Natural England: the ecosystem approach

Natural EnglandNatural England is increasingly making use of the ecosystem approach in delivery of its work, especially at the landscape scale. We define ‘ecosystem approach’ as identifying the range of ways the natural environment provides benefits to society and engaging the beneficiaries in reaching decisions about the objectives and priorities for their environment.

The ecosystem approach can help us to identify the benefits we get from nature and build this understanding into our advice on a range of issues. We are aiming to achieve a clearer link between the three elements: ecosystems, people and the value of the benefits received from these ecosystems (i.e. ecosystem services). Ecosystems include the function and process as well as habitats and species they support. People include those who manage or control land as well as the beneficiaries of ecosystem services.


The majority of work in this area to date has been through a series of ecosystem services pilot studies and subsequent work with a strong focus on upland landscapes (see here for a detailed list).

Publication of the National Character Area profiles will be completed early in 2014: these give an indication of the types of ecosystem service provided in each area.

The CBESS project will help to provide further evidence about the intertidal environment: this will be particularly valuable to help with planning for coastal management and adaptation. We’ve already highlighted the need to enable adaptation of the natural environment following the 2013/14 winter storms, and why it’s important to work with coastal processes to restore these areas whilst accepting a degree of change. This also ties in with the recent National Trust re-launch of their ‘Shifting Shores’ report.

The links with CBESS have helped Natural England staff to consolidate connections with researchers at CCRU, knowing more about ongoing work has identified potential synergies with EA/Defra funded coastal R&D. The need to strengthen the evidence base of how the natural environment contributes to flood risk management is greater now than ever in order to help ensure current and future management strategies are cost-effective and sustainable.

Sue Rees, Natural England