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Ecosystem Services: Taking the Next Step

The CRPR’s Symposium on Ecosystem Services, held on 1st June at the Mercure Southgate Hotel, was designed to explore current evidence and innovation around ecosystem services and the ecosystems approach. Attended by around 50 academics and practitioners and with a range of engaging speakers the Symposium sparked much discussion. For copies of the presentations please click on the name of the speaker.  Unfortunately Rob Fish's presentation cannot be made available due to copyright rules but there is a link to the Valuing Nature website where you can download the book.

The opening speaker, Professor Michael Winter, questioned whether an Ecosystem Services approach necessarily implies sustainability. His presentation reviewed his current work on the Defra-funded Sustainable Intensification Research Platform and then went on to explore the relationship between Sustainable Intensification and Ecosystem Services.

Professor Duncan Russel’s presentation was on the factors that facilitate and hamper the implementation of ecosystems services. He suggested that, whilst decision-makers sometimes reach the rational high ground, much decision making actually occurs in the ‘swampy low ground’. In other words, the world of policy making and implementation is complex and many actors are muddling through. Duncan’s research has revealed a range of societal, institutional and individual enablers and barriers and showed that possessing ‘more knowledge’ or championing new ideas does not necessarily mean that it will be embedded into policy-making and help implementation.

Understanding the value of the Culm Grasslands for ecosystem services was the basis of Professor Richard Brazier’s presentation.  Culm grassland is an internationally important habitat and, although once more widespread, like many habitats the area of the Culm has been significantly eroded and fragmented and Devon is home to over 80% of the remaining Culm in England. Compared to intensively managed grassland, Culm soils are characterised by higher soil moisture, organic matter and carbon content. It is estimated that the loss of water and carbon value from Culm grasslands, which have been converted to intensively managed grasslands since 1900, is £32.3 million. Work undertaken to date by Devon Wildlife Trust in the restoration of Culm grassland is estimated to have a potential benefit of over £9 million. Richard concluded by saying that such figures need to be combined with data describing agricultural productivity in order to understand whether recreation of Culm grasslands is viable at the landscape scale.

Dr Rob Fish opened the afternoon session with an enthusiastic overview of his experiment in public dialogue designed to understand what people make of the ecosystem services agenda. Working with publics in Birmingham, Glasgow and Exeter this project drew on the work of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment to engage people in extensive discussion about ‘ecosystem services’ and the ‘ecosystem approach’. Despite some initial scepticism the direction of dialogue was cautiously positive and participants tended to view the ES framework more positively the more they applied and learned about it.  

Laurence Couldrick spoke about the future of payments for ecosystem services and the work of the Westcountry Rivers Trust with over 2000 farmers and covering some 150,000 ha. He stressed the importance of partnership working, monitoring outcomes and the benefits that can flow from better information and understanding.

Exeter PhD student, Nick Kirsop Taylor, gave an assessment of Biodiversity Offsetting. Nick argued that while rumours of the death of biodiversity offsetting may be exaggerated, it may well ‘disappear’ as part of the new government’s agenda. He outlined various possible futures for biodiversity offsetting including that of becoming a zombie policy with the conclusion that “The autopsy may have to wait a while, but maybe not too long…”. 

Finally, Lisa Schneidau from Devon Wildlife Trust, rather bravely summed-up the day and identified the next steps. She acknowledged various topics for further discussion including the importance of communication and the need for an integrated approach.

Overall the Symposium was a great success with much discussion especially over the all-important good lunch.  We are now busy planning the next event using the feedback from our delegates.

29 June 2016