Developing practical techniques for quantitative assessment of ecosystem services on farmland
The application of the concept of ecosystem services in the context of environmental management of agricultural landscapes is a relatively new and developing topic. There is increasing demand for the delivery of ecosystem services, especially with respect to ensuring that outcomes from policy interventions are realised. Consequently, there is a need for knowledge, tools and techniques to aid the identification of appropriate options for the given circumstances. This paper presents the outputs from a study that aimed to derive practical approaches that could be used to quantify ecosystem services from features on farmland in Europe. More specifically it aimed to integrate the outputs from the Quantification of Ecological Services for Sustainable Agriculture project into an existing prototype software package (the Ecological Focus Areas Calculator). The ecosystem services explored are soil erosion; pollination; pest control; aesthetics; and carbon sequestration. Following an explanation of the methodology, case study landscape features are used to illustrate the outputs generated. The quantitative outputs are also compared to the outputs from the existing qualitative techniques in the Ecological Focus Areas Calculator to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches. The study concludes that the development of more quantitative approaches is an improvement over more qualitative techniques. However, quantitative techniques are not available for all ecosystem services, whereas the qualitative approach covers more ecosystem services and thus provides a more holistic perspective. It will be important to further develop the techniques as new science emerges; to ground truth the techniques to confirm and improve their reliability; and to improve delivery tools to meet the requirements of different end users which may evolve in the future. As the intellectual, economic and technical capacity of the land management sector increases, the level of sophistication that is be deemed to be practical will also evolve, thus the tools and techniques available need to keep pace with this.