The task of this assignment is to design an ecosystem service assessment for a defined social-ecological system. This will involve careful delineation of a social-ecological system and assessing this context, identifying an ecosystem service or small group of services to evaluate, developing appropriate valuation methods, and demonstrating understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of those methods. It will also involve some analysis of the social and political context and implications of the valuation.

Elements to consider and include in developing the assignment

1.Choosing the site and framing the question

Choose a specific and clearly defined ecosystem that you have some familiarity with, perhaps from nearby where you live. This must be a location-specific ecosystem. For instance, nearby Edinburgh, an example would be the mouth of the River Almond in the Forth river valley, rather than simply mudflats in general. Start to think about the ecosystem service or small group of services that the system delivers and who benefits from these.

2. Choose an assessment framework to work with

You are advised to use an ecosystem assessment framework such as that used by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA, 2011), or Bateman et al (2010), TEEB (De Groot, 2010), one for cultural ecosystem services (NEA Follow on phase, 2014, Work Package 5), or any other that you find more appropriate from the literature. This will help you keep your definitions clear and avoid double-counting. Full references for these frameworks are below.

3. Locating your study in the academic literature

You will need to compare your proposed study to other studies in similar ecosystems. This is linked to the choice of framework. Depending on what ecosystem service(s) you’re working on, a good starting place might be the UK NEA, or some of work done around the world for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report.

4. Ecosystem services from your study site and valuation methods

Next you will need to think about the ecosystem services provided by the system. How many are there? Which are most important? Which do you want to focus upon? Define one ecosystem service or a small grouping of ecosystem services from the site and analyse it in terms of the goods and benefits derived from the service. What sort of values are associated with this ecosystem service (for instance, can they be grouped into use and non-use values to start with)? Think about how you would approach the valuation of this service, and what method or methods would be best to employ to elicit the value of the service. The report should detail the following in terms of the valuation process:

Describe what types of values you seek to elicit and the methods you intend to employ to do so.
Describe what data you would collect to elicit these values and how you would develop an appropriate sampling strategy to do so.
Describe the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen valuation methods and note how these might affect your conclusions.

5. The social and political context of your valuation

You then need to analyse how the ecosystem services are currently governed and how this affects who can benefit from them. Think about how the ecosystem service is currently governed and how this governance structure evolved. Who do the benefits currently accrue to. Might the explicit valuation exercise you propose change this, and if so how, and what equity, legitimacy and governance issues does this raise? Later materials in the course will help you to consider some of the issues relevant to these questions.

6. Written report

You will produce clearly structured written report which includes and addresses the elements outlined above.

References for guidance:
Bateman, I.J. et al., 2010. Economic Analysis for Ecosystem Service Assessments. Environmental and Resource Economics, 48(2), pp.177-218. Available at:

De Groot R, Fisher B, Christie M, Aronson J, Braat L, Gowdy J, et al. (2010) Integrating the ecological and economic dimensions in biodiversity and ecosystem service valuation. In: Kumar P (ed.) The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Ecological and Economic Foundations, London: Earthscan, 9–40.

Fish, R., et al. (2016). “Conceptualising cultural ecosystem services: A novel framework for research and critical engagement.” Ecosystem Services 21, Part B: 208-217.

NEA (2011). Conceptual Framework and Methodology. National Ecosystem Assessment. Chapter 2.

For a discussion of frameworks see section 2.1 of:
Potschin, M.B. & Haines-Young, R.H., 2011. Ecosystem services: Exploring a geographical perspective. Progress in Physical Geography, 35(5), pp.575-594. Available at:

If you are focusing on cultural ecosystem services, you may want to consider a framework developed by: Fish and Church in the NEA Follow on (2014) Work Package Report 5: Cultural ecosystem services and indicators.

Other useful reading
Pagiola, S., von Ritter, K. & Bishop, J., 2004. Assessing the Economic Value of Ecosystem Conservation. THE WORLD BANK ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT, ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT PAPER No.101.

Kareiva, P. et al., 2011. Natural Capital: Theory and Practice of Mapping Ecosystem Services P. M. Kareiva et al., eds, Oxford University Press. Chapters 1 and 2. On Learn and a hard copy is in the library.


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