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Department of Geography


Applying social science to making ecosystem service assessments accessible for greater policy impact

Managing our future environment sustainably requires us to understand the link between nature and human well-being. This underpins the ecosystem services (ES) concept – the value of nature through the benefits it provides to people. As part of a consortium of experts from the University and NGOs, the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) has helped develop a ‘Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessments’ (TESSA): guidance and practical methods for assessing ES values at the site-scale to inform decision-making.

TESSA has brought together experts in a wide range of subjects crossing thematic boundaries such as biology, ecology, economics, geography, political science and sociology, fostering collaboration and engaging academics and practitioners in understanding and communicating interwoven ecological and socio-economic concerns into a common language that resonates with decision-makers.

The toolkit, grounded in social science approaches, targets non-profit organisations e.g. NGOs (particularly local and national organisations), research institutions and government agencies who lack capacity and tools for understanding and implementing ES assessments at the scale of individual sites.

Funding to date has enabled the consortium to develop and pilot the toolkit successfully at 12 sites across five continents, with ongoing assessments at additional sites. Considerable interest has emerged from governments, NGOs (local, national and international), public sector bodies and others wanting to undertake assessments independently. Until now, TESSA existed only as a passive 300-page document. This was unwieldy, and daunting for the user. This follow-on project, funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) is enabling us to make TESSA available to the above users through an accessible and interactive digital interface.

Once complete, this new version of TESSA will be available to download.

The project has been funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) Pilot Programme (Second Bidding Round). Project team: Iris Möller, Department of Geography (project lead); Bhaskar Vira, Department of Geography; Andrew Balmford, Department of Zoology; Jenny Birch, BirdLife International (PI); David Thomas, BirdLife International; Eugenie Regan, UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre; Rosie Trevelyan, Tropical Biology Association; Francine Hughes, Anglia Ruskin University; Richard Bradbury, RSPB.


Photo credit: Isadora Angarita (BirdLife International) “Carbon transects in Sierra de Bahoruco, Dominican Republic”.