Ecosystem Services Assessment of the Basque Country

Geographical coverage

Geographical scale of the assessment Sub-national
Country or countries covered Spain
Any other necessary information or explanation for identifying the location of the assessment, including site or region name

The Basque Country is located in northern Spain (Europe). It includes the Basque provinces of Alava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa, also called Historical Territories.

Conceptual framework, methodology and scope

Assessment objectives

The purpose of this project is to put the conceptual and methodological framework of the UN’s international science programme into practice in the Basque Country. The goal of this programme, known as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), is to generate scientific knowledge, to can be applied in the public and private spheres, regarding the consequences of the changes that are taking place in ecosystems (the majority of which are due to the impact of land-use policy), and to present possible response options. Special attention is paid to evaluating the services that ecosystems provide and to how they are affected by human activities.

The project is meant to serve as a tool to identify priority actions that can prevent or mitigate human impact on ecosystems and also to highlight the policies and actions that have a positive effect on the conservation and sustainable use of natural capital. In addition, it aims to provide planning and management tools and to offer perspectives on the future (scenarios) indicating the consequences of the decisions that affect the flow of ecosystem services.

The goal is not only to inform policies and institutions, but also to encourage citizens to appreciate the natural value of the Basque Country. Taking an understanding of ecosystems as a starting point, through the sharing and diffusion of these results, the project aims to educate the people of the Basque Country regarding the intrinsic value of our natural and rural environment.

The specific goals of the project are: a) To produce an initial overall diagnosis of the current state of ecosystem services in the Basque Country. The change or trend (positive and negative) in the services provided by ecosystems over the last quarter of a century will be analysed. b) To describe and assess the direct and indirect drivers of change and their relationship to the flow of services that the natural environment provides to society. c) To define criteria and create tools and models to inform decision-making in integrated land-use planning and management. d) To generate overall scenarios that make it possible to appreciate the future consequences of the decisions that affect ecosystems and the services they provide. e) To identify possible response options that can fulfil human development and environmental sustainability objectives.
f) To ensure that the citizens of the Basque Country value the natural environment and ecosystems. Using an awareness of their condition as a starting point, to design and apply interventions and policies towards citizens. g) To spread awareness of the main messages and most important results of the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Programme in the Basque Country.

Mandate for the assessment

This assessment has been driven by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in Biscay which began in 2008 and was promoted by the County Council of Biscay through an agreement with the UNESCO Chair of Sustainable Development and Environmental Education at the University of the Basque Country. Thanks to this work, in 2012 the Basque Government saw the need to expand the assessment to the whole territory and began to work on it.

In 2015 the Basque Government's Environment and Territorial Policy Department, the Environment Department of the County Council of Biscay and the Forestry and Rural Department of the County Council of Gipuzkoa agreed to collaborate for the implementation of the MEA approach in the Basque Country.

Conceptual framework and/or methodology used for the assessment

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)

URL or copy of conceptual framework developed or adapted

Ecological bio-physical assessments and socio-economic assessment is being applied following this steeps based on Hein et al (2006) framework: Step 1: Specification of the boundaries of the system to be valued, and characterization of the socio-ecosystem. Step 2: Assessment of ecosystem services in bio-physical terms. In the ecological assessment, ecosystem services maps are developed overlaying different ecological variables. Step 3: Socio-economic analysis and stakeholder and users identification. Besides, in order to reinforce the socio-economic assessment and to study more in detail the links between ecosystem services and human well-being, face to face interviews and/or surveys are being made with stakeholders and key persons at different zones. Step 4: Valuating using indicators (not just monetary indicators). Step 5: Information analysis: Trade-offs analysis. Contrast with stakeholders at workshops. Step 6: Aggregation of the information obtained at the processes to improve policy options. The main tools will be the collection of data (ecological and socio-economic), the development of databases, the development of GIS maps and utilities crossing data and mapping references, the surveys being used to analyse users perception and ES valuation, and the stakeholder consultations and workshops with local policy-makers and stakeholders.

