The UK National Ecosystem Assessment: the Follow-On Phase

The first fully national-scale assessment of its type, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) analysed the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity. Published in June 2011, the UK NEA increased our understanding of trends in the delivery of ecosystem services in the UK, the drivers of these trends and the likely consequences for human well-being. A wealth of information was delivered on the state, value (economic and social) and possible future of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. The UK NEA concluded that approximately 30% of ecosystem services delivered by the UK were currently in decline and that although ecosystem services are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity they are undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision making. Adoption of new and more resilient ways of managing ecosystems will be required to reverse the rate of decline of ecosystem services and ensure their future sustainability.

The evidence base of the UK NEA was used to underpin the Government’s White Paper on the Natural Environment (The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature, 2011), which set out the Government’s policy on protecting and improving the natural environment. In addition, the UK NEA has received substantial international recognition including interest from nations such as France, India and Israel.

In the UK NEA a number of key uncertainties and important scientific evidence gaps were identified.  The White Paper, the first for the natural environment in over 20 years, acknowledged the value of the UK NEA and committed to supporting “a further phase of ground-breaking research” to “investigate the mix of future actions most likely to secure the most benefits for nature and for people from our ecosystems”.

Funded by Defra, the Welsh Government and three Research Councils (the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council), the Follow-On Phase of the UK NEA commenced in February 2012. The overall aim is to further develop and communicate the evidence base of the UK NEA and make it relevant to decision and policy making at different spatial scales across the UK. 

A significant research component is now underway which will address a number of the knowledge gaps identified in the first phase. Grouped into four themes the research will focus on economic analysis; cultural ecosystem services and cultural, shared, and plural values; future ecosystem change; and tools and supporting materials. Outlined below are the specific research aims:

Economic analysis

  • To develop the framework and address evidence issues in order to perform a Natural Capital Asset Check 
  • To provide a scoping review and research agenda for understanding the macro-economic implications of ecosystem service change and management in the UK 
  • To conduct economic analysis of the value of ecosystem service change to the UK, examining the trade-offs between selected ecosystem services and their values arising from alternative land-uses 
  • To value ecosystem services in coastal and marine environments

Cultural ecosystem services and cultural, shared and plural values 

  • To extend the theoretical, methodological and practical understanding of Cultural Ecosystem Services 
  • To understand the respective impact of cultural, shared and plural values versus aggregated individual values on decision-making and outcomes

Future ecosystem change 

  • To deepen the analysis of the six scenarios developed in the UK NEA to facilitate the inclusion of a wider range of ecosystem services and explore how these influence well-being values
  • To assess the viability and interaction of current policies/practices/ institutions for delivering an ecosystem approach against the UK NEA scenarios, and therefore, the implications for the design of future response options 
  • To examine the cultural and behavioural barriers and enablers to embedding consideration of ecosystem knowledge in policy decision-making 

Tools and supporting materials 

  • To review, develop and enhance tools and resources to take account of the findings/methods of the UK NEA

The Follow-on phase will be working with a broad range of stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors and will bring together experts from a wide variety of specialisms. 

An open, peer-review of the initial reports is due to take place in mid 2013, followed by the release of the findings in early 2014. These findings will inform new initiatives established as a result of the White Paper such as the Natural Capital Committee, which will provide independent, expert advice on the state of the English natural capital.

For more information about the UK NEA or its Follow-On Phase visit: or send an email to nea [at] unep-wcmc [dot] org 

Lucy Wilson

UK National Ecosystem Assessment Secretariat