Southern Regional Assembly RSES LowRes

Section 2 - Protecting conserving and enhancing our natural capital

Ecosystem Services Natural capital is the stock of living and non-living resources that combine to provide ‘ecosystem services’- the services provided by the natural environment that benefit people. Some ecosystem services are well known including food, fibre and fuel provision, and the cultural services that benefit people through recreation and appreciation of nature. Others are not so well known. These include the regulation of the climate, purification of air and water, flood protection, soil formation and nutrient cycling. An ecosystems approach focuses on the way that the natural environment works as a system. The valuation of the natural environment can help determine whether a policy intervention that alters an ecosystem condition delivers net benefits to society, providing evidence on which to base decisions on value for money. The draining of floodplains for urban development or intensive agriculture are examples, potentially leading to enhanced flood risk, as the natural buffering of the floodplain is lost. The incorporation and consideration of an ecosystem services approach can lead to significant enhancements to planning policy and decision-making and is recommended for use by local authorities in the preparation of Development Plans and other statutory land use plans. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) brings economic thinking and a market mechanism into the provision of natural resources. These schemes are voluntary market-like transactions between buyers and sellers (beneficiaries and providers) of ecosystem services. For example, agri-environment programmes, such as the Burren Programme, pay farmers on the expected outcomes of their land management practices. In our Region, we can see this concept growing with initiatives such as the Mulkear River Catchment Project, BRIDE project and the River Allow Catchment Management Group which received funding under the European Innovation Partnerships Initiative (EIP). It’s evident therefore that environmental progress can be achieved through economic and social motivation.

Good Practice Example: Upstream Thinking in the United Kingdom (UK) The aimof UpstreamThinking is to prevent pesticides, nutrients and other pollutants from getting into rivers in the first place. Tackling the problem at source has reduced the need for expensive water treatment solutions and has supported the ecosystem services that peatlands provide such as carbon storage and biodiversity. It has improved water quality and helped wildlife to thrive. In the UK, successful implementation of this approach has provided a ‘win win’ solution for farmers, water quality, drinking water supply, local economy and the environment. There are strong benefits to cost ratios withmodelling showing that a £10million investment into catchment management could save £650 million in costs of treating nutrient and topsoil-laden water over a 30-year period (i.e. a benefit-cost ratio of 65:1). Water Good water quality is vital to the well-being of our society, economy and environment. Our groundwater’s, rivers and lakes are the sources of our drinking water. They also sustain water- intensive industries, including agri-food and tourism, particularly in rural Ireland. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) sets a goal of achieving at least “Good Ecological Status” in our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters by 2027. The EPA’s Ireland’s Environment: An Assessment 2016 report stated that there has been a substantial loss in the number of sites where highest quality river sites are found. Anticipated increases in environmental pressures on waters due to human population growth and agricultural output will need to be carefully managed to ensure that deterioration is prevented but that water quality improvements take place. Untreated urban wastewater discharges are an ongoing concern. Continued investment in infrastructure and a reversal in the recent decline in capital expenditure are essential. Ocean acidification due to climate change is a cause of concern worldwide and the effects are now being seen in Irish waters. Coastal erosion because of extreme storm events has become a prominent issue in recent years.

RPO 110

Ecosystem Services It is an objective that an Ecosystem Services approach will be incorporated into the preparation of statutory land use plans in the Region.

Southern Regional Assembly | RSES


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