Management of ecosystem services in Biosphere Reserves

Experience and knowledge exchange between coordinators, managers and researchers

Lundsbrunn, Sweden, July 4, 2011, 11.50-13.00

Workshop report prepared by Lisen Schultz and Flor Luna, Stockholm Resilience Centre

Management of ecosystem services in Biosphere Reserves

This workshop was held at the EuroMAB 2011 conference, and aimed to i) introduce the concept of ecosystem services to participants, ii) facilitate learning and sharing of experiences with working with ecosystem services among participants and iii) collect participants’ ideas for the continued work on ecosystem services in the EuroMAB network. The workshop gathered 54 participants (see Annex 1), including e.g. biosphere reserve managers and coordinators, scientists, civil servants environmental protection agencies, politicians, and NGO representatives.

Why focus on ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are the benefits that people get from nature, such as clean water, flood protection, fresh air, recycling of nutrients, pollination of crops, and recreational spaces. Working with ecosystem services in biosphere reserves is a practical way of integrating conservation and development, and sustaining ecosystem services is also one of the missions and emerging challenges identified in the Madrid Action Plan (MAP, p.7 and targets 15, 19, 21 and 25). In a time when most ecosystem services are under severe pressure, biosphere reserves play an important role in safeguarding them for all of us. But how is this done in practice? How do we identify, monitor, communicate, and manage ecosystem services in biosphere reserves? What are the lessons learned, and what are the needs? This workshop was the first in a series of events that will support learning among biosphere reserve managers, coordinators and scientists with regards to management of ecosystem services.


The workshop topic was introduced through a presentation by Lisen Schultz (SRC), who gave a presentation of the concept and practice of ecosystem services, based on research in biosphere reserves and elsewhere. Lisen emphasized that ecosystem services are generated by social-ecological systems rather than ecosystems alone. The reasons for this is for one, that all ecosystems are shaped by human activities, and two, that people’s perceptions, preferences, and access to ecosystem services influence their existence. There is no ecosystem service unless someone benefits from it. Lisen also briefly described the steps involved in ecosystem service assessments, and emphasized the need for participatory approaches, to bring various perspectives and capacities to the table.

Participants then worked in smaller groups, first to discuss their experiences with working on ecosystem services (good practices as well as challenges), and then to generate ideas for continued action. Ideas and topics were written up on large sheets of papers and all groups were asked to select one idea for continued action that they would like to share with the larger group. The sheets of paper were collected, transcribed and synthesized by researchers at the SRC.


In the first breakout group session, where experiences of working with ecosystem services where discussed, the following key themes emerged:

  • Focusing on ecosystems services can help in fostering sustainable economic activities. Examples mentioned included ecotourism, the generation of non-wood forest products, and organic farming, which are activities that may both use and contribute to ecosystem services.
  • Ecosystem services are useful in educational activities. Experiences shared focused on workshops and other activities targeted to parents, children and parents.
  • Work on ecosystem services can help strengthening local values such as sense of ownership, traditional knowledge, cultural values and social participation.
  • Ecosystem services benefit from co-management approaches, building on participation of local communities and implementing traditional management knowledge.
  • There is a need for tools such as monitoring and valuation of ecosystem services in biosphere reserves.
  • Focusing on ecosystem services can help illuminate trade-offs. There are often conflicts arising from tradeoffs between different ecosystem services and competing values between different groups. Focusing on ecosystem services can help identify what these conflicts, values and tradeoffs are, and enable better-informed decisions.

In the second breakout session, participants put forward a large number of suggestions for continued action that could be clustered in the following themes:

Tools: A third of all the suggestions and nine of the eleven groups mentioned the need for tools to assess and manage ecosystems services, sharing experiences and good practice. Participants called for guidelines, documentation of good experiences, impact evaluations and/or economic evaluations of ecosystems services, and the definition of Biosphere Reserve typologies with regards to ecosystem services. Suggested mechanisms for sharing these tools included an internet-based platform, thematic workshops, a help-desk for managers’ support and thematic sub-networks were mentioned.

