In September, the Natural Capital Initiative hosted a dialogue event entitled ‘Putting the Ecosystem Approach into Practice’. The report of this meeting has just been launched. The meeting was hosted by Kerry Waylen and Kirsty Blackstock, social scientists based at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, who discuss below some of the main outputs from this day.

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

This sounds like a great basis for managing natural capital, but so far it has proven quite challenging to know exactly when and how to implement the Ecosystem Approach. It represents quite a contrast to previous ways of managing the environment, which have tended to focus on meeting specific targets, often led by single organisations.

At this Dialogue Event we saw a wealth of ideas and experiences shared by those who already have experiences of trying to implement the Ecosystem Approach. The ideas were contributed from those working in the public, private and third sectors. Their ideas – summarised in this new report – led to several recommendations for future action, targeted at specific sectors including education, business, policy, the third-sector and academia.

For example, the Ecosystem Approach should not be seen as ‘just’ an environmental concern since it affects and involves all sorts of groups in society. However, to engage with new sectors – such as healthcare – we need better evidence of the long term benefits of using the Ecosystem Approach, communicated in terms of these sectors’ existing priorities and specific concerns. Another priority identified by participants is to embed holistic systemic thinking within core curricula and many professional qualifications. These and other ideas shared during this day provide a useful basis for further work by the NCI and other groups to encourage and improve the implementation of the Ecosystem Approach.

There were also a couple of issues that the group felt need more consideration before we can identify the best courses of action:

  • How to encourage interest and engagement in the Ecosystem Approach from new sectors, whilst not downplaying the scale of changes that may ultimately be required;
  • How to achieve the correct balance of investment between gathering new evidence versus communicating existing evidence about the Ecosystem Approach.

We think this report contains some good ideas about practical actions that can, with perseverance and effort, make tangible progress in implementing the Ecosystem Approach across multiple sectors and sites in the UK.


Download report: Putting the Ecosystem Approach into Practice.