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Ecosystem service research showcase

22 June 2011

Key conference highlights Welsh expertise in food security and ecosystem services.

Can we find better ways to fit what nature can deliver with what our society really needs? Could this increase the capacity of both nature and society to cope with pressure? Could resilient ecosystems deliver, sustainably, a range of services on which both social wellbeing and biological diversity can thrive? These are some of the key questions that will be raised by Dr Isabelle Durance, Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s Sustainable Places Research Institute at a key Ecosystem Service Conference in Cardiff.

The conference held on 22-23 June, is organised by the Biosciences, Environment and Agriculture Alliance (BEAA) between Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities and the Wales Environment Research Hub (WERH) which liaises with all Universities in this field. Over the two days the conference will explore the research strengths of the St David’s Day Group of Universities (Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan and Swansea), showcasing and highlighting opportunities for collaboration between the Universities and policy makers.

"The team at the Sustainable Places Research Institute is well placed to contribute to this ecosystem service agenda as it is such an interdisciplinary team," said Dr Isabelle Durance. "A range of specialists, including biologists, geographers, geologists and climate scientists, to health scientists and social scientists working together. Their common interest: the link between biodiversity, ecosystem services and social wellbeing."

Their work will build on the concept of resilience, the capacity to cope with pressure.
Current projects focus on freshwater ecosystems in Wales, a follow up on their involvement in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, a landmark study just published by Defra – the Department for Food and Rural Affairs – with the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The National Ecosystem Assessment, co-chaired by Defra chief scientist Bob Watson and presented to government on June 2nd, is being hailed as one of most important pieces of environmental thinking of the last 30 years.

In a striking example of partnership working, over 500 scientists and economists contributed. Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences had a central role, with Professor Steve Ormerod a member of the 27-strong expert panel and co-leader of the assessment for the UK’s fresh waters. In one of the most high profile contribution so far from the University’s new Sustainable Places Research Institute, Dr Isabelle Durance provided critical maps on which both the freshwater and Welsh ecosystem assessment were based, while Dr Ian Vaughan co-authored the fresh water chapter.

In over 1000 pages, the report emphasises the value of broad ecosystems such as Britain’s woodlands, enclosed farmlands and wetlands. More radically, the assessment asked what ecosystem services each provides – in other words the life support systems on which we all depend. Obvious examples are the provision of food, fibre and water.  But ecosystems also regulate our climate, provide breathable air, clean our polluted water, and provide protection from flooding. They enrich our lives through recreation, education and the sheer beauty of organisms or landscapes.

Although controversial, one of the report’s most important contributions has been to attempt to value the benefits of nature. Working from information provided by ecologists such as Professor Ormerod, economists estimated, for example, that inland wetlands are worth up to £1.5billion per year to the UK in providing clean water, while the amenity benefits of living close to rivers, coasts and other wetlands is worth up to £1.3billion. At the same time, the report emphasizes that nature has many values that can’t be captured in purely monetary terms.

In addition to showcasing expertise the BEAA and WERH Ecosystem Services Conference will also focus on the Welsh environmental context and how research capability in Wales can be used to address the main challenges in implementation of policy in this area.

Related links

Dr Isabelle Durance

Dr Ian Vaughan

Professor Steve Ormerod

Biosciences, Environment and Agriculture Alliance (BEAA)

Wales Environment Research Hub (WERH)

Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)