A1.1.3 Continued…


Case Study Examples:

In New York City, where the quality of drinking water had fallen below standards required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Authorities opted to restore the polluted Catskill Watershed that had previously provided the city with the ecosystem service of water purification. Once the input of sewage and pesticides to the watershed area was reduced, natural abiotic processes (such as soil absorptionand filtration of chemicals), together with biotic recycling via root systems and soil microorganisms, water quality improved to levels that met government standards. The cost of this investment in natural capital was estimated between $1-1.5 billion, which contrasted dramatically with the estimated $6-8 billion cost of constructing a water filtration plant plus the $300 million annual running costs.

Source: Chichilnisky, G. and G. Heal. 1998. Economic returns from the biosphere. Nature 391: 629-630.


Pollination of crops by bees is required for 15-30% of U.S. food production; most large-scale farmers import non-native honey bees to provide this service. One study reports that in California’s agricultural region, it was found that wild bees alone could provide partial or complete pollination services or enhance the services provided by honey bees through behavioural interactions. However, intensified agricultural practices can quickly erode pollination services through the loss of species and those remaining are unable to compensate for the difference. The results of this study also indicate that the proportion of chaparral and oak-woodland habitat available for wild bees within 1-2 km of a farm can strongly stabilize and enhance the provision of pollination services, thereby providing a potential insurance policy for farmers of this region.

Source: Kremen, C. 2005. Managing ecosystem services: what do we need to know about their ecology? Ecology Letters 8: 468-479


In the 1980s, mineral water company Vittel (now a brand of Nestlé Waters) faced a critical problem. Nitrates and pesticides were entering the company’s springs in northeastern France. Local farmers had intensified agricultural practices and cleared native vegetation that previously had filtered water before it seeped into the aquifer used by Vittel. This contamination threatened the company’s right to use the “natural mineral water” label under French law. In response to this business risk, Vittel developed an incentive package for farmers to improve their agricultural practices and consequently reduce water pollution that had affected Vittel’s product. For example, Vittel provided subsidies and free technical assistance to farmers in exchange for farmers’ agreement to enhance pasture management, reforest catchments, and reduce the use of agrochemicals. This is an example of a Payment for ecosystem services program.

Source: Perrot-Maître, D. (2006) The Vittel payments for ecosystem services: a “perfect” PES case? International Institute for Environment and Development, London , UK


According to DEFRA, recent estimates of the value of the natural environment to society include:

Business and the economy
  • An estimate of the total value of natural resources to the UK economy was over £15bn in 2007
Health and wellbeing
  • Recent estimates suggest that air pollution reduces life expectancy over the UK population by an average of 6 months at a social cost of £15 billion per year
  • If every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space it could save an estimated £2.1 billion per year in health care costs
Places and transport
  • On the Humber, increased flood protection worth over £400k per year has been achieved by converting 170 hectares of land to intertidal habitats
Climate change   mitigation and adaptation
  • The annual value of carbon sequestration from UK woodlands is estimated to be £770 million
  • 580 million tonnes of carbon are stored in England’s peat soils
International   development
  • Globally, more than 1.3 billion people depend on fisheries, forests and agriculture for employment and more than 1 billion rely on fish as their sole source of protein


For further information, a copy of the following report is available here:

“Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Report of the Conceptual Framework Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment”, 2003 World Resources Institute  A1.1.3 Ecosystems_human_wellbeing 


This article may also be of interest:



This is a link to a webinar that the IEMA issued regarding Ecosystem Services: