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Northern Ireland Environment Link Logo





Dec 2018 right left


Hedge & Garden Maintenance

Sunday 2nd December
Derryanvil, near Portadown



Tuesday 4th December
Window on Wildlife (WOW), Belfast


Making Environmentally Friendly Christmas Decorations

Saturday 15th December
South Belfast


Ecosystem services

The natural world and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to human well–being and economic prosperity. These ecosystems are the ultimate source of all of our energy, resources and products, as well as disposing of all our waste. We depend upon them to produce our food, regulate our water and climate and provide a sense of cultural identity.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the benefits that flow to society from the environment. Though they are traditionally seen as ‘free’, if the same services were delivered by man–made infrastructure they would be extremely costly to the public purse. Ecosystem services make human life possible, and enhance quality of life in invaluable ways. They are commonly grouped into 4 categories:

  • Provisioning: the products obtained from ecosystems such as food, fibre and fresh water;
  • Regulating: the benefits obtained from ecosystem processes such as pollination and control of the climate and water;
  • Cultural: the non–material benefits obtained from ecosystems; for example through spiritual or religious enrichment, cultural heritage, recreation and tourism or other aesthetic experience; and,
  • Supporting: ecosystem functions that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services, including soil formation and the cycling of nutrients and water.

If ecosystems are to support our communities and economy they need to be healthy, resilient and adaptable to change. Damage and degradation to our ecosystems is costly and impairs the ability of these systems to deliver the range of products and services upon which people rely.

The Northern Ireland National Ecosystem Assessment is part of a UK–wide project to assess the state of our ecosystems. It is the first analysis of Northern Ireland’s natural environment and the ecosystem services it provides and attempts to place a value on those services in economic, social and environmental terms. It also provides an introduction to the use of the ecosystem approach to inform policy development and management decisions.

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UK woodland provided the equivalent of £5.6 billion of ecosystem services in 2014.

The value of a tree standing provides around 30 times more in recreational benefit and carbon and pollution removal, than it would provide if cut down for timber.

Japanese knotweed, which can spread by tiny fragments, grows rapidly enabling it to out–compete our native plants. It has also been shown, in some cases, to cause damage to properties, growing through tarmac and floors. This plant alone is costing millions of pounds each year to control.

The introduction of the grey squirrel in the 19th century is one of the best known examples of invasion by an invasive species. It has the ability to carry the squirrel pox virus which is lethal to our native red squirrels.

Floating pennywort, one of the most invasive aquatic plants, was first detected in Northern Ireland in 2002.

Invasive alien species are estimated to cost the Northern Irish economy an estimated £46.5million per year.

Even though peatlands only cover 3% of the global land area, they contain approximately 30% of all the carbon on land, equivalent to 75% of all atmospheric carbon and twice the carbon stock in the global forest biomass.

Coastal wetlands in the USA are estimated to currently provide US$23.2 billion per year in storm protection services alone.

Wise use of wetlands, including the conservation and restoration of hydrological functions, is essential in maintaining an infrastructure that can help meet a wide range of policy objectives.

Some wetland areas can play important roles in flood mitigation and thereby provide an important regulating ecosystem service, since approximately 2 billion people live in high flood risk zones.

64% of lakes in Northern Ireland are eutrophic or hypertrophic.

Functioning ecosystems contribute billions of pounds to the UK economy – however, ecosystem services are not given consideration in standard financial assessments.

Pollination of Northern Ireland’s apple trees, primarily by honey bees, is worth over £7 million per year; pollination of other fruits and vegetables is worth an additional £100,000 per year.

30% of eight broad aquatic and terrestrial habitat types have been assessed as being in decline.

The UK’s population is predicted to grow by nearly 10 million in the next 20 years; this is likely to increase pressures on ecosystem services in the future.

Approximately 2 billion people in the world live in high flood risk zones.

Coastal wetlands in the USA are estimated to currently provide US$23.2 billion per year in storm protection services alone.

Drainage for agriculture or forestry turns peatlands from a carbon sink to a carbon source. CO2 emissions from peatland drainage, fires and exploitation are approximately 3 billion tonnes per year, which equates to more than 10% of the global fossil fuel emissions.