Mapping & assessing ecosystem services

Ecosystem service map, Network workshop in Sheffield, November 2012

Ecosystem services is a term now used to describe the range of things the environment does for people. Other people refer to them as nature's benefits. They range from reducing flood risk to providing opportunities for recreation.

Assessing and measuring ecosystem services

  • practical guide to ecosystem service assessment has been published by the Institution of Environmental Sciences. This contains information on what ecosystem services are, and how to go about assessing them.
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada has produced a 'tool kit' entitled Completing and using ecosystem service assessment for decision-making. While intended primarily for analysts of public policies and projects, it is useful to a wide range of professionals.
  • The TESSA toolkit provides guidance on how to measure and monitor ecosystem services at the site scale, and was developed by Anglia Ruskin University, BirdLife International, Cambridge University, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The toolkit measures ecosystem services at specific sites and assesses changes that might occur as a result of management decisions. In 2011, Natural England published a scoping study to identify and comment upon existing data sources that might be suitable for monitoring change in ecosystem service delivery as a result of management changes. 
  • A Natural England report, Mapping values: the vital nature of our uplands, contains examples of data that can be used as proxy indicators of ecosystem service provision.
  • Ecosystems Interactions on the Somerset Levels was a Defra-sponsored appraisal of ecosystem services in this part of England.

Mapping ecosystem services

Mapping ecosystem services helps people to understand and communicate the full spectrum of ways in which the natural environment contributes to people's well being. Ecosystem services can be portrayed spatially at all scales, from the local (such as within a local authority district) to nationally (as occurred in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment).

See our Tool Assessor service for links to analytical tools that map ecosystem services.  An Ecosystem Service Mapping Gateway has been developed by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability Directorate, with funding from Natural England. This map and database contains information on the growing number of ecosystem service mapping projects across the UK.

Examples of published ecosystem service maps

  • Birmingham City Council has produced ecosystem service maps as part of its Green Living Spaces Plan.
  • Maps of ecosystem services in Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders, undertaken as part of pilot projects for the first Land Use Strategy for Scotland.
  • Natural England's maps of ten ecosystem services for all of England. A case study of ecosystem service mapping for the South Downs (Southern England) is included.
  • ESI-SIT is a web-based decision support tool for visualising how ecosystem services may change across the landscape in response to changes in landscape management. ESI-SIT has been developed by researchers at the University of York, UK, as part of a project funded by Defra, with additional support from the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability (BESS) programme. ESI-SIT is currently available for the Humberhead Levels and Tees Valley.

  • A suite of Green Infrastructure Plans were developed in Hertfordshire, using a methodology which incorporated ecosystem services. A report summarises the findings on supply of and demand for the functionality/benefits/ecosystems services that GI provides and provides the plans and proposed initiatives.

Guidance on the value of mapping and how to do it

  • The Living with Environmental Change Programme (now known as the Ride Forum) produced a note on Locating and measuring nature’s benefits. It offers guidance on what mapping tools exist and what they can be used for.
  • The NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability (BESS) programme has produced guidelines on mapping ecosystem services.
  • In 2012, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee has published a report on the spatial mapping of ecosystem services. Using existing datasets, and tested on terrestrial and marine habitats around the UK, it has developed an ecosystem service ‘spatial framework’ to show what is currently possible when it comes to mapping and modelling. 
  • Natural Resources Wales commissioned a study to explore how ecosystem goods and services can be modelled, and how mapping can be applied to spatial policy objectives to identify trade-offs and benefits. More information is in this on line presentation.

Data and information to support the production of maps

A separate page is available on access to environmental data that may be used in ecosystem service mapping.