Impacts of species-led conservation on ecosystem services of wetlands: understanding co-benefits and tradeoffs

Fisher, B., et al., 2011. Biodiversity and Conservation

Original research (primary data)
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Biodiversity conservation organisations have recently begun to consider awider ecosystem services context for their activities. While the literature suggests thepotential of ‘win–win’ situations where biodiversity conservation and the delivery ofecosystem services overlap, empirical evidence is wanting. Here we explore the role thatspecies-led management for the benefit of biodiversity in cultural landscapes can play inthe delivery of wider ecosystem services. We use UK lowland wetlands as a case study andshow how successful delivery of species-led conservation through management interven-tions relies on practices that can affect greenhouse gas fluxes, water quality and regulation,and cultural benefits. In these wetlands, livestock grazing has potentially large effects onwater and greenhouse gas related services, but there is little scope to alter managementwithout compromising species objectives. Likewise, there is little potential to alter reedbedmanagement without compromising conservation objectives. There is some potential toalter woodland and scrub management, but this would likely have limited influence due tothe relatively small area over which such management is practiced. The management ofwater levels potentially has large effects on provision of several services and theredoes appear to be some scope to align this objective with biodiversity objectives.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-157-1
  • Intervention type: Protection
  • Intervention description:

    RSPB nature reserves: Of the 22 focal reserves, 20 were all or part Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), 14 were all or part Special Protection Areas (SPAs), and two were all or part Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). The lowland wet grassland, reedbeds and fens at the 22 reserves are managed to benefit a range of species considered characteristic of these habitats. The main conservation management activities on lowland wet grasslands are control of water levels, vegetation management through livestock grazing and cutting, rotational cleaning out of water-filled ditches, and excavation and maintenance of other shallow water bodies (Table 2). Water-table levels are kept high in winter, spring and early summer, principally to provide areas of shallow surface water for wildfowl in winter, and high field water levels and patchy, shallow water for waders to feed in during their breeding season. Water-table levels are controlled by manipulating ditch water levels with gravity-driven control structures, and in some cases by pumping. Shallow water bodies are created in grassland principally to provide areas favoured by feeding waders. Most vegetation management was by summer grazing (all sites), with mechanical ‘topping’ carried out over approximately half of the grazed area to remove tall stems and undesired ‘weed’ species avoided by livestock. Only very small areas of the grassland are left unmanaged in any given year, principally to provide taller vegetation adjacent to water-filled ditches for Water Voles Arvicola terrestris, and to encourage small mammal populations. Mowing is carried out over a small proportion of the grassland, principally to maintain the characteristic flora of agriculturally unimproved hay meadows and, at one site, to provide suitable habitat for breeding Corncrakes Crex crex (e.g. Green 1996). Management of problem plant species includes weed-wiping with herbicide of Juncus spp. and Cirsium spp. and hand-pulling of Ragwort Senecio jacobaea. Mechanical rotovation is occasionally used to improve the structure of compacted soil, particularly on grassland created on ex- arable land. Rotational cleaning of water-filled ditches is undertaken to maintain suitable conditions for a wide range of wetland plants and invertebrates, to facilitate the transport of water around sites, and to act as barriers to the movement of livestock between fields. In contrast to lowland wet grassland, only a small proportion of the vegetation in reedbeds and fens is managed each year. Cutting of small sections of reedbed in winter aims to prevent accumulation of litter, while cutting of patches of fen in summer encourages high plant species-richness. Intervention management of wet woodland consisted of coppicing on 10 sites; pol- larding of trees on 2 sites; thinning of trees on 1 site; removal of non-native tree species on 1 site; and planting of 28 ha of hybrid poplars Populus spp. to provide habitat for Eurasian Golden Orioles Oriolus oriolus (1 site).

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Freshwater flooding  Unclear results qualitative assessment from experts/stakeholders on local flood potential/flood risk/ water flow regulation
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    22 RSPB nature reserves across the UK

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


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: effectiveness assessed from qualitative assessment from experts/stakeholders on their perspective on how the intervention affects flood risk but results are unclear because authors do not state or make a conclusion for how in the end flood risk will be affected and deem that it depends on context
  • 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: Mixed
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: Yes
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Positive
  • Ecosystem measures: populations of key bird species of conservation value/concern (Great Bitterns, Northern Lapwings, Common Redshank and Common Snipe) does not specify the measure for determining 'whether the population trends of the principal breeding bird species of high conservation value at these sites were favourable, particularly in relation to national population trends'
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Positive
  • People measures: Cultural and socio-economic benefits (listed, from qualitative assessment from experts/stakeholders) include examples such as Maintaining traditional rural landscape; Opportunities for local graziers, Provision of reed for thatching, Provides materials for local use, Influence on local landscape, reduced resources needed to control invasive species on adjacent lands to reserve, recreation and tourism opportunities
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

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