Public Engagement on Landscape and Ecosystem Futures: East of England

First Submitted By MartinKing

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher, Participedia Team

Two public dialogue projects in the east of England sought to pilot the Ecosystem Services Framework, as a way of supporting public engagement with planning ecosystem futures.

Problems and Purpose

Two public dialogue projects formed part 2 of a two-phrase project on ecosystems services in the east of England. Phase one drew on the Ecosystems Services Approach (ESA) to develop a framework to support strategic spatial planning, this tool was referred to as the Ecosystem Services (ES) framework. Two dialogues were held, the Arable Agriculture Local Pilot and the Lee Valley Regional Park Pilot. 

The Arable Agriculture Local Pilot, which considered the practical application of the Valuing Ecosystem Services in the East of England (VESiEE) methodology to some case study arable farms in four distinct ecosystem areas. The first stage was to work with farmers to identify the main ecosystem services offered by their farms and the possibilities for the future. The second stage was to share these findings at an evening workshop in each area at which participants scored the current ecosystem services and the desired future balance of services. About 15 participants, recruited through local networking, attended each workshop. A final larger half-day stakeholder workshop was then held at which participants created and scored a future vision of ecosystem services.

The Lee Valley Regional Park Pilot considered options with the public on two contrasting sites within a regional park centred on the northern fringes of London. Following a planning workshop with key stakeholders, one-hour focus groups were held in each of the two sites, attended by a total of 27 local residents and interest group members. These groups identified the current benefits and existing ecosystem services, high and low value services and the effects on services of the proposed development. A half-day workshop with a mix of community and professional participants then considered the different options to reach a preferred option.  

The objectives of the dialogues were to

  • Identify the value of the full range of services and benefits accrued from agricultural activity so that they can be recognised by and taken into consideration in decision making and strategy development. The projects applied the ESA developed in Phase 1 of the project.
  • Deepen understanding of the value of ecosystem services and valuing them  
  • Provide insights on what local people in the pilot sites really value about the natural and cultivated landscapes around them, and what they think would be the optimal balance of ecosystem benefits going forward. [1]  

Background History and Context

Background to Landscape and Ecosystems Futures

This project forms part of the Landscape and Ecosystems Futures case study, this involves public engagement processes in Wales, Scotland and East England. The broader background to this project, provided by the case study is provided below:

As highlighted in the Foresight study of Land Use Futures, land underpins the whole economy. This includes the provision of food and other goods, as well as space for housing, business, transport, tourism and recreation. Future major challenges include projected population increases, climate change, and economic growth in the context of limited land and natural resources. The benefits and services society gains from the natural environment, known as ecosystem services, include fuel, food, clean water, flood protection and recreation. Balancing competing demands for land through complementary uses in a single area can help adaptation to environmental change. In recent years, Defra and many other public bodies have advocated the application of an ESA, a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way, to integrate management of natural resources now and into the future. 

It has been recognised for some time that local and other lay knowledge can complement technical knowledge to produce better informed choices about the natural environment and to reduce conflicts. Such public engagement allows a wider range of people to become more fully engaged with the challenges, opportunities and trade-offs that face our landscapes in future. The three dialogues in this project brought together scientists and lay people in selected areas of England, Scotland and Wales to explore attitudes and values, benefits and trade-offs in landscape change, particularly in relation to climate change adaptation and the reform of agricultural policy. 

The pilot projects were established and managed by GO-East, Scottish National Heritage (SNH) and the CCW. In each pilot area, consultant teams designed and facilitated engagement processes to test how well the public and stakeholders could enter into dialogue, combining the best of science with local knowledge, using the ecosystem services framework to bring these different sets of evidence together. The outcomes sought were devolved decision-making and dialogue to explore future challenges, opportunities, pressures, and management options to inform vision and policy. The NCI supported the project by drawing out lessons that would help the process of embedding policy and practice on participatory approaches to ecosystem assessment. [2]

Background to Valuing Ecosystem Services in the East of England (VEsSiEE)

VEsSiEE was a two phrase project. The first phase of the study provided evidence of the value of some of the most important ecosystem services in the east of England, as well as developing on the ESA approach to produce an Ecosystems Services (ES) Framework. The purpose of this framework was to enable stakeholder engagement on strategic spatial planning. 

The ES framework organises the services into the following categories.

Provisioning (including food, crops, medicinal)

Cultural (including wild species diversity, recreation, scientific)

Regulating (including climate, air quality, soil quality)

Supporting (including soil formation, nutrient cycling)

Full details on the ES framework can be found in the final report (See [3])

The second phase involved initiating two public dialogue projects to further develop the methodology for use with the public and stakeholders, and test it through real-life regional and local pilots.

