River Tay and Kinnoull Hill from Newburgh ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

An ecosystem approach

Adopting an ecosystem approach can help to secure economically valuable ecosystem services for future generations.

Nature provides us with natural resources and raw materials, insect pollination and soil formation, and improves our health and well-being. Most of us appreciate these benefits, or ecosystem services, and we can also put an economic value on them.

All ecosystem services depend on a healthy environment. So we must work with nature rather than against it, to make the most of the benefits 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.

To apply an ecosystem approach, we must first identify the benefits and where they come from. Then we must understand how different planning or resource-use choices will affect these ecosystem services. Involving people in decision-making and in getting things done is vital.

You can use existing tools such as marine and development plans, environmental assessment, cost–benefit analysis and participation to apply an ecosystem approach.

New tools are also being developed to map ecosystem services, quantify the value of ecosystem services and analyse trade-offs between different options for achieving objectives.

Case studies can highlight some of the advantages and challenges of applying an ecosystem approach.

People are part of ecosystems

We benefit from the services they provide from clean water to the health benefits of a walk in the woods. Ecosystem health is a measure of the status of ecosystems. Find out about Ecosystem Health Indicators.