Benefits from nature (ecosystem services)

Your health and wellbeing is reliant on natural services that the environment provides.

SEPA provide advice and use regulation to improve and protect the environment to enable sustainable use of services from the natural environment. We assess how activities and decisions affect ecosystems and their services, to determine the best options to optimize benefits and minimize adverse effects. The extent to which people’s use of the environment is affected by an activity or decision is also evaluated by us. Developing new assessment methods to ensure that ecosystem services are taken into account in the decisions we make and the advice we provide is an important part of our work.

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are the benefits people receive from the natural environment. They include:

  • products that come from nature such as food, water, timber and energy;
  • processes that regulate and maintain our environment including climate and flood regulation, and air and water quality;
  • cultural experiences that people gain from the natural environment such as outdoor recreation, spiritual fulfilment and settings for films, research and education.

The National Ecosystem Assessment for the UK  has quantified the importance of these ecosystems to our economy, but concludes that many of Scotland’s ecosystems are declining. Over the past 60 years, ecosystems and their services have been directly affected by conversion of natural habitats, pollution of air, land and water, exploitation of terrestrial, marine and freshwater resources, invasive species and climate change .

If you want to know more about ecosystem services visit Scotland’s environment web .

What is SEPA doing to take account of ecosystem services?

SEPA is developing a framework based on ecosystem services to allow us to take account the benefits of nature in the decisions we make and influence. This includes developing methods to assess how ecosystems and their services are affected by activities proposed in river basin management and flood risk planning. We are building consideration of the effects on ecosystem services into the advice we provide to local authority development plans. SEPA is working collaboratively with the Scottish Government, other agencies and our partners in industry and business, to develop this new way of working.

We are using the approach advised by the European Environment Agency, under its Mapping and Assessing Ecosystem Services Project (MAES), when assessing ecosystem services. This includes using the Common International Classification for Ecosystem Services (CICES) as the basic framework for our assessments.  We are at an early stage of developing and trialling our new methods. If you are interested in finding out more about the approach and methods we are using you can look at these case studies on Scotland’s Environment Web . We will add more case studies as our trials are completed.

How will this change affect you?

Scotland’s economy and the health and wellbeing of its people rely on ecosystem services. Their provision relies fundamentally on a healthy functioning environment. Scottish land use and planning policy has already embedded the need to consider the effects on ecosystems and their services, and to seek opportunities for enhancement. This is likely to require ecosystem services to be considered as part of existing environmental impact and strategic environment assessments. You will increasingly see reference to ecosystem services in the information supporting decisions that we make.

However some businesses are working with us to consider ecosystem services during their early planning, before formal planning processes begin. This enables them to develop options that optimise benefits and minimise adverse effects on people’s use of the environment. In 2014-2015 we worked with Scottish and Southern Electricity to develop a spatial tool for considering the effects on ecosystems and their services from pylon developments to help with route planning (VALUES project). It is proposed that the tool will have wider application in the future. This will be available as a case study once the project is completed.

You can find out more about what businesses are doing on the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital website .

Where can I find SEPA data to help with assessments?

You can find out about SEPA data and how to access it on our website.  Find out more about Ecosystem Health Indicators on Scotland's environment website - measures to help us understand where action should be taken to restore ecosystem health and associated benefits. 

Data that SEPA holds is available to the public via the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure Metadata Catalogue data inventory and .

If you have specific needs not currently available via these sources then you can contact


Contact SEPA Contact Centre for more information and they will help you find the most appropriate person to speak to in SEPA.