Organizing, Supporting and Funding Entities

This was a multi-partner project, carried out by URS Scott Wilson, Urban and Rural Sustainability (URSUS) Consulting and Dialogue By Design for Sustainability East on behalf of a range of regional partners. It is funded by Defra and Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre (ERC), which is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It has been overseen by a steering group of representatives from a wide group of stakeholder bodies in the East of England including Sustainability East, EEDA, GO-East, CLA, NFU, Natural England, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, East of England Environment Forum (EEEF), East of England Local Government Association, English Heritage, RSPB, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Morley Agricultural Foundation, the Chadacre Agricultural Trust and the Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trust. [1]

URSUS lead on the Arable Agriculture Local Pilots in the following areas

  • Recruitment  
  • Joining instructions  
  • Presentation technology and materials  
  • Catering (refreshments etc.)  
  • Reminders/follow-up  

Dialogue By Design lead on the Arable Agriculture Local Pilots in the following areas

  • Room lay out  
  • Flipcharts and toolkit  
  • Plenary recording wall  
  • Plenary space and layout  
  • Name badges – address labels for participants to write their first names on, on arrival 

URS Scott Wilson lead on the Lee Valley Regional Park workshops

The project was part of Sciencewise-ERC, a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. It helps Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform policy making, involving science and technology issues. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The Arable Agriculture Local Pilot

Attendees of the dialogues:

  • 4 groups of around 15 participants 
  • Representative from VEsSiEE Steering Group 
  • URSUS technical expert/note takers 
  • Facilitator from Dialogue by Design 


18th Jan: Brickendon, Herts 

19th Jan: Bradwell, Essex 

25th Jan: Welney, Norfolk 

26th Jan: Stoke Ash, Mid-Suffolk 

The participants were recruited from the community local to each case study farm. Contact was made by telephone and email, but also notices were placed in public places where possible, e.g. in shops and on community websites. Potential participants were sought from community groups/organisations, or by individual recommendations/word of mouth. Technical experts were also included in each meeting. 

In addition, on the 18th March a final workshop was held with a group of regional stakeholders. This was intended to test the toolkit with a group of regional expert stakeholders and to focus on a larger spatial scale – using the Fens as a pilot. This was a three-hour day time session running from 10:00 to 13:00 at the NFU’s offices in Newmarket. There were 8 participants; all members of the Steering group 

Lee Valley Regional Park 

Specialists Pilot Workshop

A draft ES framework was piloted in a workshop attendee by officers from local government and environmental agencies.

Case study Workshops

Two case study workshops took place, involving 27 participants in total. All of the participants were local residents. Some attendees were also parish councillors and/or members of local interest groups. Each participant received a small cash incentive. [3]

Methods and Tools Used

The Arable Agriculture Local Pilot

  • Briefing papers/materials on the day 
  • Photo cards for quiz and for use during the workshop 
  • 1 pager on key ecosystem services 
  • Table sheets 
  • Spider diagrams and counters for session 2 
  • Evaluation forms 

Other materials

  • Flip charts and Facilitator’s toolkit (pens, blue tack) 
  • Overhead projector 
  • PowerPoint presentation [1]

Lee Valley Regional Park 

The structured discussions made use of the following tools and techniques

  • Large and small scale maps and site photos
  • Flash cards
  • Proforma of individual priorities [3]

Deliberation, Decisions and Public Interaction

The Arable Agriculture Local Pilot

During the workshops, participants were asked to take part in two evaluation exercises. For the first exercise, participants were asked to put a value on each type of ecosystems services (ES) between 0 (low) and 10 (high), in order to indicate to what extent they considered the ES important in a general sense for the area. The assessment was done after ‘wider benefits’ of farming had been presented by the team and discussed at tables but before the assessment of the case study farm had been presented. The assessment therefore reflected the participants’ understanding of ecosystem services concepts and their own knowledge of their importance in the area.  

For the second evaluation, participants were divided into two groups and asked to come to a collective decision among the group about the value to place on each ES from 0 to 10 when considered in terms of the specific local area. In doing this they used a large spider diagram with each of the ‘wider benefits’ and a set of counters with a starting position of 5. The group then discussed each benefit in turn and their deliberations were recorded. The exercise worked best when each individual was allowed the opportunity to suggest an initial score for one of the ‘wider benefits’ which they thought most important and the group used this as the basis to discuss the likely trade-offs with other benefits and their desired balance. 

