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Ecosystem Services

What are ‘ecosystem services’?

Nature is important for its own sake: the wealth of wildlife that still remains in the South West is undoubtedly a wonder in its own right. But nature does far more for the river Torridge catchment and its community than you might think.

Ecosystem services are a way of identifying, describing and putting a value to all those functions nature provides for our community. For example, wet grasslands can act as a ‘sponge’ to soak up water in the upper reaches of a river catchment, controlling water flow and helping to prevent flooding downstream. Wildlife habitat can also help to clean pollutants from water and stabilise soils. A wildlife-rich landscape is one of the bedrocks of the South West tourism industry. A healthy natural environment with high quality greenspace can make a great contribution to everyone’s quality of life, reducing illness and stress.

Defining the true extent and economic value of ecosystem services can be tricky in practice. Companies such as South West Water are already recognising the links through their ‘Upstream Thinking’ programme. The Northern Devon NIA project aims to understand and make the connections between woodland management, woodfuel production & carbon and wetlands & clean rivers, in a very local Torridge context.

Ecosystems Services film - Water. Source West Country Rivers Trust TV


Some people protest against putting an economic or measurable value to nature, claiming that this debases its intrinsic value. Others argue that in an increasingly competitive and hard-nosed economy, ecosystem services may give nature a fighting chance by recognising assets that wouldn’t normally be articulated on a spreadsheet, and that this can only be a good thing.

Either way, quite simply, instead of just viewing the environment as a resource to be ‘used’, ecosystem services are all about asking the question “what has nature ever done for us?” Try it – you might be surprised at the answers you find.

You can find out more about ecosystem services at:

The Ecosystems Knowledge Network

National Ecosystems Assessment