What do we need to do to put the Ecosystem Approach into Practice?

12 Jan 2016

Kerry Waylen & Kirsty Blackstock, James Hutton Institute.


The Ecosystem Approach is a holistic and inclusive strategy for managing natural systems.  Its origins lie with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (www.cbd.int/ecosystem) who adopted it over 10 years ago, together with 12 ‘Malawi’ Principles for its implementation. 


So far it has proven quite challenging to know exactly when and how to implement the Ecosystem Approach.  In response to a lack of accessible evidence and experience on this topic, in September the Natural Capital Initiative hosted a dialogue event entitled ‘Putting the Ecosystem Approach into Practice’.  This involved members of the ESCom community as well as stakeholders from across the UK. 


The NCI Dialogue Event saw a wealth of ideas shared by those who already have experiences of trying to implement the Ecosystem Approach. These were contributed from those working in the public, private and third sectors.  They resulted in several recommendations for future action, targeted at specific sectors including education, business, policy, the third-sector and academia.


For example, the Ecosystem Approach should not be seen as ‘just’ an environmental concern since it affects and involves all sorts of groups in society.  However, to engage with new sectors – such as healthcare – we need better evidence of the long term benefits of using the Ecosystem Approach, communicated in terms of these sectors’ existing priorities and specific concerns.  Furthermore, participants would like to see holistic systemic thinking embedded within core curricula and many professional qualifications.


There were also a couple of issues that the group felt need more consideration before we can identify the best courses of action:

How to encourage interest and engagement in the Ecosystem Approach from new sectors, whilst not downplaying the scale of changes that may ultimately be required;
How to achieve the correct balance of investment between gathering new evidence versus communicating existing evidence about the Ecosystem Approach. 


A report from this workshop, that captures these discussions, has now been published by NCI. It contains some good ideas about practical actions that can, with perseverance and effort, make tangible progress in implementing the Ecosystem Approach across multiple sectors and sites in the UK and within the ESCom network. 


The report from the NCI Dialogue event is available here. The Natural Capital Initiative’s mission is to support decision-making that results in the sustainable management of our natural capital based on sound science. It holds regular dialogue events to further this mission. The workshop built on the Ecological Knowledge Network’s recent review of experiences of application of the Ecosystem Approach at the landscape scale in the UK that will shortly be available on http://ecosystemsknowledge.net . The hosts’ work on the ecosystem approach is available http://www.hutton.ac.uk/research/projects/ecosystem-approach-review.