Investigating the Cultural Ecosystem Services of Urban Water Bodies and their use in Environmental and Land Use Planning

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: The Centre for Environmental Policy


Bodies of freshwater, such as rivers, lakes and canals, serve
as defining features of human settlement, are amongst the
most biodiverse habitats on earth (Dudgeon et al, 2006) and
have significant importance to people, providing spiritual and
inspirational values, recreational opportunities, favourable
aesthetics and educational opportunities (Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). However, their value has
often been overlooked with urbanisation and changes in land
use posing a significant threat to the services they provide
(Everard and Moggridge). This PhD project will work with the
Environment Agency to investigate the non-material benefits
humans obtain from urban blue spaces, such as health and
wellbeing and to identify how this information could be used
in environmental and land use planning. This will support the
delivery of England's policy framework for freshwater
Natural environments within towns and cities has been
shown to have positive effects on health inequalities, mental
health, recreation and life satisfaction. Therefore, designing
towns and cities with this in mind could help to overcome the
unhealthy lifestyles and increased chronic diseases that are
associated with increased urbanisation (Dora & Phillips,
2000; Passchier-Vermeer & Passchier, 2000; WHO, 2009),
whilst at the same time protecting the environment and
promoting sustainability.
To date most investigations of the health benefits of natural
environments have typically not differentiated between blue
and green space (Völker & Kistemann, 2011). Therefore,
more research is needed to understand how urban blue
space contributes to health and wellbeing in order for the
sustainable management of these resources.
Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES) are the "nonmaterial
benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual
enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation,
and aesthetic experiences" (MA, 2005). Recent work has
proposed and applied frameworks to assess CES focusing on
the contribution that aspects of environmental spaces and
cultural practices make to three aspects of wellbeing;
identity, experiences and capabilities (Fish et al., 2016a; Fish
et al., 2016b; Bryce et al., 2016). However, these have only
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been applied in designated areas such as national parks,
nature improvement areas and marine protected areas (Fish
et al., 2016b; Bryce et al., 2016) which has overlooked urban
areas and everyday activities that have the potential to
affect the wellbeing of the increasing urban population. This
PhD will investigate characteristics of urban blue space that
people visit and value, the cultural practices associated and
the benefits people obtain from urban water bodies in terms
of identity and experiences. Working with the Environment
Agency it will then go on to review the CES framework,
methods used to apply it and its use in environmental and
land use planning.
12 Project description: please
copy/paste/write a full description of the
proposed project here, outlining its aims,
proposed methodology, timescales and
plans for dissemination and knowledge
exchange, both between the project and
external partner and with wider audiences


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/S501797/1 01/10/2018 31/03/2022
2322277 Studentship ES/S501797/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2022 Liam Kirkpatrick