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A conceptual framework is used to clarify the scope of an assessment and to help organise its implementation.


Details of the conceptual framework used in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) more


The UK NEA methodology builds on work published since the MA, including post MA reviews (Carpenter et al. 2009), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’s (TEEB) Scoping the Science report (Balmford et al., 2008), Fisher et al. (2008) and the European Academies Science Advisory Council’s (EASAC) 2009 policy report.

The UK NEA conceptual framework has been adapted to fit an UK Ecosystem Assessment:

The classifications of ecosystems ("broad habitat" types), ecosystem services, change processes and goods are all in the context of the UK.

It incorporates the elements that economists need for economic valuation; explicitly using "marginal changes" not total values and identifying final services to avoid double counting. This component will also assess the ecosystem contributions to goods/benefits.

It incorporates measures of well-being for non-economic values.

It separates out the underpinning natural and social processes from the outputs from ecosystems from which people benefit.

It explicitly recognises the remit of the UK NEA to consider policy relevant changes occurring over a defined timespan. These are implemented through a series of scenarios regarding feasible and decision pertinent changes in the environment, markets and policy.

It considers the role biodiversity plays in three different ways.

UK NEA Conceptual Framework

During the initial stages of the UK NEA, questions that the assessment would address were developed to identify key information to assist decision-makers in managing ecosystems and the services they provide for human well-being.

This led to the development of a conceptual framework and an approach to tackle the challenges posed by the valuation of ecosystem goods and services.


A vision for the UK NEA – developing a conceptual framework of the links between nature and society

The UK NEA conceptual framework (Figure 1) summarises the cycle that links human societies and their well-being with the environment, building on the framework used by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). The conceptual framework emphasises the role of ecosystems in providing services that benefit people. Ecosystem services are the outputs of ecosystems from which people derive benefits including goods and services (e.g.  food and water purification, which can be valued economically) and other values (e.g. spiritual experiences, which have a non-economic value). The combination of these goods, services and values provide our overall human well-being (expressed in society as health, wealth and happiness). The values that people receive from ecosystems may alter the way that they choose to use and manage the environment. This in turn leads to further changes in the environment (see The UK’s changing environment below). The UK NEA examined how this cycle has played out in the past and used plausible scenarios to explore how the cycle may change in the future.

Figure 1 Conceptual Framework for the UK NEA showing the links between ecosystems, ecosystem services, good(s), valuation, human well-being, change processes and scenarios. *Note that the term good(s) includes all use and non-use, material and non-material benefits from ecosystems that have value for people.

See Chapter 2 - Conceptual Framework and Methodolgy for more details. 


Valuing the UK’s ecosystem services

The UK NEA has moved forward thinking around the valuation of ecosystem services. The economic analysis for the UK NEA divides ecosystem services into those primary ecological functions which support all of life, and those ecosystem services which directly contribute goods and values to human well-being, often referred to as final ecosystem services (see Figure 2).

This division is merely intended to avoid a ‘double counting’ problem which might arise if the value of fundamental supporting services such as soil formation were added to final ecosystem services such as the growth of crops. These latter services are often (although not always) combined with manufactured and other human inputs to produce the goods which help generate welfare. The economic analysis then assesses the value of those goods and determines how much of that value is attributable to ecosystem services as opposed to manufactured or other influences.

The economic analysis has not be able to capture all aspects of the influence of ecosystems upon human well-being and has been augmented by an assessment of non-economic values (e.g. inspirational and spiritual experiences). Some benefits such as health changes have been assessed using both monetary and non-monetary measures.

Figure 2 The full set of ecosystem processes, services, goods/benefits and values used in the UK NEA. Note that some ecosystem services can be both intermediate and final services. For simplicity, in this figure, services are shown only in the most final position that they occupy. Services such as pollination and climate regulation that also play important roles further back in the chain are not represented here. Cells with no colour are ecosystem processes/services that were not in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment classification. *Note that the term good(s) includes all use and non-use, material and non-material outputs from ecosystems that have value for people. Source: adapted from Fisher et al. (2008).

See Chapter 2 - Conceptual Framework and Methodolgy for more details.



Biodiversity and the UK NEA

Biodiversity plays an important role in the natural environment. The UK NEA considered biodiversity in three different ways:

Ecosystem processes: Biodiversity may play a role in the dynamics of ecosystem services, for example, in nutrient cycling or rates of decomposition.

Genes and species: Some species and genetic variability within them contribute directly to goods and benefits. For example, the diversity of wild crop and livestock relatives is important for the improvement of crops and livestock, and resistance to disease increases with genetic diversity. Therefore wild species diversity is considered an ecosystem service in the UK NEA.

Valued by people: The appreciation of wildlife and scenic places and the spiritual, educational, religious and recreational values are direct benefits that result from biodiversity.

See Chapter 4 - Biodiversity in the context of ecosystem services for more details.


The UK’s changing environment

As the UK population has grown and prospered over time our environment has changed around us. Recent environmental changes include:

The improvements in air pollution levels since the 1960s due to implementation of pollution control legislation, or

the significant increases in agricultural production capacity driven by the uptake of technological advances (such as mechanisation, fertiliser development and crop breeding) and strong encouragement by agricultural policies.

The UK NEA analysed a range of these individual causes that drive changes in our environment and assessed how they have impacted on the full range of ecosystems services and their potential to continue to support further improvements in our well-being.

See Chapter 3 - Drivers of change in UK ecosystems and ecosystem services for more details.


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