The dialogue sessions were organised along the following structure

18:00: Arrivals and registration

18:30: Opening session and Introduction

Introductions at tables


  • Introduction to ‘wider benefits’ - ecosystem services concepts and delivery of different aspects by case study farm  
  • Discussion about what participants value from local farm environment  
  • Discussion about what participants would like to see more of in the future and how farmers might be encouraged to deliver this 

18:45: What in the world are ecosystem services

  • Background information for participants on key services and benefits of natural and cultivated ecosystems.
  • Four rounds of discussion at tables addressing: provisioning, cultural, regulating, supporting, plenary feedback.
  • Evaluation 1 (see above)

19:30: Break

19:45: The results of URSUS study of the local farm- and the optimal balance of ecosystem benefits for the future

  • Presentation by URSUS followed by questions, table discussion, plenary feedback, 
  • Evaluation 2 (see above)

20:50: Wrap up, evaluation and close

Findings of the dialogue

The highest scored ESs in almost all settings were: providing food; climate regulation; flood regulation (particularly in the Fens and coastal Essex); biodiversity and wildlife; sense of place; learning; freshwater provision and soil erosion control (in the Fens landscape). 

Lee Valley Regional Park

Initial Discussion

Participants were asked to introduce themselves and then to describe one or two ways in which they make use of the LVRP. An introduction to the Park, from the LVRP website was presented, to stimulate thinking 

Participants were then presented with two maps and a selection of site photos. One of the maps was small scale, allowing a number of site features to be identified and land uses inferred. The other was a large scale map showing the site in the broader geographical context. Participants were asked to orientate themselves and to discuss the features and land uses present 

Stakeholders were asked to discuss the following, informally:

  • Is this an important site?
  • What if anything is important about it?
  • What about the site would be missed if it was lost?
  • Is there anything about the site that is “unique” within the local context?

Stakeholders were then asked the following more specific question:

  • What benefits does the site provide?
  • Where a benefit is something that leads to an increase in well-being or welfare)

Exploring the ES Baseline

Participants were introduced to the ESA, and then presented with 29 flashcards denoting an ES category.

Participants were asked to go through the flash cards and sort them into three groups:

  • Ecosystem services currently provided by the site
  • Ecosystem services not currently provided 
  • Unsure


Although there was good discussion of how particular site features and land uses might change in the future with implications for the provision of ecosystem services, time constraints meant that stakeholders failed to get much further than identifying high and low priority services currently provided and not currently provided. 

Influence Outcomes and Effects

The Arable Agriculture Local Pilot

Dissemination of results

Participants were keen to learn the outcomes from their participation and were sent a workshop report for all four workshops by email. Other dissemination events have included: 

· Natural Capital Initiative in London on February 16th which brought together those involved in participative dialogue Ecosystem Services Approaches to share experiences and lessons learnt.  

· A seminar to present the outcomes of Defra supported ESA pilots for Defra policy makers, organised by the Natural Capital Initiative, in London on March 17th.  

· Presentation of the results of the Arable Pilot at a workshop organised by Sustainability East on Adapting to Climate Change on 30th April.  

The final report identifies the following outcomes (See [1])

Potential future uses

Ultimately it is hoped that the findings of the research will help decision-makers at a number of spatial levels to use a Valuing Ecosystem Services Approach to make decisions about future land uses, the balance of ecosystem services they provide and how to incentivise their delivery. 

Toolkit for farmers

The study’s process for engaging local people and experts in valuing ecosystem services on arable farms appears to work well and, together with a summary table on transferable monetary values for ecosystems services and summary of findings from the local workshops, starts to provide a ‘toolkit’ which can be used by farmers and land managers to engage with local communities about what they value most and the implications for how they manage their land in future. 

Other potential decision making uses

It is recommended that this ‘toolkit’ or process could be usefully tested at other spatial levels and with different stakeholders including: 

1) With central Government policy makers (e.g. Defra or CLG) in the context of a specific upcoming policy review/proposal for legislation such as CAP reform. The toolkit could be used to explore policy scenarios or options with local or wider stakeholders with Defra/CLG staff attending public dialogue meetings. Equally the process could be used by policy makers themselves with a refined process for using a ‘real budget’ for judging what resources should be allocated to supporting preferences for different ecosystem services.  

2) With regional or landscape/county level stakeholders such as Sustainability East, Natural England, Environment Agency, NFU, CLA, RSPB, farm advisors and agents and a few local individuals to agree on the desired balance of ESs which could be delivered in a specific farming landscape in the future. This approach will be further tested at the Climate Adaptation workshop organised by Sustainability East on the 30th March in respect of climate adaptation priorities for the Fens.  

3) Supporting the localism agenda providing a mechanism to help citizens and communities make choices that optimise the benefits they receive from the natural environment. At local level the process would be useful in framing discussions between farmers, landowners and land managers with parishes or neighbourhoods. Organizers consider that the process would be equally relevant for informing Community Resilience planning, Neighbourhood Action Plans, Green Infrastructure strategies and Transition Town action plans.  