Capacity Building: Six out of the eleven participating groups asked for capacity building. Biosphere reserve managers need training and support both with regards to managing and communicating the benefits of ecosystem services in their biosphere reserves (negotiation & communication), and for a better understanding those concepts in a deeper way (increase knowledge). Probably connected to this interest were the suggestions to support the advance of scientific research and the sharing of that knowledge with managers and the community, emphasizing the importance of including local traditional knowledge in this co-production of knowledge.

Cooperative Work Between Key Stakeholders: Almost a tenth of all suggestions were oriented to the joint work between key stakeholders for the proper management of the biosphere reserve, strongly pointing out to the benefits and externalities of ecosystem services exploitation. These suggestions might have a strong connection to the expressed necessity for negotiation and communication tools, as well as to the ecosystem services approach.

Ecosystem Approach: A great amount of the suggestions focused on the Ecosystem Approach as a tool to better understand the importance of the biosphere reserves, connecting to a better management and monitoring, as well as a more equitable distribution of those services. Within this subject, the inclusion of ecosystem services in the national and international legal framework (e.g. in policies and as a part of the nomination and review processes for biosphere reserves) and the formulation of adequate communication tools were identified as key elements. A third identified aspect was the ecosystem services assessment in a more holistic perspective, including non-exchange or monetary values. Suggestions about the different tools were strongly linked to this approach.

Conclusion and commitments

The workshop highlighted the large interest among biosphere reserve managers to learn more about ecosystem services, and how to assess, manage and communicate ecosystem services in effective and inclusive ways. It also highlighted the wealth of experience that already exists in the EuroMAB network, and the need for ways of building on this experience. The following are concrete recommendations generated from the workshop, some of which will be taken forward during 2012.

  1. Update the nomination form and the periodic review to include questions about ecosystem services. There are currently no specific questions about this aspect. Encourage the inclusion of ecosystem services in management and monitoring of biosphere reserves. This recommendation has been noted by UNESCO-MAB for consideration in the current revision of these documents.
  2. Provide capacity-building for biosphere reserve managers on tools for assessment, management and communication of ecosystem services, such as training workshops. EuroMAB should emphasize that valuing ecosystem services is not the same as pricing them, and support managers with tools to assess other values than monetary values, and to assess trade-offs between different values. Support biosphere reserve managers in opening up the concept of ecosystem services to local inhabitants. SRC and UNESCO-MAB will co-host a training workshop during 2012 and are looking for funding to support travel to participants who cannot provide this themselves. Information will be sent out as soon as this funding is secured. SRC will also offer to host a follow-up session during EuroMAB 2013.
  3. Facilitate the exchange of best practices and experiences through a web forum. Increase sharing between EU members and non-EU members. Create a help-desk for BR managers where they can get support on specific problems. Meriem Bouamrane will open a discussion thread on UNESCO-MAB webforum, and researchers at SRC will participate in the discussions. All participants in the WNBR will have access to the forum to post questions, share resources etc
  4. Have more thematic networks for biosphere reserve managers (in addition to the regional networks)
  5. Support the harmonization of the ecosystem service idea with national legislation and international agreements (mainstreaming of ecosystem services).
  6. Assess the ecosystem services generated by the EuroMAB network of biosphere reserves. Assess trends in ecosystem services generated by water objects in Europe (rivers, lakes etc).

The workshop was organized, facilitated and documented by Lisen Schultz and Olof Olsson from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Meriem Bouamrane from UNESCO.


This workshop was co-hosted by Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) at Stockholm university, Sweden, and UNESCO-MAB, and funded by SRC via a research grant from Ebba och Sven Schwartz Stiftelse. We thank all participants for their engagement!

Contact persons: Lisen Schultz,, and Meriem Bouamrane,