Lewes & Ouse Valley eco-nomics Group

Walking across Lewes Downs © Colin Tingle

Project summary

The Lewes & Ouse Valley eco-nomics (L&OVe) Group, is engaging local people in recognising the value of nature to increase awareness of ecosystem services as a step towards sustainable development. This is being delivered through its project ‘Chalking up the Benefits’ (see below). This project featured in the 4th issue of Ecosystems News.

Project setting

The project area is centred on Lewes town, which has a population of around 17,000. It extends for five km on each side of the town centre, covering parts of twelve rural constituencies. Two-thirds of the project area lies within the South Downs National Park and it is partially overlapped by six Biodiversity Opportunity Areas. There are a range of important ecosystem service issues locally, including the severe flooding that Lewes suffered in 2001, with damage of around £80million.

How is an ecosystems approach reflected in the work?

Ecosystem services are largely invisible to people in a local community. The project has looked to change the mindsets of the people and organisations it is working with, so that consideration of the benefits that local individuals, community and economy receive from Lewes’s immediately surrounding environment is seen as a key priority. Where possible, this has been linked with local land management to highlight how a healthy local environment (and particular habitats) provide multiple benefits.

Valuing Ecosystems Services for Lewes (VESL): L&OVe is part of the VESL team, which also involves, Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT), Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Trust and Natural England. The team is linked to the South Downs National Character Area, one of 159  National Character Areas in England. VESL  is identifying key areas for ecosystem service provision. It is also exploring valuation criteria - qualitative, quantitative and monetary (as appropriate).

Outputs and outcomes

Tools are being developed to capture public perception of ecosystem benefits and their recipients. This has included

  • Naturegain Going Local workshop process uses a giant map of Lewes and its surroundings, on which participants identify the benefits the community and local economy receive from individual habitats. Participants also identify what benefits specific stakeholders in the town use and/or depend on. It can be an entry point into taking an ecosystems approach, suitable for community groups, professional bodies, businesses, local authority officers and/or elected representatives.  
  • Ecosystem service or Naturegain walks which have been trialled and used locally, often in combination with a wildlife or site management walk. These walks have also been used as an education tool (Natural Resources MSc at University of Greenwich) and in building capacity to take an ecosystem approach for a Darwin project in Ethiopia.
  • A Naturegain Quiz using the video of a Naturegain walk as the focus for the quiz.
  • Teaching materials and School visits have  been used to engage pupils in collecting data on local ecosystem services and in exploring chalk downland and naturegain, with a focus on water capture, the water cycle and ‘the Rhythms of Life’.

Project lead and partners

Lewes and Ouse Valley eco-nomics (L&OVe) is a community group that operates under the umbrella of Transition Town Lewes (TTL). Chalking Up the Benefits has support and financial management from SWT as part of the South Downs ‘Way Ahead’ Nature Improvement Area Partnership.

Funding

L&OVe is a community group and activities are entirely voluntary. Funding is provided for the Chalking up the Benefits project officer by DEFRA, via Natural England and the Nature Improvement Area funding stream.

What are the barriers?

The interconnections between people and locally provided ecosystem services must be turned into practical action that enhances natural capital. It is, however, difficult for a community group to do this when faced with limited resources in terms of time and skills. The strategy has been to get the message across to relevant local professionals and interest groups who have capacity and connections within the community to roll the message out more widely.

The establishment of a Steering Committee has helped the Project Officer focus on specific agreed outputs. Networking with people and organisations that have relevant skills and data has proved invaluable.

What lessons have been learnt

The project has found that the term ‘ecosystem services’ does not help the wider community engage with the concept. Instead, terms such as ‘benefits from the landscape’ and ‘naturegain’, developed by a L&OVe associate, are being used. Many people appreciate the beautiful surroundings but digging a little deeper it becomes apparent that people also understand wider benefits that the environment provides, even though these are not understood as ‘ecosystem services’.  Different messages, tailored for different groups and relevant to a specific local context are key.

Working with partners with similar interests is invaluable, although it does require considerable time for liaison and action.

What next?

The focus will be on the use of the Naturegain Going Local workshop process to assist the Lewes Neighbourhood Plan in taking an ecosystem approach and (if appropriate) in bringing together ecosystem service providers and beneficiaries to help focus attention on the health of local natural capital and suitable management and use of land for mutual benefit. Links are also being fostered with the Friends of Lewes Urban Arboretum project, which is undertaking an iTree survey to value ecosystem services from urban trees. Greater integration with the work of key Sussex Wildlife Trust staff is also in process.

Further information

Learn more about the Lewes & Ouse Valley eco-nomics Group, the Lewes and Ouse Living Landscape or contact Project Officer Colin Tingle.

The Ecosystems Knowledge Network held a field trip to the project on June 5th, 2014. The event allowed participants to learn about how local communities can be involved in the valuation of ecosystem services and to share their own experiences in this area. More information can be found on the event page, and the event flyer.