New guide on payments for ecosystems services

20th June 2013

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Steven Smith describes new guidance from Defra describing best practice in paying for ecosystems services

Defra has recently issued its Best practice guide on payments for ecosystem services (PES), fulfilling an important commitment made in the 2011 natural environment white paper.

The guide has been published alongside an action plan for developing PES which sets out actions government can take to facilitate the emergence of practical and innovative PES schemes.

The guide was prepared by an expert consortium with hands-on experience of developing PES schemes and produced in collaboration with potential users through a stakeholder workshop and, several months later, a consultation on an early draft.

Important input was received from IEMA members, national and local government, landowners and their representatives, industry including water utilities, statutory environmental bodies (the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and Natural England) and conservation organisations, among others.

The purpose of the guide is to help with the design and implementation of PES schemes and to encourage their development across the country.

PES schemes involve payments to the managers of land or other natural resources in exchange for the provision of specified ecosystems services (or actions anticipated to deliver these services) over and above what would otherwise be provided in the absence of payment.

Payments are made by the beneficiaries of the services, for example, individuals, communities, businesses or governments acting on behalf of various parties.

The guide is aimed at the key participants in PES schemes, including:

  • the buyers and sellers of ecosystems services;
  • the brokers or intermediaries that can facilitate scheme delivery; and
  • the wide range of actors who can support the emergence of PES schemes, such as, scientists, regulators and planners.

The guide may also be helpful for organisations interested in promoting PES schemes in their areas such as catchment-level partnerships, local nature partnerships and those partnerships overseeing nature improvement areas.

The guide is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 provides an overview of PES including key principles and concepts;
  • Part 2 provides step-by-step advice for designing and implementing a PES scheme; and
  • Part 3 signposts further information and resources.

The guide is accompanied by an annex which sets out case studies of existing PES or PES-like schemes from both the UK and overseas. The case studies were co-authored with organisations delivering PES schemes on the ground, who shared key challenges, successes and lessons learned.

PES schemes profiled, include Angling Passport (South West England), Bush Tender (Australia), Environmental Stewardship, Nurture Lakeland (Lake District National Park), Pumlumon Project (Wales), SCaMP (North West England), Upstream thinking (South West England) and the Woodland Carbon Code (pilot site in North West England).

The Woodland Trust, for example, worked with the Ministry of Defence (see image above) to develop wooded areas for training exercises while also delivering carbon sequestration through the Woodland Carbon Code (which is administered by the Forestry Commission).

Preparation of the guide was lead by consultancy firm URS Infrastructure & Environment UK, in collaboration with PES experts Mark Everard (Pundamilia), Laurence Couldrick (Westcountry Rivers Trust) and Mark Reed (Birmingham City University).

PES is generating a considerable amount of interest and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network website provides further information and examples and an ideal place to share experiences.

The best practice guide on payments for ecosystem services and accompanying case studies are available to download from

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