System(s) assessed

  • Coastal
  • Inland water
  • Forest and woodland
  • Cultivated/Agricultural land
  • Grassland
  • Mountain
  • Dryland
  • Urban

Species groups assessed

Flora and fauna

Ecosystem services/functions assessed


  • Food
  • Water
  • Timber/fibres
  • Genetic resources


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

Supporting Services/Functions

Cultural Services

  • Recreation and tourism

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


Assessment outputs


Naturaleza y bienestar en Bizkaia. La evaluación de los servicios de los ecosistemas; investigación aplicada a la gestión

Nature and human well-being in Biscay. Ecosystem Services Assesment; research applied to management

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

A framework for non market valuation of cultural ecosystem services in biosphere reserves

Biscay Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Brochure-Basque and Spanish

Biscay Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Brochure-English and French

Brochure (English and French): Ecosystem Services Assessment of the Basque Country

Brochure (Spanish and Basque): Evaluación de los Servicios de los Ecosistemas de Euskadi

Carbon sequestration Vs. other forest ecosystem services: are they in conflict?

Collection of Didactic Sheets of EEMBiscay project results -

Contribución de los sistemas forestales al servicio de almacenamiento de C

Divulgative book on ecosystem services and human well-being with the EEMBiscay case study

Efecto de la cantidad y tipo de hojarasca en el almac enaje de ag ua en el suelo

El papel de los servicios de los ecosistemas en la conservación de la biodiversidad

Evaluación de los Ecosistemas del Milenio y Geodiversidad

Evaluación de los servicios de los ecosistemas como base para la gestión sostenible del territorio

Fast Vs. Slowly Growing Species for Carbon Sequestration: A Question of Time

Logo (Basque)

Logo (English)

Logo (Spanish)

Mapping Ecosystem Services in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve

Secuestro de C en las plantaciones forestales de Bizkaia: potencial de las especies nativas

Spatial Congruence Between Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in the Basque Country Region (North of Spain)

The upper Oka estuary. Services provided by the estuary ecosystem (Video)

Trade-offs between biodiversity and ecosistem services in a Biosphere Reserve

Journal publications

Co-benefits and trade-offs between biodiversity, carbon storage and water flow regulation in the Biosphere Reserve of Urdaibai. Forest Ecology and Management, 289: 1-9

Evaluación de los servicios de los ecosistemas como base para la gestión sostenible del territorio. Forum de Sostenibilidad 4: 21-31.

Evaluación y localización de los servicios de los ecosistemas en la Reserva de la Biosfera de Urdaibai. En: Onaindia, M (Eds)

Integrating stakeholders’ demands and scientific knowledge on ecosystem services in landscape planning. Landscape Ecology (DOI 10.1007/s10980-014-9994-1)

Mapping recreation and aesthetic value of ecosystems in the Bilbao Metropolitan Greenbelt (northern Spain) to support landscape planning. Landscape Ecology (doi:10.1007/s10980-013-9945-2)

Mapping recreation supply and demand using an ecological and a social evaluation approach. Ecosystem Services 13: 108-118.

Multiple ecosystem services landscape index: A tool for multifunctional landscapes conservation

Participatory process to prioritize actions for a sustainable management in a biosphere reserve. Environmental Science & Policy 33: 283-294.

Perception, demand and user contribution to ecosystem services in the Bilbao Metropolitan Greenbelt. Journal of Environmental Management 129, 33-43.

Provisioning ecosystem services supply and demand: The role of landscape management to reinforce supply and promote synergies with other ecosystem services

Relevance for decision making of spatially explicit, participatory scenarios for ecosystem services in an area of a high current demand. Environmental Science & Policy 54: 199-209.

Servicios de Regulación de los ecosistemas en la Reserva de la Biosfera de Urdaibai. En Onaindia, M.; Ibabe, A.; Unzueta, J. (Eds.).

The relevance of local participatory scenario planning for ecosystem management policies in the Basque Country, northern Spain. Ecology and Society 18 (3): 7. [online] URL:

Uncovering Ecosystem Service Bundles through Social Preferences. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38970.

Use of native species to improve carbon sequestration and contribute towards solving the environmental problems of the timberlands in Biscay, northern Spain. Journal of Environmental Management 120: 18-26.

