John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Safeguarding the provision of ecosystem services in catchment systems

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Courtesy of John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

A narrow technocentric focus on a few favoured ecosystem services (generally provisioning services) has led to ecosystem degradation globally, including catchment systems and their capacities to support human wellbeing. Increasing recognition of the multiple benefits provided by ecosystems is slowly being translated into policy and some areas of practice, though there remains a significant shortfall in the incorporation of a systemic perspective into operation management and decision‐making tools. Nevertheless, a range of ecosystem‐based solutions to issues as diverse as flooding and green space provision in the urban environment offers hope for improving habitat and optimisation of beneficial services. The value of catchment ecosystem processes and their associated services is also being increasingly recognised and internalised by the water industry, improving water quality and quantity through catchment land management rather than at greater expense in the treatment costs of contaminated water abstracted lower in catchments. Parallel recognition of the value of working with natural processes, rather than ‘defending’ built assets when catchment hydrology is adversely affected by unsympathetic upstream development, is being progressively incorporated into flood risk management policy. This focus on wider catchment processes also yields a range of co‐benefits for fishery, wildlife, amenity, flood risk and other interests, which may be optimised if multiple stakeholders and their diverse value systems are included in decision‐making processes. Ecosystem services, particularly implemented as a central element of the ecosystem approach, provide an integrated framework for building in these different perspectives and values, many of them formerly excluded, into commercial and resource management decision‐making processes, thereby making tractable the integrative aspirations of sustainable development. This can help redress deeply‐entrenched inherited assumptions, habits and vested interests, replacing them in many management situations with wider recognition of the multiple values of ecosystems and their services. Global interest in taking an ecosystem approach is promoting novel scientific and policy thinking, yet there is a shortfall in its translation into practical management tools. Professional associations may have key roles to play in breaking down barriers to the ‘mainstreaming’ of systemic perspectives into common practice, particularly through joining u different sectors of society essential to their implementation and ongoing adaptive management. Integr Environ Assess Manag © 2012 SETAC

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