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We take an active interest in the development of the ecosystem approach as a practical policy tool. Many of our activities are organised through the Natural Capital Initiative (NCI).

The ‘ecosystem approach’ has been defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity as “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way”. This approach inextricably links human well-being with the health of ecosystems, and aims to ensure that development for one generation does not compromise the needs of succeeding generations. It was championed by the ground-breaking Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as a framework for sustainable social and economic development, and has received support from many quarters, including the World Resources Institute and the International Union for Conservation of Nature

In the UK the ecosystem approach is being promoted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). In 2007, DEFRA published an Ecosystems Approach Action Plan setting out  how an ecosystem approach will be embedded within policies and their enaction affecting the natural environment. The first Ecosystem Approach Action Plan Update on progress towards implementation of an ecosystem approach was published in 2010.

The arguments on in favour of applying an ecosystem approach in decision making has been strengthened by the evidence in the National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) ( The UK NEA provides an overview and unique valuation of the natural assets of the UK and looks at the changes which have occurred over the past half-century alongside assessments and predictions for the coming decades. It also highlights the importance of adopting a more integrated approach to ecosystem management in order to preserve a wider range of services and benefits over the long term.

Professor Jules Pretty FSB, a member of the NCI Steering Group, said: "The NEA has shown just how important nature and all the ecosystems of the UK are to both the economy and society. Ecosystems provide many hidden benefits – not just in terms of valued biodiversity, but also to water regulation, carbon absorption, clean air and health and well-being of people. All of these have vital economic outcomes too. Our ecosystems are national assets that require careful and sustainable management; they provide benefits to us all."

The White Paper “The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature”, launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2011, draws directly upon the findings of the UK NEA. This White Paper promotes implementation of an integrated approach to managing the natural environment, particularly at the landscape scale, e.g. through supporting Local Nature Partnerships and ecologically coherent planning.

Further Information

POSTnote 380 - Landscapes of the Future, June 2011

POSTnote 378 - Ecosystem Service Valuation, May 2011

POSTnote 377 - The Ecosystem Approach, May 2011

POSTnote 376 - Natural Capital Accounting, May 2011

POSTnote 370 - Living with Environmental Limits, January 2011

POSTnote 369 - 'Biodiversity Offsetting', January 2011

POSTnote 281 - Ecosystem Services, March 2007