The Countryside Survey (CS) Integrated Assessment report will be published on 27th October 2010. The analysis in the report uses CS data to investigate the ecosystem services provided by the countryside. This work was led by scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) working with colleagues from CS partner organisations.
Increasing pressure on natural resources and declining biodiversity have led to a concern about the potential of natural and semi-natural ecosystems to provide for human requirements both currently and in the future. Termed ‘ecosystem services’, these provide a focus for policy makers seeking to ensure sustainable development. Ecosystem services provide a significant challenge for scientists. Difficulties arise in their definition, valuation and measurement of stocks and flows. It is problematic but of vital importance to quantify how ecosystem services interact with each other within and between ecosystems.
The CS Integrated Assessment tested novel approaches for using CS data alongside other national datasets to understand how different services respond to anthropogenic pressures over time at a national scale. It enabled CEH scientists not only to quantify some services, but also to make maps of where the services are provided, determine possible causes of changes in services over time, and even to model what might happen under ‘what if’ scenarios. To date, much work in this area has focused on small scale experiments or on datasets which have been collected at different scales and with different purposes. The Integrated Assessment is uniquely able to use data collected at common sites using a sampling regime statistically designed to provide a representation of Great Britain.
Understanding ecosystems at any scale is a significant scientific challenge and this work, like that of the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), explores new scientific territory. Thirty-eight bio-physical variables (covering the range of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment service categories) measured in Countryside Survey were identified as potential indicators of ecosystem services. These included measurements from headwater streams, soils, vegetation and cultural aspects of landscapes. These new results provide unique large scale evidence that key global change phenomena such as air pollution and land use change have affected delivery of ecosystems services across the British countryside and have continued to drive change over the last two decades.