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Ecosystem Approach Review

Collaboration to plan land management
There are unresolved questions about exactly what it means to do the/an Ecosystem Approach, and what it may achieve.

Project aim

This project explored existing examples of the Ecosystem Approach, to identify implications for future equitable and holistic natural resource management. 

Project objectives

We understand the Ecosystem Approach as an holistic and inclusive approach to natural resource management, to be implemented via 12 'Malawi Principles' as first described by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) over 10 years ago. The concept is mentioned in several international and UK policy documents (including, for example, the Scottish Land Use Strategy).  However, there are unresolved questions about exactly what it means to do the/an Ecosystem Approach, what it may achieve, and why.  What does it mean to support, implement and evaluate the Ecosystem Approach? Better understanding existing examples of the Ecosystem Approach is of broad relevance to academics, policy groups and practitioners in Scotland, the UK and beyond. Logo of the Scottish Government, funder of this work

This project was funded by the Scottish Government RESAS Strategic Research Programme 2011-16.

Staff involved and key contacts

Kerry Waylen, Kirsty Blackstock


This project was based on a qualitative analysis of past experiences with the “Ecosystem Approach” in the UK. We searched for examples of projects for natural resource management in the UK that had been labelled an “ecosystem approach, and then reviewed and compiled publically-available information about these.  We carried out semi-structured interviews with contacts (typically a project officer) associated with each project, and subsequently sent a short questionnaire to each interviewee, to complement the interviews. Our analysis of this data used a mixed inductive and deductive qualitative approach, aided by Nvivo (9 & 10). Our analysis was informed by and contributes to various literatures including on environmental governance and project evaluation.

This research has now been completed. Our initial synthesis and findings are presented in our main project report "Exploring experiences of the Ecosystem Approach" from the list below.  Further analysis supported the development of outputs oriented to specific audiences, including academic papers - all outputs are listed below.  In September 2015 we were invited to host an dialogue event on the Ecosystem Approach for the UK Natural Capital Initiative - the report below focuses on how we could respond to the challenges to better implement the Approach. Our last portion of this work also focused on the implications for monitoring and evaluation of environmental management projects, discussed in our third academic paper listed below.  Finally, in 2016 we were invited to speak about the Ecosystem Approach at the 13th Convention of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Mexico: that presentation is also listed below.

We now work on new projects that relate to and build on this research, such as the challenges of delivering multiple benefits, and of integrating policy goals: to find out more you can also visit our personal staff pages, via the links on the side of this page.

Project outputs

Briefings for non-academic audiences

  • Turnpenny, J., Russel, D., Waylen K.A. and Blackstock K.L. (2016). Embedding the value of the natural environment in decision-making - overcoming barriers and encouraging enablers. This 6-page briefing reviews the 'sticking points' that tend to oppose consideration of environmental issues in decision-making, together with tips for how to overcome these.  This briefing is relevant to decision-makers across sectors, and draws on work from the NEAFO at the University of East Anglia, University of Exeter together with insights from this project.
  • Waylen K.A and Blackstock K.L (2016) Concepts: ‘Eco’ terminology. In: Ecosystem Services (eds) Brooker R, Hester A and Pakeman R, the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen 28pp.
  • Blackstock K.L and Waylen K.A (2016) Delivering ecosystem services at a national scale: institutions and governance. In: Ecosystem Services (eds) Brooker R, Hester A and Pakeman R, the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen 28pp.
  • Waylen, K.A.; Blackstock, K.L. 2014.  Eco-what?! The need for clarity and consistency in communication using ecosystem terminology.  This short briefing is available as a KnowledgeScotland webpage, is the basis of a Viewpoint piece on the Ecosystems Knowledge Network and can also be downloaded as 2-page document (pdf file: 200KB).  It summarises some of the key concepts underlying different ecosystem terms currently in use, and provides some suggestions to avoid confusion.
  • Waylen, K.A.; Blackstock, K.L. 2015.  Sticking points: Implications for environmental management.  This short 2-page document (pdf file: 309KB) also available as a KnowledgeScotland webpage explains why it is important to consider how legacy effects can give rise to sticking points that affect new attempts to manage the environment. More detail on this subject is provided by the Ecology & Society paper below.
  • Blackstock, K.A.; Waylen, K.A.; Holstead, K.L. 2014. Experiences of implementing an Ecosystem Approach: Policy implications. This short 2-page document (pdf file: 131KB) briefly summarises the project findings and explores some policy implications.
  • Waylen, K.A.; Blackstock, K.L.; Holstead, K.L. 2014.  Research summary: experiences of applying the Ecosystem Approach. This 5-page report (pdf file; 152KB) summarises the findings explained in our main project report below.

Peer-reviewed academic papers

Project and workshop reports

Conference presentations

Project Information
Project Type: 
Archived Project


Areas of Interest

Printed from /research/projects/ecosystem-approach-review on 24/04/24 10:25:55 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.