Operationalisation of natural capital and ecosystem services – from concepts to real-world applications
Our society once started to designate nature reserves to protect rare, unique or threatened species and habitats. This society nowadays feels that not only nature is important, but also the services provided by it, as the EU biodiversity barometer in 2015 showed. These so-called ecosystem services are commonly defined as the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being. Very closely linked to this is our natural capital, the elements of nature that directly of indirectly produce value for people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions.
A lot of science and research on both the concept of natural capital and ecosystem services is going on, but new tools, methods and standards were needed in order to make these concepts usable on the ground. In 2012, the European Commission therefore funded a project named OpenNESS that aimed to translate the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services into operational frameworks that provide tested, practical and tailored solutions for integration into land, water and urban management and decision making. Central to the project are the 27 case studies, aiming to work collaboratively with stakeholders to identify the problems they face in operationalising the natural capital and ecosystem services concepts in their specific policy and decision-making context. These cases apply and refine the methods and models developed in the project to test their relevance and usefulness in an iterative manner. Useful OpenNESS cases from national parks are for instance the Cairngorms in Scotland, Sierra Nevada and Doñana in Spain, and Kiskunság in Hungary.
Early lessons learnt in OpenNESS are that:
- an holistic approach with local stakeholders is essential for assessing natural capital and ecosystem services;
- collaborative modelling and landscape planning decision support tools are helpful;
- visualisation of places that provide ecosystem services helps to capture views and knowledge of local stakeholders;
- participatory methods help in conflict resolution.
The online platform Oppla is being developed as part of a joint activity between the OPERAs and OpenNESS project. It aims to bring together the latest knowledge and expertise ‘in one place’ – making information quicker and easier to find. Oppla is much more than just a ‘repository’ of information though, it’s a platform where projects can promote their own work and also learn from others. Oppla’s diverse community is already growing, we have nearly 700 members (including businesses, government agencies, NGOs, universities, charities, etc.) and aim to have more than 2000 by the end of 2016. Natural site managers have a wealth of experiences to contribute and at the same time can take advantage from the tools, knowledge, and contacts available through Oppla.
This video describes the concept of ecosystem services and introduces Oppla: