As water and land resources become scarcer, further conflicting demands of different uses and users will arise (Vörösmarty et al. 2000). Sustainable management is required to secure water resources for future generations. Ecosystem services-based approaches aim to ensure that the values of a broad range of benefits to humanity that are provided by our natural environment are accounted for in policy making, in order to foster sustainable development (Chapter 2). National-level incorporation of sustainable development goals has propelled interest in large-scale assessments of ecosystem services which can help address complex problems of ecosystem change (Bateman et al. 2013).
The central question of this chapter is whether large-scale ecosystem services-based approaches provide an opportunity for improving water management. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK-NEA) was the first analysis of the societal benefits of the UK natural environment (UK-NEA 2011a). Moreover, it was one of the leading initiatives worldwide to assess ecosystem services at national level after the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) produced a global assessment. The first phase of the UK-NEA provided a wealth of policy-relevant information, and we use it here as a case study.
UK rivers, lakes, and ponds make up around 250 000 hectares (1.1%) of the UK total surface area. These surface waters, together with unseen groundwater systems, contribute significant ecosystem services and goods to human well-being in the UK. The quality of UK freshwaters has improved over the last 50 years following direct regulatory interventions in rural and agricultural practices and EU Directives, such as the Water Framework Directive (Watson 2012). These policies have led to a reduction of point and diffuse chemical pollution and improved ecological conditions. Nonetheless, pressures from agricultural, industrial, and domestic use on water resources remains high, both in terms of quality and quantity (Watson 2012). Agricultural practices and landscape modifications, such as use of fertilisers, habitat fragmentation, and degradation, reduce the ecosystem service provision and resulting human benefits.