Bill Butcher, eCountability
The concepts behind ecosystem services, the multitude of ways in which humankind freely benefit from natural capital, have long been discussed; but it wasn’t until the term was defined by the UN in its Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005, that the concept became more widely used and its implications better understood.
City planners need tools and guidance to develop strategies for urban development that value and protect natural capital, and some industry standards require businesses to demonstrate net gain outcomes. The Natural Capital Protocol provides a framework for assessing impacts on ecosystem services, but its implementation is complicated by variable data quality and a lack of models to predict outcomes.
Over the past year, GiGL has played a key role in a national project that addresses this need in cities. The SPADES™ project (Spatial Decisions on Ecosystem Services), led by specialist consultancy eCountability and co-funded by Innovate-UK, the UK’s Innovation agency, developed a prototype tool to help local authorities and businesses assess the impacts on the ecosystem services of cities, of development design options.
Collaborators in the project, from the private, research and non-government sectors developed a new approach to working with the construction industry and local authorities in London, Edinburgh, Brighton and Liverpool. GiGL led the development of a new green infrastructure typology, proposed as a standard, allowing local data to be translated into a suitable format for the proposed tool to map and measure ecosystem services (see Box 1 for further details).
Forest Research reviewed the scientific literature for the latest approaches, developed some GIS-based models and tested the draft tool in an Edinburgh case study. Mersey Forest provided some upgrades to their existing tools for assessing the value of greenspace in cooling cities and slowing down surface water runoff, and tested the draft tool in Liverpool; while Sussex Wildlife Trust worked closely with Brighton and Hove City Council to test the draft tool on plans for new housing in Brighton.
The SPADES™ tool allows users to explore the effects of development on eight ecosystem services, at the city wide, district or development site scale. The following cultural and regulatory services, found to be the most important to consider in cities, became the focus of the tool.
- Cultural services
- access to nature
- visual amenity
- Regulatory services
- air quality
- surface runoff
- carbon storage
- interior environment
- urban cooling
For each service, relevant datasets were researched and brought into the tool to make it easier for users to get the answers they need. This allows users to explore the impact of different spatial design options using the best available models and data. The location, size and type of greenspace is one of the most important datasets and is used in nearly all models. Other datasets include buildings, terrain and soils.
The relationships between data in different places are then analysed in GIS using the best available underlying science; for example the surface runoff in an extreme rainfall event can be calculated for a place with lots of sealed surfaces and compared with a place with a high proportion of greenspace where rain can soak into the soil. For the visual amenity model, viewshed analysis is used to quantify the value of visible greenspace from inside homes, offices and hospitals. In line with the Natural Capital Protocol, outputs are presented in quantitative values wherever possible, and monetary value where appropriate.
In the Edinburgh case study, key services were analysed across the whole city; the results are being used to help the city council design a new open spaces strategy and to inform climate change adaptation measures. The Liverpool case study has focused on testing options for creating new greenspace in a business improvement district. In Brighton the city council is using results of the case study to assess the sustainability of housing growth options.
GiGL worked with eCountability on the London case study, exploring how architects and construction companies can use ecosystem services to improve the design of new developments for people’s health and wellbeing in a large development in Tower Hamlets.
eCountability and its partner organisations aim to make SPADES™ available to local authorities and businesses from early in 2017. Adoption of the approach should contribute to EU and global targets for net gain in biodiversity and natural capital and help the transformation towards sustainable, liveable cities.
BOX 1: A green infrastructure typology for use in ecosystem service tools
There are many different approaches to categorising green spaces. The lack of a common standard makes it difficult to uniformly calculate and map resources, such as ecosystem services. The implementation of a standard green infrastructure typology across the UK would enable comparisons between areas and analysis of the distribution and abundance of different sorts of greenspace.
For the SPADES™ project, GiGL reviewed the green infrastructure typologies used in the four case study areas, as well as other popular categorisations currently in use. From this, and an analysis of existing literature and available expertise, a new standard green infrastructure typology was suggested. It is hoped that this can be advertised as a preferred standard and therefore lead to data from new surveys being quickly, efficiently, and accurately incorporated within ecosystem service tools.
A group of stakeholders were consulted to investigate the applicability of the suggested typology to their everyday needs. The consultation proved very useful, with most correspondents in support of the typology.
The typology follows a three-tiered hierarchy. The broadest level is based upon PPG17 and Pan 65 (Planning Advice Note: Planning and Open Space) classifications and allows existing data, collected at this scale, to be retrofitted. The middle level of the hierarchy provides subcategories for the broad land use classifications to reflect differences in the composition or use of different spaces. For example ‘parks and gardens’ is subdivided into ‘urban parks’, ‘country parks’ and ‘gardens’. The final level of the hierarchy gives the most detailed categorisation. Its aim is to provide specifics about a site, whether that be related to its size, management or vegetative composition. For example the category ‘play space’ is subdivided into ‘non-permeable play space’ and ‘natural play space’ to distinguish the hydrological differences between, for example, tarmac playgrounds and woodchip ones.
We hope to publish details of the proposed typology on the GiGL website soon.