European Commission as a tool to measure the changes in the stock and condition of natural capital at a variety of scales and to integrate the value of ecosystem services into biodiversity and reporting systems. A fundamental aspect of natural capital accounting is the recognition that a single ecosystem will generate a range of ecosystem services and, therefore, contribute a number of benefits to humans and economic activity.
The report starts by defining and discussing:
- Defining and using natural capital accounting
- Current international policy context
- Business context
It continues with an discussion of the history and development of NC accounting from the 1930s to date and includes targets projecting as far forward as 2030. That by 2020, signatories will integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts and by 2030 will build on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product, and support statistical capacity building in developing countries (Sustainable Development Goals, 2016).
The report looks at methods for natural capital accounting, measuring ecosystem services biophysically – illustrated with case studies and discusses challenges and outlook for measurement of ecosystem assets and flows. The report looks at the economics of valuing ecosystems stating that,
An important aim of the ecosystem services concept is to make explicit the benefits that ecosystems provide (Science for Environment Policy, 2015), and one way in which this can can be achieved is using valuation. The most common method of valuation is economic, as this can allow a relatively simple form of comparison across various services once they are described in the common form of monetary currency.
The report also looks at the challenges and outlook for economic valuation of ecosystems in national accounts and looks in depth at natural capital accounting in practice: refining and testing the protocols. The report looks at both how The Netherlands and United Kingdom have approached N C accounting whilst looking at examples beyond the EU such as KwaZulu Natal, South Africa and The Victorian Central Highlands, Australia.
The report concludes that there is a pressing need to make sure that the assets and services delivered by natural capital are considered in the economic and planning decisions that put them at risk,
The potential of NCA is significant; for example, the historically determined country ‘rankings’ of the global economy might be transformed if accounts of natural capital gain recognition alongside GDP as future measures of national wealth. When it comes to the ecosystems we depend on, there is a need to continue testing accounting approaches and demonstrating policy applications in a variety of contexts. It is clear the need for a workable system of natural capital accounting is only going to increase: supranational organisations, states, governments, regions and businesses alike will need to build their commitment to strengthen the evidence base.
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
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.
Green walls, designed so they are covered in vegetation, could help cut the amount of noise that enters buildings, a new study has found. In laboratory tests, researchers found that a modular green wall system reduced sound levels by 15 decibels (dB). This may be a promising sound reduction device that could improve quality-of-life for city residents.
Source: Azkorra, Z., Pérez, G., Coma, J. et al. (2015). Evaluation of green walls as a passive acoustic insulation system for buildings. Applied Acoustics 89: 46–56. DOI:10.1016/j.apacoust.2014.09.010.
Green walls and green roofs can provide ecosystem services in urban areas. Their benefits include: lower energy use in buildings, support for biodiversity and storm-water control. Studies have also shown that they reduce noise levels. However, most studies have focused on green roofs’ ability to insulate buildings from external sound, and very little research has looked specifically at green walls.
This Spanish study, carried out under the EU-funded SILENTVEG project (1), conducted laboratory tests on green walls’ acoustic properties. Its aim was to help predict their sound insulation performance in the real world. The design of green walls can affect their sound insulation properties with the type of plant grown having a big effect. In this case, the study focused on a modular green wall system, which is composed of compartments or boxes attached to a vertical frame and is the most widely used system.
The boxes in this study were made of recycled plastic and filled with coconut fibre, acting as ‘soil’. They were all planted with Helichrysum thianschanicum, a popular shrub for gardening in the Mediterranean region, with an average height of 40 cm. The researchers placed 10 of the boxes, totalling 2.4 m2 in area, onto a wall which separated two rooms. They emitted noise in one room at frequencies ranging between 100 hertz (Hz) and 5 000 Hz, and then measured the reduction in noise levels in the neighbouring room caused by the green wall.
The green wall reduced noise levels in the neighbouring room by an average of 15 dB. The researchers note that this reduction is quite low compared with other solutions; thermal double-glazing can reduce noise by 30 dB, for example. A sound barrier made from two layers of plasterboard, separated by a wool-filled cavity, can reduce noise by 70 dB.
Nonetheless, they believe it still has good potential to help cut noise levels in urban buildings and could be used effectively in public places, such as hotels and restaurants. Furthermore, if its design was improved by sealing the joints between the boxes, then it could reduce noise by an extra 3 dB. The other benefits of green walls, such as increased biodiversity, visual attractiveness, air purification or climate regulation, also make them an attractive option.
This experiment considered noise that is transmitted directly through a wall, but in a realistic situation noise bounces off different surfaces and can be transmitted indirectly through a number of routes. Therefore the logical next step in this research would be to test the green wall on actual building façades, the study’s authors say.
