Benefits and costs of ecological restoration: Rapid assessment of changing ecosystem service values at a UK wetland

Peh, K. S. H., et al., 2014. Ecology and Evolution

Original research (primary data)
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Restoration of degraded land is recognized by the international community as an important way of enhancing both biodiversity and ecosystem services, but more information is needed about its costs and benefits. In Cambridgeshire, U.K., a long-term initiative to convert drained, intensively farmed arable land to a wetland habitat mosaic is driven by a desire both to prevent biodiversity loss from the nationally important Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve (Wicken Fen NNR) and to increase the provision of ecosystem services. We evaluated the changes in ecosystem service delivery resulting from this land conversion, using a new Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) to estimate biophysical and monetary values of ecosystem services provided by the restored wetland mosaic compared with the former arable land. Overall results suggest that restoration is associated with a net gain to society as a whole of $199ha(-1)y(-1), for a one-off investment in restoration of $2320ha(-1). Restoration has led to an estimated loss of arable production of $2040ha(-1)y(-1), but estimated gains of $671ha(-1)y(-1) in nature-based recreation, $120ha(-1)y(-1) from grazing, $48ha(-1)y(-1) from flood protection, and a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worth an estimated $72ha(-1)y(-1). Management costs have also declined by an estimated $1325ha(-1)y(-1). Despite uncertainties associated with all measured values and the conservative assumptions used, we conclude that there was a substantial gain to society as a whole from this land-use conversion. The beneficiaries also changed from local arable farmers under arable production to graziers, countryside users from towns and villages, and the global community, under restoration. We emphasize that the values reported here are not necessarily transferable to other sites.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-092-1
  • Intervention type: Restoration
  • Intervention description:

    “farmland was purchased in 1993 by the National Trust (at market prices) and subsequently converted to a mosaic of wetland and terrestrial habitats.” Most of the restored area is partially flooded in winter and is managed year-round with low-density semi-feral grazing animals.

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: No
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Freshwater flooding  Positive Flood Storage capacity of the wetland. We estimated the total benefit of this as the value of the avoided damage to crops and property (as calculated by Convine and Starling (1988), updated with current information on the value of crops and property) (See Appendix S3).
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    restored wetland in Wicken Fen NNR

  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Habitat/Biome type: Wetlands |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Not reported
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: Yes
  • Impacts on GHG: Positive
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Mixed
  • People measures: The impact on people is a change in stakeholders who benefit; foregone agricultural opportunity costs affect local farmers negatively (although they do benefit from flood reduction), those who benefit are those using the wetland for recreation, as well as those who can use the wetland for grazing livestock.
  • Considers economic costs: Yes
  • Economic appraisal conducted: Yes
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: