Next week, the Natural Capital Initiative will be hosting a Dialogue event entitled ‘Putting the Ecosystem Approach into Practice’.  The Dialogue is organised by Kerry Waylen and Kirsty Blackstock, social scientists based at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, who discuss below the background to this event.

The Ecosystem Approach is a holistic and inclusive strategy for managing natural capital.  Its origins lie with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity ( who over 10 years ago adopted it, together with 12 ‘Malawi’ Principles for its implementation.  These twelve interlinked principles provide a strong emphasis on decentralisation and including different sectors of society, as well taking account of ecosystem structure and functioning.

This sounds like a great basis for the natural resource management, but so far it has proven quite challenging to know exactly when and how to implement the Approach.  This challenge isn’t helped by the concept’s name sounding confusingly similar to other terms like ‘Ecosystem Services Assessments’.  (Assessments are ways of understanding describing the services provided to us by nature, whereas the Ecosystem Approach is a way of managing nature – for more information on this you can download our 2014 ‘Eco-What’ briefing note.)

For the past five years we have been carrying out research exploring existing experiences of the Ecosystem Approach within the UK, to understand the concept, its potential and its challenges. See the project webpage on the James Hutton Institute website for more information about our work and its outputs.

In this Dialogue event we are looking forward to discussing positive steps to help put the Ecosystem Approach into practice.  This will be a targeted discussion to share existing experiences and identify practical ways to use the concept to support the management of the UK’s natural capital.

Although the Approach is clearly challenging, it is important that we go beyond listing challenges, and instead identify positive lessons about how it can be used to support the management of natural capital.  To this end, we have participants from the public agencies, policy, third sector, private sector and academia who will all have relevant experience to share on this subject.  We will also be discussing how the Ecosystem Approach relates to other concepts, because in the UK we already have a lot of existing initiatives and ongoing activities across sectors.  Nobody wants to ‘reinvent the wheel’:  instead we want to identify how the Ecosystem Approach can complement other work to manage natural capital. We hope that participants from all sectors – as well as ourselves – will leave the event with new ideas and contacts to achieve this goal.

After the event we will provide an update as to what was discussed – watch this space!