To further improve their understanding of the wall’s basic acoustic properties, the researchers also investigated how much sound a green wall can absorb. In this experiment, they placed the green wall (this time 10 m2 in area) on the floor of a room in which sound was emitted, again at frequencies of 100–5 000 Hz. The wall was calculated to have a ‘sound absorption coefficient’ of 0.40, i.e. it absorbed 40% of the sound.
- SILENTVEG: Barreras vegetales autónomas y sostenibles para la mitigación acústica y compensación del CO2 en vías de transporte, con seguimiento telemático, was supported by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund. See: http://www.aopandalucia.es/innovacion/principal.asp?alias=al_barreras&zona=proyectos&t=0 (in Spanish)
This study is free to view at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003682X14002333
- Natural capital is a term used to describe those elements of the natural environment that provide benefits for humans.
- In 2015, the Natural Capital Committee, a Government advisory group, made nine recommendations on how to account for natural capital. These included the creating of a 25-year plan for the environment.
- Valuing natural capital in this way can help to manage environmental risks and to inform a wide range of decisions.
- There are a number of challenges to accounting for natural capital including a lack of financial, environmental and social data and the UK’s use of other countries’ natural capital.
It has been estimated that the UK’s population will rise by nearly 10 million in the next 25 years, increasing demands on natural resources. Evidence suggests that degradation of ecosystems will negatively affect human wellbeing. Reports such as the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity (TEEB) global reports have highlighted the importance of incorporating the natural environment into national accounting frameworks. One way to achieve this is through natural capital (NC) valuation.
What is Natural Capital?
NC is defined as ‘elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans’. The UK’s national accounts do not consider the depreciation of natural assets and many of the benefits of NC are not included in GDP. The failure to account properly for NC has led to a situation where benefits derived from natural assets are over-exploited for short term gains rather than maintained for their long term benefits. For example, the destruction of woodland to make way for a new railway would yield financial benefits from reduced transport time, but also incur costs from reductions in carbon sequestration, water filtration and recreational use. By assigning a value to these less obvious benefits of NC, advocates argue that they can be more easily incorporated into decision-making processes and that this would lead to better management of our natural assets. Many national and international NC groups exist, including the UK’s Natural Capital Committee (NCC). The NCC was initially set up for three years (2012 to 2015). Its final report made nine recommendations for improving the UK’s NC. The Government response broadly accepted five of these, including to establish a 25-year plan for the environment -recommendations 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9 – see below for details:
Natural Capital Committee Recommendations
The NCC was re-established this year (2016-2020) to provide advice on the development and implementation of the 25-year plan for the environment. The NCC has emphasised the importance of four unfunded ‘pioneer projects’ to Defra to identify good practice and innovative solutions for the plan. These 3-5 year projects include: a ‘Catchment’ Pioneer in Cumbria; an ‘Urban’ Pioneer in the Greater Manchester area; a ‘Landscape’ Pioneer in North Devon; and a ‘Marine’ Pioneer across two sites, one in East Anglia and an additional component in Devon to complement the Landscape Pioneer.
Renewable and Non-Renewable Natural Capital
Natural capital assets are divided into two classes: nonrenewable and renewable.
- Non-renewable assets cannot regenerate within human timescales and so can only be used once. These assets are traded and therefore have a market price, they include fossil fuels (oil and gas) and minerals such as lithium and phosphorous.
- Renewable assets such as forests, fish and peat bogs can provide benefits indefinitely so long as they are exploited sustainably. However, renewable assets are frequently degraded through the unsustainable management practices such as deforestation, over-fishing and drainage.
POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.
Restoration of the Mayes Brook in Mayesbrook Park, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, was an opportunity to create an ecological and community focal point within a broader environmental regeneration project. It was designed to produce the UK’s first climate change adaptation public park. This restoration of an urban river within a barren park landscape is a good example of an approach that combines flood storage, biodiversity enhancement and adaptation to climate change within a city environment. This study explores some of the key benefits of the planned river restoration and the wider park ‘greenspace’ improvements, in terms of their impact on ecosystem services. The urban setting means that restoration and improvements contribute to ‘regulatory services’ (regulation of air and water quality, microclimate and flood risk) affecting the local community. Enhanced recreation and tourism (cultural services) are also likely to bring benefits, since many people in the borough lack gardens or ready access to other green spaces.
Robert Oates, Executive Director of the Thames River Restoration Trust introduces a field visit. Source: Ecosystems Knowledge Network
The benefits for ‘supporting services’, which are hard to quantify but important in maintaining ecosystem functions, are significant in terms of nutrient cycling and providing habitats for wildlife. This latter ensures there are animals and plants capable of colonising the wider landscape as the habitat improves. These improved habitats also serve as ‘stepping stones’ for wildlife to move across and between limited and fragmented suitable habitat in the urban landscape. Due to the urban setting and lack of biodiversity in Mayesbrook Park and the Mayes Brook, restoring the river does not boost ‘provisioning services’ (things that can be taken from ecosystems to support human needs, such as fresh water, food, fibre and fuel, and so forth). Many of the more important benefits of the Mayesbrook Park restoration can be seen in social and health aspects, enhancing the quality of life in the borough and the wellbeing of local communities.
In fact, if the annual value of services to health, risk and culture are pooled, despite there remaining many unmeasured or possibly unquantifiable benefits, they will account for over 90% of the total annual ecosystem service benefits for the Mayesbrook Park restoration scheme. The overall benefits are substantial relative to the investment. The lifetime value of restoring the site across the four ecosystem service categories (provisioning, regulatory, cultural and supporting) yields a grand total of calculated benefits of around £27 million, even if ‘likely significant positive benefits’ for the regulation of air quality and microclimate are excluded. This is compared to the estimated costs of the whole Mayesbrook Park restoration scheme at £3.8 million including the river restoration works. This produces an excellent lifetime benefit-to-cost ratio of £7 of benefits for every £1 invested. Urban river restoration would therefore be of major public value, fully justifying the planned investment and providing firm evidence that investment in urban ‘green infrastructure’ is highly favourable for the health and wellbeing of local people and the economic improvement of deprived wards. Restoring the vitality and function of the natural environment tends to enhance or maintain benefits across all ecosystem service categories. This contrasts with traditional single element solutions, which tend to maximise only the targeted services and often are associated with unintended consequences for other interconnected services. The case for the application of ecosystem-based solutions to environmental management problems is thus substantiated.
View of one of the lakes to be restored. Source: Thames Rivers Trust
The study sets out a range of options for further enhancing public value from
the restoration scheme, through new or redesigned initiatives or in management
practices. These include:
- enhancing the hydrological function of the whole park landscape and infrastructure
- using reed bed filtration to improve water quality in a bypassed reach of river and at lake inflows and outflows
- improving climate regulation through energy-efficient building design, installation of renewable energy sources and reusing tree and other park trimmings as biomass fuel (or mulch) on site
- optimising park restoration design to provide health and educational resources to the local community.
Assessing the ecosystem service implications for all of these options, and others that may be identified in later phases of planning and research, would help to support the economic case for their implementation. This case study provides evidence to help improve the current scheme design and the greater integration of social, economic and ecological benefits in future initiatives. The results of this assessment are valuable not only in the Mayesbrook Park restoration project but are also applicable to wider urban river and urban area restoration initiatives and will support future research in this field. It will also help in achieving ‘good ecological potential’ for the Seven Kings water body as part of the Water Framework Directive.
Restoration of the Mayes Brook – Executive summary – full text
What is this initiative about?
This project illustrates how an assessment on the services that nature provides for people helped in the regeneration of Mayesbrook Park. The transformation allows the park to better serve the local community and also the city of London under a changing climate with increased flood risks.
The park is in the Borough of Barking and Dagenham, one of the twenty most deprived boroughs in the UK. It was previously under-used and had few amenities, whilst the river was confined to a concrete channel and lay behind a metal fence, providing little value to wildlife or people.
How does it reflect the ecosystem approach?
An assessment of the ecosystem services provided by the park both now and in the future identified its role in reducing flood risk, as well as its value for recreation and wildlife. The assessment illustrated that £7 of benefits will be provided for every £1 invested in restoration of the park, which provided the basis for a funding partnership worth £1.6 million.
In valuing the ecosystem services, the project reflects the ecosystem approach, in that “Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach”. The project also considers the long term effects of climate change and the associated risk of increased flooding and increased summer temperatures. As such it reflects the ecosystem approach, which states “consider mitigating actions to cope with long-term changes such as climate change”.
Progress so far
The first phase of the project includes re-routing the Mayes Brook along a more natural course, renewing the disused lakes and planting trees. The second phase includes the restoration of the two lakes, one for boating and one for angling, which will also improve habitat conditions for wildlife. A visitor and facility centre will be built, along with a café and permanent exhibition on what the park is doing to adapt to climate change.
Challenges and lessons learned
The project highlights how an economic appraisal of the benefits that an area of land can provide for people, can bring about significant change. The clear demonstration of the value of the project helped reassure and engage representatives of the local community.
It is also an example of partnership working, and of a scale of park regeneration that was only made possible by the combination of staff, funding and technical resources provided by the various partners involved. It illustrates the potential for such a project to cause a resurgence of public interest in nature and access to the outdoors. The involvement of the Environment Agency as a partner helped in the process of securing the numerous approvals needed (flood risk, contaminated land, soil disposal etc.).
In addition to being of value in their own right, natural systems and processes provide a broad range of goods and services which help to support human health, well-being and economic success. Ecosystem services are the benefits which nature provides for human well-being, society and the economy. They include:
- Provisioning services: the goods people obtain from ecosystems, including food, water, fuel, raw materials and genetic resources
- Regulating services which control conditions, including the processes that regulate the climate and water flows; air, water and soil quality; pollination; and pests and diseases
- Cultural services, including aesthetic, spiritual, educational and recreational benefits
- Supporting services, which provide the basic infrastructure for life, including photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, and soil formation
Understanding and working with nature where possible will enable us to achieve more sustainable outcomes. This means taking a more proactive approach than assessing and mitigating the environmental impacts of policies, strategies and projects through formal processes including Strategic Environmental Assessment, Sustainability Appraisal, Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitat Regulations Appropriate Assessment.
The ecosystem approach is a holistic and inclusive approach to planning and decision making, which takes account of the benefits and services we derive from nature and seeks to maintain or enhance them. It involves understanding the ecosystem services provided across a given area; valuing them appropriately; and involving the relevant stakeholders to make balanced and effective land management decisions, based on the best possible understanding of the implications.
It is important that ecosystem services are accounted for in decision-making for their own sake, but in these economically constrained times, applying the ecosystem approach will also help ensure that limited funds are targeted at the interventions which will deliver the maximum benefits to the environment, people, and the economy.
The ecosystem approach has been fundamental to the development of the Partnership Management Plan for the South Downs National Park. An overview of the ecosystem services provided by the National Park is included in the introduction to the document, and this understanding informs the policies on farming, forestry and woodland, water, tourism and other aspects of management.
The ecosystem approach is reflected in major projects in the National Park, including the South Downs Way Ahead Nature Improvement Area. This £3 million project is bringing together farmers, community groups, government bodies, research organisations, charities and local businesses to protect, restore and reconnect endangered chalk down land, enhance biodiversity and improve water quality.
In addition to informing planning and decision making, applying this kind of thinking can help to identify, develop and raise funding for projects which support adaptation to climate change and sea-level rise while enhancing the natural environment and benefiting local communities. The Medmerry coastal realignment scheme in Sussex is a great example of what can be achieved by working with nature (see case study).
When the social and economic benefits provided by the natural environment are clear, their value can be estimated and used to make the business case for funding or direct payments to those who help to maintain them.
Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes provide incentives to farmers and landowners to manage the land in a way which will deliver these services to an agreed standard through a voluntary agreement. A number of pilot studies have been undertaken across England, including the Slowing the Flow project in Pickering, North Yorkshire, which sought to reduce flood risk downstream and improve water and soil quality, by changing land management practices and planting additional woodlands to slow the flow of water through the river catchment. This approach builds on established schemes such as Environmental Stewardship and the Woodland Grant Scheme which are already widely taken up by landowners.
Case study: Medmerry managed realignment, West Sussex
The following case study is part of the No Regrets: Planning for Sea Level Rise and Climate Change and Investing in Adaptation Good Practice Guide sponsored by the Southern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, August 2015. Local authorities and other organisations involved in planning, decision-making and infrastructure investment are encouraged to follow these case studies and plan for the long-term future of coastal communities in the South East of England and further afield.
Medmerry is the largest coastal realignment scheme on the open coast in the UK. It is sited on the west side of the Manhood Peninsula, which juts out into the English Channel south of Chichester. This is a flat coast line protected by shingle beaches, which are vulnerable to breaching and over-topping in storm conditions, resulting in regular flooding by the sea. Rather than building up the beaches to ever higher levels, as sea levels rise, the Agency decided to work with nature.
The scheme involved building up some 7km of new earth walls inland, breaching the existing shingle beach and forming a large new saltmarsh habitat. This helps to absorb wave energy and manage flood risk for 350 homes, two holiday parks, and a sewage treatment works. It also provides important compensation for loss of intertidal saltmarsh habitat elsewhere, allowing other flood defence schemes to proceed around the Solent.
The new habitat is now an RSPB Reserve with extensive walks and cycle tracks for people to enjoy and benefits for local businesses. It is a model for win-win climate change adaptation, combining improved flood defences with new natural habitats and opportunities for recreation and business on the coast.
The £28 million scheme was carried out by the Environment Agency from 2011 to 2013. At all stages, the scheme was developed in close consultation with a stakeholder group embracing a wide range of local interests.