Enhancing ecosystem services through farming and landscape restoration

University Exeter academics Prof Richard Brazier, Prof Michael Winter OBE and Dr Robert Fish recently held a large workshop on: Enhancing Ecosystem Services through Catchment Sensitive Farming and Landscape Restoration. Prof Brazier told us more…

The workshop was funded by the NERC Impact Accelerator initiative, which seeks to promote natural science research within the University with a wide range of stakeholders and partners.

The event was attended by more than 70 invitees, including a number of academics, but primarily partners from the EA, Natural England, the Water Industry, the Wildlife and Rivers Trust, the NFU and charitable organisations including the National Trust and the Game Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The workshop was split into four sessions, the first of which explored the issues and questions that arise from organisations who seek to enhance ecosystem services, but need research to support such aims.

Overcoming the interruption for a fire drill, Lewis Jones (South West Water) opened the session with a passable impression of Al Murray (the pub landlord) outlining a highly informative set of challenges that the Water Industry faces and a clear set of research needs including: robust methods to monitor success of landscape restoration and quality case studies to provide proof-of-concept data.

Sam Bridgewater (Clinton Devon Estates) spoke next on the Otter valley which faces interesting problems of river floodplain management, due to historic engineering of the floodplain. Sam suggested that stronger partnership working is critical if we are to deliver successful landscape restoration.

The farmers perspective was delivered next by Diane Mitchell (NFU) who championed the need for sustainable intensification, in order to meet the food security agenda, but in such a way that other ecosystem services (ES) could also be valued.

Jeremy Bailey then followed with the perspective of the Environment Agency (EA), to provide a very clear account of how the EA evaluates the ecological status of surface waters and four main challenges that they face in doing so:

  1. Which measures should we choose to mitigate diffuse surface water pollution?
  2. How can we quantify wider ES?
  3. Can we undertake multiple environmental ES monitoring (as is practiced in the Culm grasslands with Prof Brazier’s work with Devon Wildlife Trust/SWW) and
  4. Where do we prioritise?

Finally, Bob Middleton (Catchment Sensitive Farming, Natural England) gave the national scale picture and posed the key question of how do we engage farmers in the long term?

The session was followed by a lively round of questions and answers and much needed coffee before Richard Brazier led a session on what we can learn from NERC-funded research.

The session opened with a double-act (Richard Brazier and Miriam Glendell, Geography, University of Exeter) who outlined their research in two different landscapes – the uplands of Dartmoor and Exmoor and the contrasting catchments within the Holnicote Estate run by the National Trust.

The research presented was ‘landscape restoration science’ an effort to establish holistic understanding of the multiple environmental benefits that restoring landscapes can provide. Key messages were:

  1. Without evaluation of multiple benefits, we are likely to make mistakes in land management, as we have done in the past,
  2. Long-term (pre- and post-restoration) monitoring of the effects of landscape restoration is required and
  3. Detailed, spatio-temporal monitoring can provide a strong basis for decision-making at catchment scales.

Dr Ilya Maclean (Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter) then outlined his work on the Lizard Peninsula, describing both biodiversity of the system, but also posing questions about how resilient the ecosystem was to changing climates, especially changing water availability.

The session was wrapped up by Rob Fish (Politics, University of Exeter) who argued that Social Science has an important role to play in understanding the intangible ES that might be impacted by changing land management.

The third session, led by Rob Fish asked how we can use research and knowledge transfer to lead to chaneg and impact.

The first speaker (Charles Cowap, Harper Adams) described an elegant model of the effect of Moorland restoration on water supply and carbon capture, suggesting that cross-industry payments (from the water industry to the land owner) might support restoration of the landscape at large scales.

Charles was followed by Dan McGonigle (Defra, Sustainable Land and Soils Research) who established the national scale challenges that Defra faces and suggested that we need an integrated, systems-based approach to understand move towards ‘sustainable intensification’ of farmland in England and Wales.

Finally, Laurence Couldrick (West Country Rivers Trust) gave an impassioned account of how we can operationalise payments for Ecosystem Services, using the example of the Tamar catchmnet to demonstrate how multiple layers describing each ES can be brought together to understand where sustainable intensification might be best practiced within the landscape and where maximisation of ES might be a better focus.

The last session of the meeting brought groups of participants together for half an hour to summarise the key questions that must be addressed in future research and the key partnerships that might need to form in order to address these issues.

The most committed members of the workshop were last seen in animated discussion of catchment sensitive farming in the Imperial pub later that evening…

Thanks to all who attended and made this a very informative and interesting day.

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