Ecosystem Services

Heritage Lottery FundThe Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership will play an important role in preserving and enhancing ecosystem services within the Ouse Washes. In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment thrust the concept of ecosystem services in to the political, scientific and social arenas. However, to understand why ecosystems services are important, it is important to understand what they are.

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. Ecosystems, a combination of living and no living elements within a community, are all around us. Therefore, it is important that we understand how nature works to advantage us. There are four different groups of ecosystem services which provide different types of benefits.

  • The services that have physical benefits that are easily seen such as food, water, wood and fuel are known as provisioning ecosystem services.
  • The production of these rely on supporting ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, soil formation and photosynthesis.
  • Even if an ecosystem has healthy supporting ecosystem services, regulating services such as pollination, water purification and, climate regulation are required to guarantee the production of provisioning ecosystem services.
  • To further benefit from all of the above, ecosystems provide cultural services such as aesthetic, spiritual, educational and recreational benefits.

Due to the benefits they provide, it is now recognised that ecosystems have an economic value as services such as food and water have a market value. Work is currently being conducted to attempt to assign economic values to all ecosystem services.

Ecosystem dis-services

It is also important to note that ecosystems also have dis-services. These are services that are disadvantageous to the ecosystem within which they reside. For example, flooding or crop pests could be considered as dis-services. However, dis-services can be kept at bay by ensuring that ecosystem services are well managed thus, problems can be overcome. For example, flooding can be managed through effective landscape management that alters regulating services such as water purification through wetlands as the water is stored in a different area.

Ouse Washes ecosystem services

Wetlands are essential for water regulation, archaeological preservation and species habitat. The Ouse Washes contains wetlands that are extremely important. They are recognised both nationally and internationally as ecologically important leading to its designation as a Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area and Ramsar, with additional sites being recognised as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Ouse Washes area provides numerous ecosystem services both within the proposed area for the landscape partnership and beyond the boundaries (table below); therefore it is extremely important to manage this landscape to continue to enhance its existing services and to reduce the likelihood of dis-services arising.

Ecosystem Service   Category

Service provided by   the Ouse Washes

Supporting Services

–            Habitat provision

Provisioning   Services

–            Biodiversity and genetic resources
–            Water Storage & Provision
–            Food production: arable and grazing
–            Aggregates

Regulating Services

–            Flood Prevention and Regulation
–            Carbon storage & Climate regulation
–            Water quality regulation

Cultural Services

–            Heritage values: Drainage History, Archaeology   & Palaeo-environmental resource
–            Recreation/Green & Blue open space   provision
–            Tourism economy (based largely on Wildlife   & Waterways)
–            Sense of Tranquillity & ‘Sense of Place’

The OWLP scheme themes ( will address the above services by establishing and delivering projects working with other organisations.

Whilst all of the above is fairly technical, the take home message is that nature provides for us. Without it, we would have nothing. Therefore, it is important to learn to look after our landscape and our heritage both of which the OWLP scheme aims to do.

For more information visit:

Understanding ecosystem services:

The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s ‘Ecosystem and Human Well-being Synthesis report

Ecosystem Services: living within environmental limits

Valuing ecosystem services:

An introductory guide to valuing ecosystem services by Defra

4 thoughts on “Ecosystem Services

  1. I do think we have to approach this definition of ecosystem services and particularly dis – services with some care. I question the logic that ecosystems have dis-services – You give flooding and crop pests as examples. I would argue that flooding and so called ‘pests’ are natural processes – indeed flooding can bring increased nutrients to land and can often improve the value of farm land. The annual flooding of the Ouse Washes themselves creates a valuable habitat for wildlife and indeed forms a central part of the Landscape Partnership Scheme.

    • Dear Pete,
      Thank you for your comment. The flooding issue within the Ouse Washes landscape is an interesting one from a dis-service approach. It is fair to say that the seasonal, winter flooding within the Ouse Washes does in fact act as an ecosystem service in this region by providing nutrients and valuable habitat for wintering birds and breeding waders. However, the unseasonal flooding has potentially disastrous consequences for the same habitats, species and man. An example of unseasonal flooding being a dis-service is the reduction of Snipe within the area. Unseasonal flooding kills their main food source, resulting in a reduced population which takes a couple of years to recover.

      It is important to note that ecosystem dis-services are still a relatively new concept compared to ecosystem services. For a discussion of ecosystem dis-services, see for instance: or The first also has this to say which is quite relevant to our discussion: The distinction between an ecosystem service and disservice could be dependent upon the context and perceptions of actors involved.

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