Using science to create a better place – Ecosystem service case studies

Geographical coverage

Geographical scale of the assessment Set of sites
Country or countries covered United Kingdom
Any other necessary information or explanation for identifying the location of the assessment, including site or region name


Conceptual framework, methodology and scope

Assessment objectives

This report outlines the background, methods, findings and recommendations from a study into the application of ecosystem services in two case studies: the Tamar catchment and the Alkborough Flats managed realignment site. The purpose of these studies was to test the applicability and value of the ecosystems approach – management based on ecosystem services – for the Environment Agency. Both case studies were on historical schemes, acknowledging that further benefit could be derived from the ecosystems approach applied proactively to schemes in the planning or inception stage in order more effectively to engage appropriate stakeholders, frame problems, explore alternative solutions and agree priorities.

Mandate for the assessment

In 2007, Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) championed uptake of ecosystem services as a basis for more sustainable and inclusive policy formulation in England. Funded by the Environment Agency’s Science Programme, the two case studies in this report, one undertaken at catchment scale and the other at site scale, provide learning for the Environment Agency about the applicability of an ecosystems approach to its policies and other activities.

Conceptual framework and/or methodology used for the assessment

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)

Economic valuation

URL or copy of conceptual framework developed or adapted

System(s) assessed

  • Inland water

Species groups assessed

Not limited to species assessment, but addressing wider impacts on ecosystem services. However, migratory water birds were a significant indicator of success as well as contributing to ecotourism values, and fish recruitment was also considered significant but not quantifiable.

Ecosystem services/functions assessed


  • Food
  • Water
  • Timber/fibres
  • Genetic resources


  • Air quality
  • Climate regulation
  • Moderation of extreme events
  • Regulation of water flows
  • Regulation of water quality
  • Erosion prevention

Supporting Services/Functions

  • Habitat maintenance
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Soil formation and fertility
  • Primary production
  • Water recycling

Cultural Services

  • Recreation and tourism
  • Navigation ; cultural heritage

Scope of assessment includes

Drivers of change in systems and services


Impacts of change in services on human well-being


Options for responding/interventions to the trends observed


Explicit consideration of the role of biodiversity in the systems and services covered by the assessment


Timing of the assessment

Year assessment started

Year assessment finished


If ongoing, year assessment is anticipated to finish

Periodicity of assessment

One off

Assessment outputs


Everard, M (2009) Using science to create a better place: Ecosystem services case studies. Better regulation science programme, Environment Agency. Bristol.

Communication materials (e.g. brochure, presentations, posters, audio-visual media)

This case study has been included in UK Government policy papers, in various conferences, in a review chapter in a book (Everard, M. 2012. 25. What have Rivers Ever Done for us? Ecosystem Services and River Systems. In: Boon, P.J. and Raven, P.J. (eds.) River Conservation and Management, Wiley, Chichester. pp.313-324), as posters in conferences, etc.

Journal publications

The case study has been recorded in various scientific publications including the report and communications materials outlined above.

Training materials

The case study is used in a variety of training materials within the Environment Agency, in learning materials used with the Government of South Africa, Blekinge Technical University (Karlskrona, Sweden) and the University of the West of England (UK).

Other documents/outputs

See the above

Tools and processes

Tools and approaches used in the assessment

  • Linked assumptions to real and surrogate markets to approximate economic values across all services, explicitly stating where double-counting has been avoided.
  • As above

Process used for stakeholder engagement in the assessment process and which component

The leading organisations in managed realignment design were the Environment Agency and the local Wildlife Trust, who undertook extensive stakeholder engagement during project scoping and development to improve the design, process and outcomes.

Key stakeholder groups engaged

Local resident groups, farmer/former landowner, navigation interests

The number of people directly involved in the assessment process

Incorporation of scientific and other types of knowledge

  • Dr Mark Everard from the Environment Agency was brought in to consider the system outcomes for ecosystem services. Flood engineers from the Environment Agency were involved throughout.

Supporting documentation for specific approaches, methodology or criteria developed and/or used to integrate knowledge systems into the assessment

Multiple, but none specifically was of overriding importance

Assessment reports peer reviewed



Accessibility of data used in assessment

Policy impact

Impacts the assessment has had on policy and/or decision making, as evidenced through policy references and actions

The uptake of the case study into Defra materials, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and other publications demonstrates uptake into the policy environment

Independent or other review on policy impact of the assessment


Part of the review chapter: Everard, M. 2012. 25. What have Rivers Ever Done for us? Ecosystem Services and River Systems. In: Boon, P.J. and Raven, P.J. (eds.) River Conservation and Management, Wiley, Chichester. pp.313-324.

Lessons learnt for future assessments from these reviews

Optimisation of outcomes across ecosystem services can deliver cumulatively greater societal value than more fragmented approaches on an issue-by-issue basis.

Capacity building

Capacity building needs identified during the assessment

The project itself was a major learning experience for the Defra, the Environment Agency, Wildlife Trusts, Natural England and all other participants.

Actions taken by the assessment to build capacity

How have gaps in capacity been communicated to the different stakeholders

This is a slow process of organisation culture change, both case studies informing a wider transition.

Knowledge generation

Gaps in knowledge identified from the assessment

Quantification of impacts on fish stocks need further research.

How gaps in knowledge have been communicated to the different stakeholders

The report is transparent about methods and assumptions used, including gaps in knowledge.

Additional relevant information