High rise flats from Cathkin Braes, Glasgow, Strathclyde ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Ecosystem approach

An ecosystem approach means working with nature for a healthy environment for people and nature.

We must work with nature rather than against it, to make the most of the benefits, or ecosystem services, it provides. This means working together across all sectors in society because, in nature, everything is connected.

Following an ecosystem approach means understanding these connections, and taking account of ecosystem services in how we manage land, freshwater and sea.

The Convention on Biological Diversity definition of the ecosystem approach is: “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.”

This approach should be applied to all plans, policies and management that may affect, or benefit from, the natural environment.

Guiding principles of the ecosystem approach

  1. Take account of how nature works. Nature (ecosystems) connects across landscapes so we must consider the broad scale as well as the local. Ecosystems don’t have an infinite capacity to respond to impacts and provide benefits. And they’re dynamic, so we must allow for change and make use of new information.
  2. Take account of the benefits (ecosystem services) that nature provides people. These range from food and water to flood and climate control, recreation and mental well-being.
  3. Involve people in decision-making – both those who benefit from nature and those who manage land, freshwater and sea.

Why do we need an ecosystem approach?

An ecosystem approach can help to:

  • resolve problems like poor quality surroundings, declining resources and increased demands on the environment
  • resolve conflicts between competing priorities, making clear what decisions mean for different interests
  • make visible those ecosystem services that don’t have a market value, like health benefits
  • promote collaboration and efficiency across different public policies and plans
  • save money by allowing nature to work for people rather than relying only on human solutions
  • encourage people to think about the implications of decisions for future generations and for those beyond the local area

More about what an ecosystem approach means

The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy applies an ecosystem approach to meeting biodiversity targets in 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity.

The Scottish Government Land Use Strategy promotes an ecosystem approach to land use. Read more about this in:

Find out how to apply an ecosystem approach.

Read our ecosystem approach case studies.