Conservation planning for ecosystem services: a comparative study of three harbours

1 Ecosystem services of natural harbours

During the past decade there has been a global move towards holistic conservation management, with integrated plans for local ecosystem services taken down to the level of the family and its neighbourhood (Fig 1). This is a practical approach to cultural ecology because such plans involve modelling the ecocultural dynamics of the local human ecological niche which encapsulates the dependence of humankind bonding with other creatures. We now have to legislate to establish and maintain this vital relationship.

Fig 1 Four categories of ecosystem services


Despite increasing attention to the human benefits of conservation projects, a rigorous, systematic methodology of planning for ecosystem services has not been developed. This is in part because flows of ecosystem services remain poorly characterized at local-to-regional scales, and their planned protection has not generally been made a priority. Therefore there is no understanding of how operational management relates to the grand scheme of human ecology that lies behind the idea.

This work is an extension of the BAIS (Biodiversity Action at Industrial Sites) project supported by the EC LIFE Environment Programme, which evaluated the UK Conservation Management System (CMS) as a planning tool to integrate commercial operations with plans to protect and enhance local biodiversity. It models the multiple ecosystem services characteristic of three of the world’s largest natural harbours: San Francisco Bay (USA), Kaipara Bay (New Zealand) and Poole Harbour (UK), referencing their on line strategic management plans. These harbours are natural ecosystems, which are also distinct landscape elements and microcosms of the global human maritime niche. As such it would be anticipated that the three plans would share many similarities in their objectives and actions. They certainly provide examples of all four categories of ecosystem services. In this connection, a comparative study would test the assumption that targeting multiple ecosystem services directly can meet conservation management goals, including biodiversity, more efficiently by highlighting opportunities for trade-offs between biodiversity and other human betterment services. In particular, an integrated ecosystem services plan would be expected to provide answers to the following practical questions.
  • How can an ecosystem services framework be used to organize a decision-making process?
  • What ecosystem services are supplied by nature?
  • Which ecosystem services are most important for a particular development goal?
  • What is known about the condition and trends of these services?
  • How can their value be communicated?
  • What risks and opportunities emerge as a result of changes to ecosystem services?
  • Which services should a city, county, province, or country invest in restoring or sustaining?
  • What policies can help sustain ecosystem services?
  • How can we produce a planning format which highlights the collateral impact of managing different services in isolation?

2 Conservation planning logic

Policies for maintaining ecosystem services have to be transcribed through strategic plans to manage day to day operational plans. It is here that the CMS could be helpful in offering a standard planning logic to schedule and record managerial actions to meet measurable targets; the so-called ‘smart project’ planning, which involves focusing on measurable attributes of valued features that quantify their state or condition.

This logic involves making a plan with the objective of bringing the condition of valued features of the environment into a favourable state. The condition of every habitat feature is the dynamic outcome of factors impinging upon it. For example, the condition of the population of a rare species is a balance between factors that stimulate its reproduction and other factors that accelerate its death. The condition of a woodland footpath is a balance between the growth of vegetation and the operation of cutting-back.

A management plan for a corner shop or a national nature reserve deals sequentially with:

1 Features to be managed and their attributes
2 Research into factors that impede or limit progress
3 Gathering resources for action
4 Monitoring the outcomes of action

The main steps in making a management plan are to:
  • determine all features worth protecting;
  • select measurable attributes of each feature that can be used to record its state;
  • research the most significant factors that affect its state with the aim of assembling an evidence-based rationale to control these factors;
  • apply the the rationale to schedule resources for the jobs to be done to control the most influential factors, with the objective of bringing the feature into a favourable condition.

The final step is to use the measurable attributes of the feature as performance indicators to assess the effectiveness of the plan. This is the process of monitoring, where the state of the feature is compared with the required condition. It measures the outcome of the action plan.

Monitoring is defined in the CMS as a procedure for measuring the outcome of actions designed to bring a valued feature into a favourable condition. In other words monitoring within a CMS cannot be done without having a measurable target to focus the action plan. In this connection, recording the state of a feature without a planned objective is not part of a planning process. It is defined as surveillance. At best, surveillance gives a warning of change and should then be the basis for creating a plan with a monitoring procedure to deal with it.

