Ecosystem Approach

Ecosystem Approach Sourcebook - Case-Study Details

1. Project Details
Author or Responsible Organization Defra:
Project Title Inventory and Assessment of Natural Resources: Defra Project Code: NR0101 D Osborn, GJL Leeks, N Thompson, LA Ball With special inputs from L. Rickards, I Bradley, J Vickery
Date of Publication 08/08/2007
Project Status Completed
Project Start Date
Project End Date
Countries United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Regions Western Europe and Others
Funding Source
2. Background to Project
Project Issue/Problem Statement This project carried out a high level review and assessment of the means by which the quantity and quality of components of the natural environment in the UK are identified, monitored and assessed, with particular reference to the delivery of economic functions or ecosystem services. The commentary included. - the uniqueness and environmental or ecological significance of different resources, - gaps in reporting, and - opportunities for new approaches and integration - especially those that might lead to enhancement of the natural environment in future or more effective delivery of ecosystem services and functions.
Project Description The databases held by the National Environment Research Council and a number of other bodies – principally the National Soil Resources Institute, the British Trust for Ornithology and English Nature – have been examined to determine the degree to which they could be used to compile an inventory of UK natural resources and to determine the extent to which this knowledge could be, or is being, used to assess both the state of these resources, and also trends in them and threats to them. The work is an initial contribution to the new Defra initiative on Natural Resource Protection. This is one of a number of Defra initiatives designed to help deliver the UK Government strategy on Sustainable Development. This is set out in the recently published Securing the Future, see website: .
Highlighted Aspects of Ecosystem Approach We asked data holders and managers to complete a simple form (agreed with Defra), telling us the basic facts about their data, and how it was used, or might be used, to strengthen the evidence base on the following sets of natural resources: Biodiversity (including habitats and ecosystems), Soils, Air Quality, Water, Marine Resources, and Access to the Countryside. Issues linked to landscapes were likely to be covered more completely in a related project, but landscape elements of the responses were considered where possible. Our study has not been comprehensive and we have not provided a list of all the existing data sets relevant to Defra’s Natural Resource Protection agenda. This is because many organisations now make this information available on publicly accessible web-sites. In this study, we sought examples of a range of reasonably well developed data sources that would illustrate what is being, or could be done, to meet the needs of evidence-based policy in Natural Resource Protection.
Conclusions Efforts were made to identify exemplar datasets at both UK and international levels, for the purpose of gaining a wide perspective on the use, integration, and perceived value of data in each of the set of natural resources identified. There were few suitable international comparators. Respondents varied substantially in the way that they dealt with our enquiries. In many cases respondents referred our enquiries to central or higher parts of their organisation. We believe this indicates the seriousness with which respondents viewed the project aims and objectives, and the significance of the underlying policy needs that our questions addressed. This made synthesis of responses slightly more difficult than anticipated. The main findings are as follows: • There are few high quality data sets that can be regarded as fully functional with respect to the needs of Natural Resource Protection, but a high number that are partially functional. There is considerable potential. An inventory could be constructed. • There is substantial variation in the time and spatial scales over which data is collected and the spatial coverage which is available. • Some data of high value to the scientific community, or various parts of the user community, has not yet been used to address some Natural Resource Protection issues (e.g. the amount of data relevant to countryside access is considerable but no overall measures of access exist). • Certain data sets have only been collected for short periods of time, but amongst these are examples where the research community and users have linked scientific and user aims to address issues relevant to Natural Resource Protection policy needs, (e.g. NERC Thematic Programmes). • Research datasets appear to be underused in assisting the development and strategies of larger scale data collection by regulatory bodies. This may be due to insufficient or inappropriate mechanisms for communication between research and user communities. • In certain cases, dynamic databases exist, where information is gathered for the specific purpose of meeting on government policy or delivery target, (e.g. EN PSA targets). In these excellent examples, the only issue for the scientific community is the degree to which the data reflects ecosystem or other ecological processes. The very best system would of course do this; protecting function by measurement of an ecological process. • In international arenas we were made aware that some broad approaches to environmental protection (e.g., UNECE approaches to critical loads and OSPARCOM considerations) allow obligations to treaties and conventions to be met differently by member states and signatories. We conclude therefore that there cannot be many good international examples of datasets being acquired or used for National Resource Protection. • In federal countries some states may have more advanced positions on Natural Resource Protection issues than the federal authorities across the nation at a national level (e.g. USA, Germany). • In some instances, we find that the data originators may not be fully aware of the uses to which data is being put by the user