Lee Valley Regional Park

There is limited information on the impacts of this project in the documentation. The final report notes time constraints that limited the capacity of the study to use the ESA to develop a framework for helping stakeholders consider the relative merits of alternative land use futures.

The final report also provides the following recommendations (for more detail see [3])

There is clearly a need to strike a balance when applying the ESA so that some top-down specialist/scientific understanding of the issues is provided, whilst ensuring that the ESA remains primarily a tool that empowers and enables local stakeholders to explore, share and develop their own, bottom-up understanding. 

The ES Framework prepared through this study could be used as the basis for applying the ESA to local planning elsewhere in the LVRP. The ES Framework should be presented to local stakeholders as something that is malleable and open to local interpretation, drawing upon their context specific understanding. However, it is recommended that the ES Framework is presented in an ‘enhanced’ form, so that non-specialist stakeholders are provided with a more in-depth introduction to what the ES categories might actually mean ‘on the ground’ in the particular local context.

Beyond use of an ES Framework, there is a need to exercise caution in terms of the degree of specialist input to the ESA. It is suggested that providing non-specialist stakeholders with figures suggesting the monetary value of the ecosystem services provided by a local area of land will often not be appropriate. This reflects the fact that monetary values will have been derived based on major assumptions, and it will often not be possible to be confident that such assumptions will hold true in a local context. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The Arable Agriculture Local Pilot

The final report observed the following lessons (see [1])

Based on the four workshops it was found found that: 

Most people did not have any problems in engaging with the underlying concept or the language used: rather they showed a good understanding of the ideas and importance of most of the categories of services, and valued them highly.  

Participants particularly liked the spider diagram approach to valuing and relating different benefits because it showed the holistic nature of the ecosystems approach and the interrelations between services.  

In only one case did a participant say that they did not feel they knew enough to quantify the value of the services but that was in relation to lack of understanding of farming policy and subsidies rather than ecosystem service concepts.  

The exception was the ‘other regulating services’ category, possibly because a number of disparate services were grouped into one category in order to make the overall number of categories manageable, or possibly because they were more complex services, some of which are currently actually dis-benefits associated with of agricultural production. For instance, use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and their impacts on water quality, pest control and pollination and the introduction of GM crops and pest control all were raised under this heading.  

Some services – specifically supporting services of soil formation, nutrient cycling and biodiversity which organizers had anticipated being difficult for participants were highly rated and their links with food production and good husbandry were very well understood.  

Treatment of wildlife and biodiversity as a standalone supporting or overarching theme appeared to work well, with participants often giving it a high ranking.  

In summary, organizersfelt that the language of ‘wider benefits’ worked well and was accessible to all participants, even those with little prior knowledge. However, organizers feel that more extensive use of the term “Ecosystem Services” could well have meant participants were less clear about the subject of the workshops.  

Lee Valley Regional Park

The final report in the Lee Valley Regional Park workshops make the following observations summarised below (for further details see [3])

The ESA, as applied to the two hypothetical planning case- studies, was in some ways a success. Given the ES Framework (plus some minor additional help) the non-specialists participants were able to consider the benefits derived from a broader range of ESs than might otherwise have been the case. 

However, this study has considered the aim of the ESA as being not simply about enabling a broader consideration of ecosystem services, but also a deeper, more holistic and inclusive consideration. In this sense, some question-marks remain about the effectiveness of the ESA, as applied here. In particular, it is not possible to conclude that providing non-specialist stakeholders with a relatively simple ES Framework and very little further specialist support leads to greater consideration of the value of ecosystem services to less obvious beneficiaries.

Having said this, it is not possible to draw strong conclusions given that ‘lack of evidence’ could simply be as a result of the limited time given to evidence gathering (focus groups lasted only 1.5 hours in total) or the nature of case-study ‘decision-making contexts’. Ideally, it would have been possible to apply the ESA to a greater range of site level decision-making contexts. 

It would also be interesting and useful to test use of the ESA as part of other local plan-making processes that seek to engage non-specialists. 

See Also


Public Engagement on Landscape and Ecosystem Futures in England, Scotland, and Wales 

Public Engagement on Landscape and Ecosystem Futures: Scotland 


[1] Ursus and Dialogue by Design (2011) “Valuing Ecosystem Services in the East of England Phase 2- Practical applications of the approach Arable Agriculture Local Pilot”, March 2011

[2] Sciencewise (2012) “Case Study: Landscapes and ecosystems futures” 

[3] URS Scott Wilson (2011) “The Ecosystems Services Approach and Local Planning: Final Report”, July 2011

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