Biodiversity and the provision of multiple ecosystem services in current and future lowland multifunctional landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Hails


Biodiversity underpins many ecosystem services - the benefits that people gain from the natural world, such as clean water, storage of greenhouse gases, crop pollination, and a pleasant and fulfilling environment. Yet the way in which biodiversity affects different services is poorly understood scientifically, especially when considering the real world rather than small-scale studies. Lowland agricultural landscapes are particular 'crunch' points, where food security needs to be balanced with the provision of other ecosystem services against the backdrop of a changing climate. Many of these services are in conflict, such as crop production, climate regulation and cultural services. Already, agricultural landscapes show signs of degradation, with consequences for their biodiversity and the provisioning and resilience of services.

The 'Wessex-BESS' project will address the fundamental challenge of the BESS program in linking biodiversity change with the delivery of ecosystem services across landscapes and into the future. We will do this by integrating experiments with large-scale biodiversity and environmental gradients existing in the Wessex Chalk landscape. This contains arable, grassland and riverine ecosystems, and offers a unique opportunity to exploit large-scale 'natural experiments'. Specifically, Salisbury Plain contains large areas of unfragmented semi-natural habitat and shares the topography and deeper chalk soils of surrounding intensive farmland, making comparisons possible. Furthermore, the area contains many ecological restoration programmes that we will use as experimental platforms for large-scale biodiversity manipulations. To allow the broad characterisation of biodiversity-ecosystem service relationships, and a framework for other researchers to exploit, research will encompass: a wide range of ecosystems from terrestrial to freshwater; taxonomic groups from bacteria to birds; multiple biodiversity measures from genetic and species diversity to landscape heterogeneity; and regulating, provisioning and cultural services. Collaboration with other initiatives using this landscape (incl. NERC 'Macronutrients Cycle', Defra 'Test Catchments', Natural England 'Nature Improvement Areas') will add scientific value and impact, and partnership with a large number of conservation and land/water management organisations will ensure the research and findings have applied and policy relevance.

We have a consortium comprising international leaders in biodiversity and ecosystem service research. Project partners will ensure that scientific outcomes influence best practice and policy. The collaborative approach (with partners involved in ecosystem service provision) represents a cost-effective way to understand the scaling of biodiversity-service relationships. The Wessex Chalk Area is an excellent test bed for possible futures as it faces imminent threats from both climate and land use change (e.g. agricultural intensification), which are already being addressed using large-scale restoration. We will focus on the contrasting services of crop production, climate regulation, water quality, and cultural services.

Planned Impact

Today, ca. 80% of the Earth's land surface shows evidence of human intervention. Radical action is needed to sustain well-functioning ecosystems and biodiversity, which together assure the delivery of ecosystem services at the level needed for a healthy planet and thus our own existence. These ecosystem services are benefits humans obtain from nature, and they underpin human well-being, by providing such essential goods as clean water, climate regulation, improved crop yield, hazard prevention, and a pleasant environment. By examining the provision of services for a particular landscape - the Wessex Chalk -and the underpinning role of biodiversity, this project will benefit society as a whole by demonstrating essential ecosystem services in the UK and by determining mechanisms to maintain services in a changing environment.
To consider more specific benefits. Local to the Wessex Chalk landscape, we have engaged with a wide range of end-users from the conception of the proposed research. They have actively helped to develop the proposal and guide the research by identifying their individual needs. The social science research in the project will broaden out form these specific contacts to consider benefits and involvement of a wider range of members of society, involving individuals as well as organisations. Thus, the research will provide real benefits and utility to local people and organisations. More broadly, the research will underpin policy efforts to focus activities on maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services. International activities include: Council of Europe - 2010 'A headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020"; the Nagoya 2010 new CBD 2020 targets including resilience of ecosystem services; the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets; the Inter-governmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) ; and TEEB (the ecology and economics of biodiversity). UK activities include: the UKNEA aiming to enhance understanding of the state of ecosystem services; Lawton review 'Making Space for Nature' and the linked Environment White Paper. These efforts are against a background of the need for increased food security, climate change and other major drovers of change. By linking mechanistic research with a detailed analysis of policy and societal needs, we will provide scientific evidence to inform future decisions


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Description We have studied how the plants and animals of the Wessex BESS region (centred on Salisbury Plain) underpin the ecosystem services that people derive from the landscape. Analysis of data is on going, but we have the following highlights so far.
(1) People respond positively to aspects of biodiversity, resulting in cultural services - i.e. well-being from the environment. But these aspects are very specific and do not suggest a generic benefit from biodiversity. For example, people like visiting places with larger views, more woodland and a high diversity of protected habitats, while a diversity of habitat types was not important. Furthermore the activity people are undertaking, such as recreation vs more aesthetic activities, affects the response to biodiversity. In other aspects of the study, we find again that people do not respond to all aspects of biodiversity equally. So individual species are more likely to elicit positive responses from people if they are more charismatic, such as mammals vs plants or insects. However, people who engage with natural history do show positive responses to less charismatic species.
(2) While there is a lot of work on how wildflower strips in crops affects crop pollination, we know much less about the effect of natural habitats such as species-rich grassland affects pollinators and crop pollination. We found that these effects were subtle, but importantly if the landscape does not have a variety of habitats, such as species-rich grassland, the pollination to service to crops is more variable.
(3) Finally, while there is a lot of work on plant species diversity in grasslands and the effects on productivity, we know little about the role of plant diversity on below ground processes. We found that cycling of carbon and nitrogen is more affected by the type and diversity of traits such as root type and leaf types that by diversity of species as such. Furthermore, the ability of these communities to recover from drought was also affected by trait diversity more than species diversity.
In summary, while our findings agree with the general principle that biodiversity is important for ecosystem services, they show that only specific aspects of biodiversity are important for specific services. So, the general principle that we need to conserve biodiversity in general to support ecosystem services is too simple a characterisation of the real world
Exploitation Route WE have met with a variety of stakeholders in the Wessex BESS region: Defence Estates, Cranbourne Chase AONB, Environment Agency, National Farmers Union, etc. There is great interest in these findings and in using them to inform activities of these various bodies. However, there is still a bridge in translating the results for their use by stakeholders. WE have looked into a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship to do this, As more results & papers emerge, we might take this forward
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Three workshops with stakeholders in Wessex region to understand the importance of places of high biodiversity Beneficiaries: Wessex region stakeholder
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

Description InVEST UK training course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two linked events from 14th-18th October 2014. More info on website but summary below:

14th was a one day introductory course. 80 people from a range of backgrounds (about ¼ consultancies (e.g. ADAS), ¼ NGOs (e.g. Wildlife Trusts), ¼ statutory agencies (e.g. EA, JNCC), ¼ academics (various universities))
15-18th was a four day intensive training course with a subset of 40 of the participants.
Training was conducted by four representatives from the US Natural Capital Project, and hosted by myself at CEH, Wallingford. Funded half by NERC BESS programme directorate and half by participants fees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Talk on ecosystem services maps and biodiversity patterns at the Wiltshire Biological Recorders Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Provided data on ecosystem services maps and biodiversity patterns for Wiltshire to Wiltshire Willies Trust and talked about these at the Wiltshire Biological Recorders Forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Wessex Region Land Use Scenario development meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Work with local NGOs, governement, business to project land yse change in the region
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014