The UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan uses the framework of Natural Capital, which is defined as “the elements of nature e.g freshwater, land, soils and air, which directly or indirectly bring value to people”. This builds upon the Ecosystem Services approach, which can be classified as provisioning (water supply), regulating (climate resilience), supporting (nutrient cycling), and cultural (recreation).

Project Highlights

  • Opportunity to influence future Environmental policy, post-Brexit, is likely to involve “payments for services” but the evidence base for such an approach is in its infancy.
  • Work closely with a wide range of stakeholders, including land owners and environmental managers.
  • Develop a wide range of transferable skills relating to stakeholder engagement, Geographical Information Systems and environmental assessment tools.

The UK is undergoing change through its potential exit from the European Union, and this represents an opportunity to evaluate how nature and people can benefit from better land use planning and decision making at the landowner scale.   Demands for ecosystem services (ESS) are likely to grow in the UK because of climate change and population increases.

There is a need to convey the relevance and benefits of taking a Natural Capital/Ecosystem Services approach to the landowner in order that ecosystem function is achieved as part of business planning decisions which would affect the land and its quality. Similarly, it is important for the landowner to consider their place within society, and the benefits or impacts they have on their communities and the wider public through their decisions.

The tools used to assess ecosystem services are many and varied depending upon the scale of land being evaluated. There is an emerging field of Social-Ecological Systems assessment that links people and nature which emphasises that humans are part of and not apart from nature and allows the interdependencies to be focused upon.

This project aims to evaluate the potential of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services approaches to making land management decisions at national, regional, landscape and farms scales.

The specific objectives that would be addressed in this research would be: 

  1. To conceptualise the holistic ecosystem service provision of current activities undertaken by a range of agricultural businesses and in rural landscapes.
  2. To quantify the value of natural assets within the rural system to landowners and wider beneficiaries.
  3. To map spatial connections between natural asset provision and the people who benefit from them.
  4. To assess how Natural Capital tools would influence future decisions and the adoption of sustainable practices.



Figure 1: The approaches of (a) Natural Capital and (b) Ecosystem Services.


This project will use mixed methods, including social science approaches such as interviews, questionnaires and focus groups, Geographical Information Systems, and Environmental Economics.

A wide range of stakeholders will be engaged in the research, including landowners, tenant farmers, contractors, and environmental managers. Online questionnaires and Interviews will be used to understand current activity and barriers to “payment for services”. Using Environmental Economics, the value of services and assets will be estimated, using the Total Economic Value concept accounting for use, non-use and option values e.g. water resources, biodiversity and future generation preferences respectively.

Often the beneficiaries of Natural Capital are spatially disconnected from assets e.g. a wetland improving water quality downstream, leading to underestimation of the ecosystem benefits. You will use the Spatial Analyst tools in Arc GIS to map the spatial/temporal flows/links to get a more complete picture of the beneficiaries to allow investors to make more informed decisions.

Training and Skills

Specific training on social science methods and GIS techniques will be provided by the supervisors and through dedicated courses arranged by the Graduate School and ESRI. The student will get the opportunity to present their research at a range of national and international conferences, to build communication and networking skills. You will be a member of the Water Group (Water@Lboro), which run a series of seminars and training workshops.


Year 1: Undertake a comprehensive literature review and establish detailed objectives and methods. Undertake preliminary surveys and questionnaires within the local region. Establish links with environmental managers throughout the Soar catchment.

Year 2: Conduct detailed interviews and focus groups with wide range of regional stakeholders. Expand the questionnaire nationally, utilising knowledge gained from social media as well.

Year 3: Finalise data collection and analysis. Thesis writing. Work closely with policy makers to ensure key messages are translated into practice.


Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This PhD project will be done in collaboration with the Trent Rivers Trust and Sustainable Land Trust, and will facilitate stakeholder engagement through their large network of farmers throughout the Soar catchment. They will also provide the NGO perspective on environmental management.

Further Details

For informal discussion about this project, please contact Dr Ian Pattison, i.pattison@lboro.ac.uk

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/civil-building/staff/pattisonian/ @GoWithTheF1ow)

For enquiries about the application process, please contact Berkeley Young b.k.d.young@lboro.ac.uk, School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, Loughborough University. Please quote CENTA18-LU15 when completing your online application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.