EKN Tool Assessor: Facilitating the application of innovative tools in the assessment of ecosystem services, green infrastructure and natural capital

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Environmental Change Institute SoGE


Our health and wellbeing depends on 'natural capital', which consists of living organisms and the air, water, soil and rock that supports them. Natural capital provides a range of 'ecosystem services' such as food, timber, climate regulation, air and water quality regulation, and green space for recreation and cultural value. The importance of 'green infrastructure' - the network of green spaces and water features that provides services to people - is also increasingly recognised.

A wide range of innovative tools have been developed by various research groups to assess natural capital, green infrastructure and the ecosystem services that flow from them. However, uptake of these tools by end-users is generally low. The UK's Ecosystems Knowledge Network (EKN) has started to bridge this gap by developing a 'Tool Assessor' service: a one-stop shop which connects users to the tools most applicable to their needs (http://ecosystemsknowledge.net/resources/tools/tool-assessor). This currently covers 12 tools applicable to the UK. This internship will provide a team of two researchers from the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute (ECI) to work with EKN staff to significantly expand the Tool Assessor service by evaluating and adding new tools and case studies.

The ECI researchers have complementary skills in modelling and ecosystem service assessment. They will provide links with a parallel NERC-funded project to identify tools for assessing green infrastructure in Bicester, and also with a major EU project that looks at 27 case studies involving the practical selection and application of a wide range of tools for ecosystem services assessment (the OpenNESS project). They also bring in-depth knowledge of the availability of key datasets in the UK.

The interns will add new tools arising in 2016 and early 2017. They will prepare case studies of where tools have been used in the UK, examining practical user issues such as environmental data requirements. The work will involve engagement with tool developers and users by telephone and in meetings. In addition two knowledge exchange events will be organised to bring end users together to share knowledge and experience of their practical experiences with the tools. The interns will also engage with at least two professional bodies representing specific key user groups. A workshop or seminar will be arranged with each professional group, reviewing the capability of tools to inform specific work tasks within that profession.

The UK has a particular strength in the availability of high quality datasets, but practitioners often struggle to access the data that is most relevant to their needs. The researchers will therefore compile a list of datasets suitable for use in the UK, and link these to the tools that can make use of them. This will enhance the functionality of the Tool Assessor.

The vision is that this internship will build the EKN Tool Assessor service into a UK-wide resource with an active following of users. It will deliver a resource that meets a real demand from the end-user community significantly enhancing the uptake of the emerging array of innovative tools to assess natural capital, green infrastructure and ecosystem services in the UK, and thus enabling better evidence-based decision making by those responsible for land and water management. By bridging the gap between research and practice, it will maximise the value of academic research and place the UK in the forefront of innovation for natural capital management.


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