"The Ecosystem Approach is much more than accepting ecosystems as the core of environmental management. It recognises that people and society are integral components of ecosystems and their management and conservation. This necessitates a way of working and decision-making that cuts across traditional policy and institutional boundaries. It brings consideration of natural, economic and social sciences into a single methodological framework." UK National Ecosystem Assessment

Cover of the Ecosystem Services journal special issue on Synthesizing OpenNESSA new special issue of Ecosystem Services journal brings together a number of studies focusing on outputs from the EU-funded OpenNESS project, a four-year (2013-2017) collaborative effort to translate the concepts of ecosystem services and natural capital into frameworks that could have applications in the real world.

The concept of ecosystem services is now widely used in scientific literature, and increasingly also in policy and practice (as well as the UK National Ecosystem Assessment see for example Defra’s recently published 25 Year Environment Plan). The ideas are seen as relevant in policies for biodiversity, sustainable land and water use, climate change mitigation, human health, and sustainable economic development among others.

However operationalising the concept, ie putting it into practice, is still a challenge. OpenNESS (Operationalisation of Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital) was created in response to this challenge to critically evaluate the concept when applied to actual problems at different scales and in different policy sectors. CEH was a partner in the consortium which consisted of research institutes from 22 European and 4 non-European countries, as well as 10 SMES.

Our transdisciplinary science, data and stakeholder connections particularly from long-term monitoring in the Cairngorms and Loch Leven made a valuable contribution to case studies and outputs of the project. Our researchers also worked both on the conceptual thinking and practical operationalisation of the ecosystem services approach.

This is reflected in the papers produced for the special issue. Of 14 papers, CEH staff are first-authors on five of the studies and co-authors on 13. Collectively the papers cover conceptual, methodological and policy challenges and test the operationalisation challenges:

  • A conceptual paper by Esther Carmen et al discusses the potential to develop transdisciplinary research approaches. It identifies different but interrelated areas of knowledge needs which need to be considered for improving operationalisation.
  • A paper by Jan Dick et al elaborates on the challenge of the operationalisation of the ecosystem services concept and reports the results of the largest, most diverse anonymous review by stakeholders of the ES concept as implemented in their local case study.
  • A paper by Ron Smith et al on Bayesian Belief Networks, based on nine OpenNess case studies and showing the method to be flexible for exploring and awareness-raising in relation to the ecosystem services concept.
  • A paper by Paula Harrison et al develops a comprehensive guidance tool in the form of a set of linked decision trees using the experience from the 27 OpenNESS case studies.
  • Dunford et al addresses the impact of integrated assessment to provide insight as to where, and in what contexts, different methods can be combined and how this can add value to case study applications.

All the papers are part of Ecosystem Services Special Issue Vol 29, Part C (Synthesizing OpenNESS). An editorial featuring Jan Dick and Paula Harrison is also included.

Paulette Burns

Additional information

OpenNESS project (Operationalisation of Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital)

Staff page of Jan Dick, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Staff page of Paula Harrison, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology