The above principles of the Ecosystem Approach are evident (light green) or significant (dark green) within this case study

Staffordshire Ecosystem Assessment

What is this case study about?

This case study is about using the Ecosystem Approach within an ecosystem assessment of the Staffordshire’s ecosystem services to inform a range of plans and strategies currently being developed across the county and its immediate neighbours; specifically Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) strategic plan, Health and Wellbeing Boards’ strategies, and other strategic planning. The objective is to ensure that sectors, organisations and departments which are usually not involved in environmental management and conservation recognise the true value of ecosystem services and how they relate to their activities.

What is its contextual setting?

The Staffordshire Local Nature Partnership (LNP) has the vision to make Staffordshire a more prosperous and healthy environment to live in and believes that economic development can and must go hand-in-hand with the protection of the County’s important environmental assets. A priority objective identified by the LNP was to enable effective working partnerships between the environmental, economic, health and social sectors to improve decision-making and make the most of the green environment.

How has the Ecosystem Approach been used?

Staffordshire County Council and its partners have shifted towards ecosystem services thinking and are applying the ecosystem services framework in response to recent central government initiatives. Another reason is that the ecosystem services framework supports the objective of environmental protection and management and justifies resource allocation in the context of budgetary constraints.

On behalf of the LNP, Staffordshire County Council, in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, has commissioned an Ecosystem Assessment for the geographical area of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. The main aims were to provide an evidence base and to encourage discussions and partnerships between organisations and departments; especially between those specialising in environmental advice and management and those with significant impacts and/or dependencies on ecosystem services.

What has happened?

This Staffordshire Ecosystem Assessment incorporated the latest evidence and best practice from science and existing studies with a focus on assessing the links and interdependencies between local activities and service providers and ecosystems as well as the (monetary) value of ecosystem services ‘produced’ in Staffordshire. Monetary values have been estimated for ecosystem services for a set of broad habitat types. At the moment of writing, the assessment was still in progress. Altogether, 956 km2 of habitats have been assessed which constitutes just over 35% of the total geographical area of Staffordshire. Stating the best guess, the ecosystem services assessed have been valued at more than £110 million annually. If aggregated over 200 years, the value of ecosystem services performed in Staffordshire adds up to more than £7 billion (Hölzinger & Everard, in progress).

What is the added value of using the Ecosystem Approach?

The process encouraged involved parties to think ‘outside the box’ and to leave their comfort zone when discussing environmental issues. It also encouraged new potential partnerships and revealed some potential trade-offs when managing ecosystem services (such as between food production through intensive agriculture and water quality/biodiversity) as well as support for relevant follow-on projects (such as payments for ecosystem services). Overall, participating parties were confident that the Ecosystem Assessment for Staffordshire provides relevant evidence in a format that allows enhanced communication of the importance of nature to sectors, services and functions which are usually not involved (and sometimes interested) in environmental issues.

What are the key barriers to progress/mainstreaming?

The main barriers to the process of the Ecosystem Assessment were limitations to the available scientific evidence base, but also to baseline data. A range of ecosystem services have been identified where a monetary valuation would be possible in principle, but where no primary valuation studies were available to apply the benefit transfer approach. Another limitation arose from the availability of statistics. In the case of provisioning services, relevant statistics were missing or only available at the national scale. Another issue was to address the trade-off between simple and tangible outcomes, on the one hand, and applying high scientific standards, acknowledging the complexity of valuing ecosystem services, on the other.

What are the lessons learnt?

  • The need to involve all key stakeholders within a deliberative process to build sufficient trust and legitimacy in the process.
  • The employment of specialists to undertake the assessment process helps overcome the complexity and also the outsider perspective is able to help overcome local politics.
  • The need to acknowledge that many relevant stakeholders and consultees are not familiar with the ecosystem services terminology and thus requires considerable simplification and ‘translation’.
  • The trade-off between acknowledging complexity and providing tangible outcomes for a non-specialised audience has been solved by tailoring a short executive summary written in plain English and supported by graphical representation of key findings, and a detailed report for a more specialised audience.

What next?

The assessment has identified the fact that ecosystems support the objectives and goals of sectors and organisations which may not work closely together as a matter of course. The report evidence will be used to encourage partnership working and incorporation of ecosystems thinking into economic and health and wellbeing policy development. The Staffordshire LNP proposes to utilise the assessment as an engagement tool with the Local Enterprise Partnership and health and well-being sector. The assessment will also be used to inform planning policy and assessment of major infrastructure and development projects, such as minerals proposals. Further work, in the form of an i-Tree assessment, is recommended to inform the management of street trees. Investigation of the potential for payments for ecosystem services projects in the County is a potential follow-on project.

Case study author: Oliver Hölzinger