community (e.g. CEH Flood Data, LCM). • A number of data sets show considerable potential for development as part of the NRP evidence base. These include datasets and databases of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the British Oceanographic Data Centre (and other marine groups such as the Centre for Environmental, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), the British Geological Survey, the National Soil Resources Institute, the British Trust for Ornithology, English Nature. Some of these organisations’ databases have European parallels, e.g. RIVPACS, and even County Councils’ footpath information. • A number of other initiatives are underway asking questions close to Natural Resource Protection interests (i.e. a Cambridge Conservation Forum / MacArthur Foundation work on environment protection criteria and environmental limits). • In general, there was little link between plot-scale data sets that examined processes and large scale surveys focused on major environmental factors or impacts. There is a need to integrate both data and mind-sets here. • There was increasing evidence that interest groups of various kinds are prepared to get together to obtain their own information and distribute it back to interested parties in value added forms (initialising data integration) (e.g. the National Biodiversity Network). • There is a role for several different types of information in an Inventory, e.g. Atlases, Monitoring Schemes, Surveys and plot or reach-based studies (catchments would be needed at landscape scales). Projects such as Countryside Quality Counts also have a place. • Not all data holders have commented about existing or potential data integration, or the lack of it. A number of good examples of integration exist yet there is a reluctance to identify problems in a public document. • There are also clear gaps in integration (e.g. in linkage or compatibility of data collected in adjacent sub-environments (e.g. air and land, river and estuary). • Because, as mentioned above, some data originators do not know how their data is being used, this raises the possibility of inadvertent data misuse. • Lack of communication between different data holders and between data collectors/holders/users may indicate that opportunities regarding synergistic development and optimised collection/use of data relevant to NRP may not be fully realised. • Respondents had widely divergent issues on whether data was used or generated with respect to ecosystem services or functions. These concepts are not well embedded in all parts of the science community.
3. Sectors and Biomes
4. Tools and Approaches
Tools and Approaches   Relevance
Governance, Law and Policy 3-High
- Assessment Techniques 3-High
- Policy development, planning and reform 3-High
Data, Monitoring and Modelling 3-High
- Data collection 3-High
- Monitoring methods 2-Medium
5. Issues
Issues   Relevance
Ecosystem Approach 3-High
Governance, Law and Policy 3-High
Identification, Monitoring and Indicators 3-High
6. Ecosystem Approach
Principles and Operational Guidance   Relevance
(Only if NOT relevant)
Principle 11: The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices 3-High
Principle 12: The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines 3-High
7. Lessons Learned and the Outcomes
Lessons Learned The implication of the NRP approach is that we need to develop monitoring systems that provide early warnings, especially when resource use approaches the environmental limits of the resource. These limits need to take account of the patterns and dynamics of the resource in a heterogeneous environment. The global system, including its biodiversity, and the habitats and ecosystems services that support those living organisms, would exist and function in the absence of humans. Yet the survival of humans is greatly dependent upon the global system. The physical, biological, and chemical integrity of the global system is vital to our survival because they underpin our basic requirements of shelter, food, and energy. For the system to operate in a healthy fashion, a key area from which diagnostic and prognostic indicators can be derived is the operating systems. If the sub-systems are working normally, then it is quite likely that sustainable ecosystem services will be delivered. It therefore follows that this is the area of the global system that should be monitored most closely, along with the key chemical and physical parameters. Thus, the current NRP resources list needs to be amended to include the chemical and physical parameters of air, water, and soil that are not directly relevant to Ecosystem Services.
Other Information Important issues which need to be resolved to ensure effective use of data for Natural Resource Protection include the following: • No index is in common usage to provide an objective index of data quantity and quality in comparison to data utility. Such an index might prove useful. • Each of the reviews of environmental data carried out over the last ten years which are relevant to Natural Resource rotection have been carried out for very different reasons. In these reviews, the level of objective assessment of data utility has been variable and usually absent. • No broad data review has tested the reliability of statements concerning the value and use of data collected. Despite the excellent work of Defra’s own statistical groups (e.g. on environmental indicators), this problem is persisting because no single organisation has taken long term ownership, or responsibility for a process of continued review of environmental datasets, or been fully committed to the development of enduring long term agreed standards for assessment of a broad range of resource databases.
8. References
References Defra 2007. Inventory and Assessment of Natural Resources: Defra Project Code: NR0101 D Osborn, GJL Leeks, N Thompson, LA Ball. With special inputs from L. Rickards, I Bradley, J Vickery
9. Contact Details
Contact Person Miss Amanda Gregory
Organization Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Address Monkstone House
City Road
Postal Code PE1 1JY
City Peterborough
ZIP/State/Province Cambs
Telephone 0044 1733 866898
E-mail Address