The published plans for the three harbours have many issues in common. The main question to be addressed is to what extent can the CMS prompt a common concept plan for all three sites to manage their ecosystem services and share ideas and achievements..

3 Maps

Poole (water area: 36 square kilometere)

Kaipara (water area: 947 square kilometres)

San Francisco (water area 1040 square kilometres)

4 Principles of the ecosystem services approach

The guiding principles of an ecosystem services approach to conservation management were adopted by The Conference Of The Parties to the Convention On Biological Diversity at its Fifth Meeting, Nairobi, 15-26 May 2000.. They are as follows:-

  • The objectives of management of land, water and living resources are a matter of societal choice.
  • Management should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.
  • Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems.
  • Recognising potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context. Any such ecosystem-management programme should reduce those market distortions that adversely affect biological diversity; Internalise costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to the extent feasible.
  • Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the Ecosystem Approach.
  • Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their functioning.
  • The Ecosystem Approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.
  • Recognising the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that characterise ecosystem processes, objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term.
  • Management must recognise that change is inevitable.
  • The Ecosystem Approach should seek the appropriate balance between, and integration of, conservation and use of biological diversity.
  • The Ecosystem Approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices.
  • The Ecosystem Approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines.

Note: These are the principles set down in the 1998, ‘Malawi workshop’

To apply these principles at an operational level, management has to adopt a system along the lines of the following general model of adaptive learning.


An ecosystem includes all the living things in a given area, interacting with each other, and also with their non-living environments. Within each ecosystem, there are habitats. A habitat is the place where a population lives. The habitat supplies the needs of the population. A population is a group of organisms of the same kind living in the same place at the same time. All of the populations interact and form a community. The community of living things interacts with the non-living world around it to form the ecosystem.

The habitat requirements of a species are the basis for managing it. In this respect, species plans are habitat plans.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has stimulated debate about the best approach to evaluate and manage the goods and services associated with habitats in ecosystems. It is argued that managers of ecosystem services for human betterment could adopt either:

  • A ‘habitats approach’ in which the focus of effort is very much on the extent to which the services associated with the habitats or to which they contribute, can be identified..
  • A ‘services approach’ in which the focus is more on the identification of the ecological structures and processes of the ecosystem that generate the service. These may or may not relate to any specific habitat. According to this approach the service should define the ecosystem, rather than a priori classification of habitats.

Arguably these different ways of proceeding are not mutually exclusive and both approaches need to be explored. Consideration of ecosystem goods and services at a landscape scale has been recommended as one way forward. This means defining landscape features as ecosystems

The most appropriate management approach is a service delivery model based on matching supply with demand and maintaining a sustainable balance into the future

5 Poole Harbour

The landscape of Poole Harbour represents distinct ecosystems that supply services to the organisations and people who for the most part use them for leisure and commercial purposes. These landscape elements, defined as elements, are: the water body, the shoreline, the harbour bed and the islands. They are set out in the following table together with the demands made upon them for particular services.

1 The Water body provides ecosystem services to meet the demands of:-

Wildlife interest
Leisure, recreation and ecotourism
Visual contemplation
Commercial fishing
Maritime traffic

2 The Shoreline provides ecosystem services to meet the demands of:-

Wildlife interest
Leisure, recreation and ecotourism
Visual contemplation

3 The Harbour bed provides ecosystem services to meet the demands of:-

Wildlife interest
Leisure, recreation and ecotourism

4 The Islands provide ecosystem services to meet the demands of:-

Wildlife interest
Visual contemplation
Leisure, recreation and ecotourism
Oil extraction

The following interconnected concept maps are the first stage in the creation of an ecosystem management plan that incorporates a geographical information system within a sequence of scheduled actions to maintain a sustainable balance between different ecosystem system deliverables.

The harbour
This concept map summarises the benefits of the harbour's ecosystem service as a visual experience

The islands
This concept map presents the main islands which are largely responsible for the harbour's characteristic visual experience and for the most part deliver benefits of seeing and being aware of the islands' biodiversity..

Services management
This concept map summarises the harbour's main ecosystem services in terms of the benefits they deliver and their adverse environmental impacts.. These services all impact on the harbour's biodiversity services and in this respect they are factors that have to be managed in the biodiversity services management plan.