Payments for Ecosystem Services – Poole research pilot

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.  Further information on PES available here. The following is one of the PES pilot research projects that Defra is funding to explore the potential for PES across England and Wales.

RSPB: PES for nutrient management in Poole Harbour, the Frome and Piddle

This pilot project ended formally in June 2013. A final report has been produced.


  • Nitrogen levels in Poole Harbour are at damaging levels, and with Poole Harbour failing its targets under the Habitats Regulations this is preventing any new development. A PES scheme could allow new development if anyone proposing a new project or development would pay others to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the Harbour from existing sources, balancing the input from their new project. The idea is that this is cheaper than new projects removing nitrogen on-site.
  • The key beneficiaries of this would be developers who are able to profit from construction. There are possible co-benefits to the general public, other organisations and government objectives, should mitigation measures improve habitats or over-perform.

The project involved:

  1. an investigation of the potential of functional wetlands to remove nitrogen
  2. an assessment of the cost effectiveness of different measures to reduce nutrient loads, finding land management options cheaper than land use change and nitrogen stripping
  3. workshops and meetings to explore the benefits, drawbacks and barriers of a market in nitrogen reduction measures around Poole Harbour. The main barriers are the length of contracts with land managers, and concerns around possible violation of the 'polluter pays' principle.
  4. The project is due to end in June 2013.