Training materials

Other documents/outputs

Tools and processes

Tools and approaches used in the assessment

  • Modelling
  • Trade-off analysis
  • Geospatial analysis
  • Indicators
  • Scenarios
  • Economic valuation
  • Social (non-monetary) valuation
  • Stakeholder consultations
  • Response options

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

At the beginning of the project a communications plan was developed, which includes these aspects. Essentially, the involvement of users has been achieved communicating the project and trying to involve all the different actors, though simple activities such as: the edition of materials, the diffusion through specialized and unspecialized media, having all the information available in the Web…

Once reached the involvement of users, this has been nurtured and maintained through involving them in events of interest for users, using participatory methods and giving always feedback to users and participants in the project.

Another participatory methodology often used in the assessment is the interviews to stakeholder’s in order to analyze user’s perceptions.

Key stakeholder groups engaged

The users defined in the EEMB are:

• Local governments: The basque Government and the Regional Governments of Biscay, Gipuzkoa and Álava, and local administrations. • Private sectors, such as forest sector or industry sector. • Scientifics, including Universities and technological centres. • Local associations: cultural, environmental, rural… • Citizens.

The number of people directly involved in the assessment process


Incorporation of scientific and other types of knowledge

  • Scientific information only
  • Resource experts (e.g. foresters etc)
  • Traditional/local knowledge
  • Citizen science

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

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

This process is very important because reinforces the interaction between scientific, society and policy makers; and including the last step, we have been able to provide a great range of responses for policy makers, specially un the incorporation of the project results in the land planning and management (e.g. in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve) or in the application of municipal indicators.

Independent or other review on policy impact of the assessment


Lessons learnt for future assessments from these reviews

Developing a comprehensive communications plan ensures effective outreach The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in Biscay (EEMBizkaia) is a local scale assessment which has achieved success due to a clear outreach and coordination strategy. An extensive communication plan was carried out in coordination with researchers, local authorities and NGOs, ensuring stakeholder participation from the outset and the subsequent socialisation of results. Key aspects of this communication plan included:

Involving stakeholders at multiple stages of the assessment; either in educational workshops, research surveys and interviews, or sharing results via conferences or modern media channels. Encouraging direct contact and continuous communication between all stakeholders and the technical assessment team to voice problems and concerns and guide outputs.

Specifically, local, national and international conferences and workshops were conducted to articulate the assessment benefits to key audiences. This was alongside continuous development of outreach materials and publications in both specialised journals and the general public media, including short, simple audio-visual media to convey key messages in a friendly manner and engage diverse interest groups. Further, continuous communication with international partners and other multidisciplinary teams, particularly the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of Spain, ensured coordinated efforts, engagement with the wider community and scaling of results.

With widespread buy-in from a range of key stakeholder, results of the assessment are being integrated into policy and implemented by local technical authorities.

Capacity building

Capacity building needs identified during the assessment

Actions taken by the assessment to build capacity

Fellowships/exchanges/secondments/mentoring programmes, Network and sharing experiences, Sharing of data/repatriation of data, Workshops, Developing/promoting and providing access to support tools, Communication and awareness raising

How have gaps in capacity been communicated to the different stakeholders

Knowledge generation

Gaps in knowledge identified from the assessment

How gaps in knowledge have been communicated to the different stakeholders

Additional relevant information

A communication plan has been developed focused on different groups based in knowledge/commitment criteria. On the one hand, policy-makers, researchers and other stakeholders with some educational background that assures a minimum comprehension of scientific data and ability to assume outputs and provide inputs to the process. On the other hand, a wide diffusion and communication is being made, in lower level, to the general public. In addition, two differentiated scales have been defined: international and local scale. This plan aims to: - Communicate the process and results to international and state level, reaching international recognition. - Communicate the process and results to local level (Basque organisations and local authorities). - Train stakeholders with the best possible alternatives to improve decision making (capacity building). - Raise Basque citizens awareness about the natural values, making citizenship more conscious about the services of the ecosystems. Besides, communication and coordination activities are being promoted with international on-going processes. In addition, the MEABC is in permanent contact and coordination with the Spanish SGA, and as well with the SGA Network.