A hierarchical approach to the examination of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem service flows across coastal margins.

Lead Research Organisation: Scottish Association For Marine Science
Department Name: Scottish Association For Marine Science


The health of the UK's coastlines is inextricably linked to our success as an island nation, and resonate through our economy, our recreation, and our culture. Most pressingly, of all the UK's many and varied landscapes, its coastal systems are the ones most immediately sensitive to climate change. As temperatures increase, sea levels will rise and the forces experienced where land and sea meet will become more destructive. Salt marshes, mudflats, beaches and rocky shores will all be affected but, of these areas, the most sensitive are the mudflats and salt marshes that are common features of coastal systems, and which comprise just over half of the UK's total estuarine area. Not only do these landscapes support a wide range of economically valuable animal and plant species, they also act as sites of carbon storage, nutrient recycling, and pollutant capture and destruction. Their preservation is, therefore, of the utmost importance, requiring active and informed management to save them for future generations. The Natural Environment Research Council's call to help understand the landscape-scale links between the functions that these systems provide (ecosystem service flows) and the organisms that help provide these services (biodiversity stocks) offers an important opportunity to move beyond most previous work in this field, which has been conducted at small or laboratory scales. While of foundational scientific importance, the implications of laboratory studies can be hard to translate into policy, and coastal managers require a clearer evidence base to understand how ecosystem service flows operate at much larger spatial scales, e.g. entire salt marshes or regions of intertidal flat and salt marshes. The programme we are proposing 'A hierarchical approach to the examination of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem service flows across coastal margins' (CBESS) will provide such a large scale understanding. Our consortium of UK experts ranges from microbial ecologists, through environmental economists, to mathematical modellers, including organisations like the BTO and the RSPB, who have immediate and vested interest in the sustainable use of coastal wetlands.

Together, CBESS will create a study that spans the landscape scale, investigating how biodiversity stocks provide the following ecosystem services (cf. National Ecosystem Assessment).
- 'Supporting' services: nutrient cycling, healthy habitat
- 'Provisioning services; goods obtained from the lanscape
- 'Regulating' services: coastal protection, climate regulation (greenhouse gas exchange, carbon sequestration)
- Cultural services: Recreation (walking, canoeing, angling, birding, hunting and beauty)

CBESS will combine the detailed study of two regional landscapes with a broad-scale UK-wide study to allow both specific and general conclusions to be drawn. The Regional study will compare two areas of great local and national importance: Morecambe Bay on the west coast and the Greater Essex coastline on the east coast. We will carry out biological and physical surveys at more than 600 stations and use these results to clarify how biodiversity can provide these important ecosystem functions. This information will be shared with those interested in using and managing coastal systems and, after our analysis; we will propose practical methods and improved tools for the future analysis, management, and sustainability of the UK's coastal wetlands.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research, and how?

Commercial private sector and the knowledge economy: CBESS provides new knowledge, new data, and tools to assist the sustainable management of coastal landscapes. Theme 5 of CBESS will also deliver new and innovative methodologies, equipment, techniques, and technologies to assess the role of biodiversity in the provision of ecosystems services. This framework is based on the HiMOM (Hierarchical monitoring of marine systems) EU programme, in providing a 'tool kit' and case studies for use by coastal managers. The research itself is based on an interdisciplinary framework that will provide a model for future programmes in the UK and abroad, through initiatives such as the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, the world's largest cluster of conservation organisations that focus on biodiversity research, policy and practice. Since many commercial interests rely on sustainable wetland socio-ecosystem service flows, beneficiaries will be correspondingly varied: Recreation (e.g. wildfowling, angling, walking) and commerce (e.g. fisheries, farming, cafes, museums, exhibits) that uses the local landscape will see long-term benefits.

Policy professionals, governmental and devolved governmental organisations: The CBESS consortium hinges on the full involvement (see attached Letters of Support) of a wide range of partner organisations with an explicit interest in policy and the management of coastal wetlands. Members will disseminate information far beyond the immediate circle of CBESS. Our Partners include the Government Office for Science, the Environment Agency and its devolved counterparts (NIEA, SEPA), the Freshwater Biological Association, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and The James Hutton Institute. In addition, through the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS), the Consortium has access to the Scottish Marine Forum, Marine Scotland, Marine Science Scotland, The Centre of Expertise for Waters, and the Centre of Expertise for Climate Change; a constituency of several thousand members.

The British public: The intrinsic value of publically accessible wetland is widely recognised, enhancing our culture, quality of life, and health. Given that most people experience their surroundings at, and live their daily lives within, the 'landscape' scale, CBESS will enhance evidence based policy-making and support robust legislation at a local, regional, national and international level (see Pathways to Impact).

