Natural Resources Wales’ SCCAN (Natural Resource Planning Support System in Welsh) project aims to provide an ecosystem service mapping system which allows users to weigh up and set priorities for the many competing demands that are placed on the environment. The aim of the project is to provide decision makers with information about which areas provide what benefits and where the best areas are for improving ecosystem service provision. By supplying this information, it becomes easier for people to take a more integrated approach to their work and consider a wide range of ecosystem services when taking decisions about development or management.
The SCCAN mapping system identifies natural resources which supply ecosystem services, provide benefits to society and the economy and maintain ecological resilience. By providing this information the SCCAN project aims to make it easier for decision-makers to take ecosystem services into account and to start considering a more integrated management of the environment. Rather than aim to provide expert answers, the maps are intended to be used as part of a wider discussion, which brings in other types of information, such as local knowledge from stakeholders.
SCCAN adopts a neutral, spatial planning approach, essential in bringing together a wide range of stakeholders and interests. It needs to be recognised that technical inputs in the form of maps or economic estimates, are not going to provide final answers. But instead these inputs need to be designed to fit into a properly designed deliberative decision-making process. Ecosystem service maps such as the ones produced as part of the SCCAN project are value-neutral; the maps do not rate one service as more important than another, but – in line with the principles of the Ecosystem Approach – are intended to be used as a starting point for a discussion between decision makers and stakeholders on which services they think matter most in a particular area.
Taking an Ecosystem Approach meant that the SCCAN project had to find ways to work around significant data gaps. It was decided at an early stage that the best way to approach this challenge was to develop a methodology that made the best use of established scientific knowledge and the datasets held by various organisations in Wales, but which is also transparent and allows for local input and a certain degree of flexibility. Instead of a “black-box method”, which delivers outputs without it being clear what they are based on or how reliable they are, the SCCAN project has set out every aspect of the methodology in detail. This makes it clear to users what the information is based on and what the potential areas of uncertainty or data gaps are.
The SCCAN project has been working with local authority planners, in Bridgend Council, to develop mapping products which meet their needs (see image). Having access to maps which show a range of ecosystem functions allows planners to take informed decisions about built development and opportunities to develop green infrastructure. Understanding the way that flood water naturally flows through the landscape can point to opportunities for tree planting upstream of development. Mapping the distribution of local pollinating insects can uncover the hidden value to allotments of seemingly low value, rough patches of land. Opportunities for developing local green infrastructure come from putting layer of information together and showing sites where rare habitats can most easily be expanded to not only deliver biodiversity gain but also recreational opportunities, lower flood risk and safeguard carbon rich soils.