Ecosystem Services - Living within environmental limits

What are Ecosystem Services?
The concept of ecosystem services has been developed to aid our understanding of the human use and management of natural resources

Our health and wellbeing depends upon the services provided by ecosystems and their components: water, soil, nutrients and organisms. Therefore, ecosystem services are the processes by which the environment produces resources utlilised by humans such as clean air, water, food and materials. Ecosystem services can be defined in various ways.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provided the most comprehensive assessment of the state of the global environment to date; it classified ecosystem services as follows:

  • Supporting services:  The services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services including soil formation, photosynthesis, primary production, nutrient cycling and water cycling.

  • Provisioning services:  The products obtained from ecosystems, including food, fibre, fuel, genetic resources, biochemicals, natural medicines, pharmaceuticals, ornamental resources and fresh water;

  • Regulating services:  The benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes, including air quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification, disease regulation, pest regulation, pollination, natural hazard regulation;

  • Cultural services:  The non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences – thereby taking account of landscape values;

The application of ecosystem services in the UK is at an early stage and Catchment Futures, together with other research studies is seeking to investigate this approach.

see more...
ecosystem services project >>
millennium assessment >> (external)
Defra paper - the economic, social and ecological value of ecosystem services >>
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Established in 2001 and based upon an international work programme run by 1300 researchers from 95 countries, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) reported in March 2005. The MA focuses on ecosystem services and how changes in them have affected and will impact upon human wellbeing. The assessment synthesises a wide range of available evidence and seeks options for responses at different scales. The MA is the most comprehensive review of the state of the planet ever conducted. The results are suggest that human activities have changed most ecosystems and threaten the Earth’s ability to support future generations. millennium assessment >>

Ecosystem approach

An ecosystem approach seeks to achieve the sustainable use of ecosystem products and services through a number of key principles:

Management within natural limits

Recognising and respecting biological limits and thresholds and conserving ecosystem structures and productivity.

Management for the long term
Optimising productivity for long-term benefits rather than short-term gain.

Management at micro and macro scales

Recognising that ecosystems exist on many scales and are interconnected management should integrate efforts at different scales.

Account for true value
Economic valuation should be based upon all ecosystem goods and services and not simply the commodity value of extracted goods.

Make trade-offs clear

Ecosystem management will involve trade-offs, but these should be made transparently and equitably.

Involve stakeholders in decisions

Major management decisions should involve all stakeholders to foster equity and inspire active participation in the stewardship of ecosystems.
Source: UNEP/GRID Arednal

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