Ecosystems Knowledge Network: connecting people and nature

A healthy natural environment is the foundation of a sustainable future with prospering communities.

In the UK and elsewhere, pioneering projects are exploring new ways of managing land and sea environments and the benefits people derive from them. In particular, they are reflecting an ‘ecosystems approach’: a holistic and inclusive approach to promoting the sustainable use of natural resources and taking better account of the values people hold for the environment.

A new network has been sponsored by Defra with the aim of sharing experience from projects taking an ecosystems approach. Entitled the Ecosystems Knowledge Network, it will stimulate knowledge exchange and practical learning across the country. It will assist organisations and groups to understand how an ecosystems approach can help build sustainable communities.

The Ecosystems Knowledge Network is free to join and open to anyone with an interest in an ecosystems approach. The Network will support the practical use of an ecosystems approach by:

  • Developing an active membership of people and organisations interested in benefiting from an ecosystems approach;
  • Encouraging the sharing of information and experience between projects and between experts and newcomers to the approach; and
  • Engaging with and involving people who might not otherwise be aware of how an ecosystems approach can benefit them.

The new Network is being developed by an independent partnership involving the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural Capital Initiative, Fabis Consulting, the University of Exeter (Centre for Rural Policy Research) and Countryscape.

The Network website and other communications are currently being developed.

In the meantime, for further information about the Network or to register your interest in joining, please visit

You can also contact the Network Co-ordinator by email at ekn [at] naturalcapitalinitiative [dot] org [dot] uk ">ekn [at] naturalcapitalinitiative [dot] org [dot] uk or telephone 0333 240 6990.


What are the benefits of joining the Ecosystems Knowledge Network?

  • Access to the expertise and experience of the Network
  • A quarterly electronic newsletter containing news items and articles
  • Invitations to events and workshops
  • A rich variety of downloadable resources, including guidance on how to use the approach relevant to your own area of work
  • Access to discussion and information sharing
  • Links to other initiatives and resources

What is an ecosystems approach?
It is a ‘big picture’ approach to managing the natural environment. It seeks to put people at the centre of planning and decision-making about how we should manage our environment for the benefit of all. An ecosystems approach involves:

  • Integrated decision-making: taking a ‘joined up’ approach to decision-making that encourages people from different sectors to work together.
  • Recognising the value of the environment: taking account of environmental assets in decision-making and safeguarding the environment by ensuring decisions don’t cross environmental limits or thresholds.
  • Being adaptive: developing new ways of working and more flexible approaches to solving current and future challenges.

What is different about an ecosystems approach?
It is holistic and takes into account all aspects of the environment, rather than focussing only on single issues. It is inclusive and seeks to involve local communities, avoiding ‘top-down’ approaches to management.

Why is it relevant?
The ecosystem approach is considered one of the most important principles of sustainable development. It is can be applied to any decision at any geographical scale. It is already being used by a wide range of projects and organisations in different sectors across the UK and overseas. The Ecosystems Knowledge Network will draw together these experiences to help people share knowledge and learn about the approach in ways that are relevant to them.

What are the origins of the approach?
An ecosystems approach is the “primary framework for action” under the Convention on Biological Diversity, which resulted from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. An ecosystems approach is defined by the Convention as being:

“A strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way… [recognising] that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems.”

An ecosystems approach has since been supported by The Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) and more recently by the Natural Environment White Paper (2011), which states that:

“We are committed to an ecosystems approach to management, ensuring that resources are used sustainably and are managed in an integrated and holistic way.”