3 Improving ecosystem services and measures - 3.1 Ecosystem services

The ecosystem services delivered by floodplains are linked to their dynamically changing, flooding and drying properties. The services provided are unique for specific locations due to dependencies on watershed properties and climate. In general and qualitative terms, more services are provided, the closer the floodplain is to its natural condition. The primary impact of the many hydromorphological pressures in floodplains has been to reduce both quantity and quality of ecosystem services delivered.


Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans gain freely from the natural environment. It is a concept for understanding that nature not only provide benefits and services for nature but also for people. Benefits include nutrition, access to clean water and air, health, safety, and well-being (MEA, 2005; EC, 2013). In the context of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy (EC, 2011), the EU has undertaken the challenge to operationalise the concept of ecosystem services. Services are outputs from ecosystems that have values to humans, either because of their explicit market or cultural values, or because of their role in mitigating environmental pressures.


Services are categorised as provisioning, regulating & maintaining, or cultural. Provisioning services are material and outputs from ecosystems that can be exchanged, traded, or consumed. Provisioning services includes food and drinking water, as well as materials used in any kind of manufacturing. Regulating & maintaining services are natural processes that support achieving a healthy environment, and if intact, they save management investments and efforts contributing to achieving environmental policy objectives at low or no cost at all. Cultural services are linked to the benefits for human well-being by ecosystems whether of spiritual of recreational nature.


The relationship between the natural functions of the ecosystem and the elements of human well-being have been described as series of steps in the cascade model which captures the key connections from biophysical structures (such as the floodplain) and their functions through services to benefits and values for human well-being in the social system (Potschin and Haines-Young, 2011).


Benefits, however, generate pressures to the biophysical system. A negative feedback loop may be established where increased pressures reduce the benefits gained, but this may in return be modified by policy regulation or altered management practices.


The model enables assessing the over-all value of multiple services, contrasting the value of a single service and its pressures against the value and pressures of others. Often a trade-off exists between provisioning and regulating & maintaining services. For example, Pressures stemming from provisioning services may undermine the delivery of the regulating services.


Table 2 provides an overview of services provided by floodplains and explains how they could support EU policies. Improving many of the regulating & maintenance services will support achieving EU policy objectives. In this report our aim is to provide examples of the services that are important for the healthy functioning of the flood area. However, it is not attempted to quantify those services, either in terms of volume or economic value. Such quantification requires considerable local knowledge not available at the European level.

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