New tool helps to place a value on nature

Published: 17 October 2013 at 14:48

Anglia Ruskin collaborates on project to improve decision making around vital ecosystems

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Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University have worked alongside experts from the University of Cambridge, the University of Southampton, BirdLife International, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and the RSPB, to produce a toolkit to help measure the value of ecosystems.

The Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessments (TESSA) has been designed to provide a relatively cheap and accessible way to measure, on site, the value of ecosystem services.  It allows non-experts to make the assessments and demonstrate who could be the winners and losers from any changes in land use.

Available at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/info/estoolkit, TESSA currently covers five classes of service: global climate regulation, water-related services, harvested wild goods, cultivated goods and nature-based recreation.  New modules on pollination, cultural services and coastal protection are planned for the future.

Dr Francine Hughes, Reader in Animal and Environmental Biology at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“Nature provides people with many benefits, for example harvested goods such as timber or medicinal products from forests, clean water or recreational opportunities and a feeling of wellbeing.
“These benefits are often called ‘ecosystem services’ and though it is easy to talk about them, it is very difficult to measure them or to put an economic value on them.  Some people would argue that many of nature’s benefits are impossible to value, that they are priceless, and for some services this is probably true.
“However, some ecosystem services can be measured and therefore their value can be included in land use decisions such as whether to log a forest or drain a wetland.  Demonstrating nature’s value in economic terms often carries weight with decision makers, and can lead to better-informed decisions that support biodiversity conservation.
“Many of the world’s protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves provide high levels of ecosystem services.  However, there was previously no accessible toolkit that would allow managers of protected areas to make an ecosystem assessment of their nature reserve.”

The collaboration to develop TESSA has been supported by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, the Axa Research Fund, and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

Authors from the collaborating institutions have published an overview of TESSA in the journal Ecosystem Services, including examples of how it is being used at sites around the world.  The toolkit was successfully trialled at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, as well as at conservation areas in Nepal and the Caribbean island of Montserrat.