Payments for ecosystem services

What are they?

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) is a term used to describe a range of schemes through which the beneficiaries, or users, of ecosystem services provide payment to the stewards, or providers of those services. The beneficiaries may be individuals, communities, businesses or public bodies.

Uptake in the UK

A summary of the results of a 2016 survey of perceptions about PES and its uptake in the UK is now available.

Starting points

  • In December 2016, Defra published its review of 16 payments for ecosystem services pilot projects that it supported between 2012 and 2015. This contains a helpful description of what payments for ecosystem services, as well as an overview of the findings from the pilots.

  • In September 2016, Green Alliance and the National Trust launched a proposal for a Natural Infrastructure Scheme, an area based market in avoided costs, delivering environmental improvements by bringing together groups of land managers to sell ecosystem services to groups of beneficiaries.

  • The Defra best practice guide on payments for ecosystem services remains the best introduction to what the approach is and how it might be applied in the UK.  It contains an annex outlining some examples of schemes in the UK and elsewhere. Both documents (main report 10MB85 pages and case studies annex 2.27MB38 pages) can be downloaded by clicking on the images below.

Practical examples

Defra has supported a wide range of PES pilot projects exploring the potential for PES across England and Wales. Alongside these the Wetland Example of Payments for Ecosystem Services initiative has been applying PES on the River Fal in West Cornwall. The annex to the best practice guide on payments for ecosystem services lists a series of UK and international case studies of schemes in which payments for ecosystem services have played a part. 

Further guidance

Specific environmental contexts

  • The Valuing Nature Network has published a briefing note entitled 'Catchment Management Using Payments for Ecosystem Services to Restore and Maintain Upland Peat'.
  • A guide to restoring river catchment function using payments for ecosystem services has been produced by Westcountry Rivers Trust in association with partners in the WATER Project. This can be accessed at the bottom of a webpage describing The Rivers Trust EU 'WATER' Conference, June 2012.
  • primer on initiating PES schemes in marine and coastal systems has been produced by Forest Trends.
  • A report on Developing place based approaches for PES in the English Uplands, focussing on the practical application of PES schemes in uplands.  The technical appendix discusses how carbon sequestration services in the South Pennines could be valued and potentially traded as part of a PES scheme.

Standards and codes

  • The Woodland Carbon Code  helps to provide assurance to individuals and businesses that woodland planting and management schemes will deliver the carbon savings that they claim.
  • The UK Peatland Code was launched in 2013 as a voluntary standard for peatland restoration projects in the UK that want to be sponsored on the basis of their climate and other benefits.

The role of charities and the non-profit sector

In 2014, the summary of an assessment of the role of charities and other non-profit organisations in facilitating and supporting the take up of PES was published. The work was commissioned by Welsh Government.