Voluntary sectors and wider public: Wetland wildlife habitats attract dedicated support from the voluntary sector (e.g The British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Essex Wildlife Trust). CBESS's econometric approach will examine the scale-dependence of wetland use by public, recreational (e.g fishing, birdwatching) and voluntary groups (Litter clearance, nature guides), adding to our Partners' understanding of overall wetland service provision. Through our Partners, new groups will become part of the CBESS constituency and informed about the project.

Skills training. Three areas of benefit arise from CBESS. In addition to academic progression, early career researchers will gain experience in planning and conducting a large and complex programme. PhDs associated with CBESS will gain from the interdisciplinary, and highly cooperative, nature of the work.

Finally, areas of CBESS work lie in the traditional skills of sampling and taxonomy (cf. floral and infaunal biodiversity) which will be supported within CBESS and staff encourage to develop skills (taxonomy courses include in costings).
Description Our contribution to CBESS at SAMS involves creating synthesis models for experimental findings. We have made significant progress towards unravelling the relative effects of species richness and the environment on what saltmarshes and mudflats do for human populations, known technically as ecosystem services. The work shows that the diversity of species has a considerable effect on services such as protection from coastal erosion and providing food for birds and fish.

CBESS has allowed us to develop ideas about how to manage coastal habitats for their contribution to ecosystem functioning. These approaches have been put to use in quantifying extents of important habitats and integrating processes across scales to give estimate of the functioning of key habitats, currently being used by Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland to manage the network of Marine Protected Areas in Scotland.
Exploitation Route Maps of the functions provided by saltmarshes and mudflats for two UK regions are being made use of by conservation planners.

Burrows, M. T., N. A. Kamenos, D. J. Hughes, H. Stahl, J. A. Howe, and P. Tett. 2014. Assessment of carbon budgets and potential blue carbon stores in Scotland's coastal and marine environment. Page 86. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 761. Scottish Association for Marine Science.

Burrows, M. T., D. J. Hughes, W. E. N. Austin, C. Smeaton, N. Hicks, J. A. Howe, C. Allen, P. Taylor, and L. L. Vare. 2017. Assessment of blue carbon resources in Scotland's inshore MPA network. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 957. Page 271p. Scottish Association for Marine Science.

Additional data products are also in the online mapping system for Scotland's Marine Atlas
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://synergy.st-andrews.ac.uk/cbess/
Description Modelling the extent of coastal habitats and their productivity around the UK has contributed to two reports for SNH and JNCC. The first covers carbon budgets: Burrows, M. T., N. A. Kamenos, D. J. Hughes, H. Stahl, J. A. Howe, and P. Tett. 2014. Assessment of carbon budgets and potential blue carbon stores in Scotland's coastal and marine environment. SNH Report Page 86. Scottish Association for Marine Science. and the second report on the development of environmental status indicators for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive for these habitats: Burrows, M. T., D. Smale, N. O'Connor, H. V. Rein, and P. J. Moore. 2014. Marine Strategy Framework Directive Indicators for UK Kelp Habitats Part 1: Developing proposals for potential indicators. Page 85. JNCC Report, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough, UK. Since 2017
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Burrows, M.T., Hughes, D.J., Austin, W.E.N., Smeaton, C., Hicks, N., Howe, J.A., Allen, C., Taylor, P., Vare, L.L., 2017. Assessment of blue carbon resources in Scotland's inshore MPA network, Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 957. Scottish Association for Marine Science.
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
Description Prepared a feasibility study for wild seaweed harvesting: Burrows, M. T., Fox, C.J., Moore, P., Smale, D., Sotheran, I., Benson, A., Greenhill, L., Martino, S., Parker, A., Thompson, E., and Allen, C.J. 2018. Wild seaweed harvesting as a diversification opportunity for fishermen. Page 168. Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact This study contributed to the stronger regulatory framework for seaweed harvesting in Scotland and was the main source of evidence for the consideration of an amendment to ban the practice in the Scottish Government Crown Estate Bill in November 2018. Although a ban was not recommended in the report, the evidence of impact of such activities was sufficient for MSPs to vote in favour of the amendment.
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-46261091
Description Scottish Parliament. Oral Evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. 20th Meeting 2019, Session 5
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=12184&mode=pdf
Description HLF funding for the CoCoast Capturing our Coast Citizen Science project led by Newcastle University
Amount £1,700,000 (GBP)
Organisation Heritage Lottery Fund 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 10/2018