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Identifying and understanding multiple benefits and trade-offs

Work Package 1.4 - Integrated and Sustainable management of natural assets

Research Deliverable 
1.4.2 Identifying and understanding multiple benefits and trade-offs
Leading Ideas 
Rural Economy
Climate and the Environment


Managing ecosystems to avoid exceeding national, and ultimately planetary, boundaries will inevitably involve trade-offs and synergies between different ecosystem services. Maximising one benefit (e.g. provision of food) may be traded-off against another (e.g. carbon storage), resulting in some difficult decisions, due to competing demands and pressures. These trade-offs will only be exacerbated by drivers of change.

Fulfilling societal demand for multiple benefits from land requires a change from the current focus on single assets. To achieve food, environment, energy and water security, integrated, cross-scale and spatially explicit policy options need to be developed that consider and connect multiple objectives and interests.

Aim of Research

Identifying and understanding multiple benefits and trade-offs – this work aims to have developed approaches that will support integrated decision-making to protect multiple natural assets and maximise benefits in socially acceptable ways. We will have identified and quantified impacts on, and trade-offs among, multiple ecosystem services (ESS) generated by land use and land management change across spatial scales.

This will entail:

  • The identification of gaps in the current delivery of multiple benefits from the land -contact Alessandro Gimona
  • The identification of opportunities to increase multiple benefits through policy and industry delivery mechanisms -contact Kirsty Blackstock
  • The appraisal of policy options to deliver multiple benefits from the land -contact Alessandro Gimona


2018 / 2019
2018 / 2019

In the past year, modelling results have shown that agricultural by-products could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the beef supply chain.

Research has also clarified opportunities for policy integration and found that the use of instruments such as payments for ecosystem services to increase sustainability of land use might be difficult without better communication to users.  A purpose-designed, structured online survey, targeted at individuals working in nature conservation, found that the concept of payment for ecosystem services has many different interpretations among practitioners, with potentially conflicting uses of the concept.

The governance of tree line areas has also been the focus of investigation. Research on several areas across Europe, including Scotland, has looked at how governance could improve participation, openness, accountability, effectiveness and coherence. The general conclusions were that forest related decision-making in treeline areas requires social innovation and a high level of stakeholder competence and capacity-building; and that an improved knowledge of experts attitudes, together with an emphasis on increased participation in decision-making, could help policy and practice communities in triggering innovative changes locally.

In our analysis concerning native woodland expansion, following suggestions from Scottish Forestry (was forestry commission) and SEPA, we have also refined the criteria for expansion (ecosystem services) and added  flood alleviation and connectivity. The results will be used to produce an improved spatial analysis suggesting where to expand native woodlands in Scotland. This analysis, together with work on connectivity, is informing decisions on woodland expansion in the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).  Scottish Forestry have expressed interest in using this approach and new forthcoming results for other areas to inform the process they use to score grant applications for forest expansion. RSPB have also expressed interest.  An illustration of the approach used so far can be seen here.

Climate-related work, necessary to project distribution changes of several species and the need to inform woodland expansion, has progressed with new statistical methods for downscaling of coarse or medium resolution model output.


  • Aligning existing and new delivery mechanisms: A comparative analysis of institutions and processes to deliver soil, water and biodiversity policy goals has reported findings that help to identify opportunities for improving the integration of policy instruments to support delivery of multiple benefits in peatland, forestry and agricultural settings. SEFARI scientists are sharing and disseminating these findings widely through reports, stakeholder meetings, peer-reviewed publication and a several academic meetings including as a session organisers at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference.
  • Improving the environmental performance of supply chains: a model of the beef supply chain has been developed that identifies geographical, sectoral and supply chain hotspots in GHG emissions. Analysis of the model has been used to study impact of alternative uses for distillery by-products on GHG emissions .
  • Key issues for habitat connectivity: SEFARI scientists have contributed to the design of actions for enhancing habitat connectivity and resilience reported in a recent paper in Journal of Applied Ecology. This has drawn on research (including SRP research) that highlights habitat connectivity as a key issue affecting resilience of different species and habitats.
  • Climate change modelling: A new modelling approach has been published that produces high resolution (100m) spatial climate data by downscaling existing 1km resolution WorldClim data. This approach will have applications in the estimation of soil erosion, species range shift, carbon stocks and the provision of ecosystem services in response to climate change.
2017 / 2018
2017 / 2018

Research on social innovation has tackled the potential to alleviate depopulation in rural areas of Scotland, while work on monitoring and evaluation for ecosystem management has highlighted the need for more focus on the outcome of intervention.

Ecosystem services models have been updated with improved data and algorithms. The spatial multicriteria analysis (MCA) approach developed thus far has been applied to woodland expansion, both at the national level and at a regional level (Cairngorms National Park) and to peatland restoration.  The results need to be refined, through interactions with stakeholders such as Forestry Commission and SNH, by incorporating extra criteria and exploring the consequences of attributing different importance to them . This will lead to better understanding of trade-offs and synergies.


  • Utilising natural assets to revive remote rural areas: An invited keynote talk entitled “Depopulation in rural areas and how social innovation can address current challenges” was given at the Dutch Royal Palace Symposium in June 2017. In addition, a thematic session on social innovation as a means of enhancing the sustainability of Scottish and other mountain communities was organised and chaired at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) 125th Anniversary Congress. The work will appear in a special journal issue of Forest Policy and Economics.
  • Monitoring and Evaluating Environmental Management: A report summarising the findings from desktop analysis of monitoring schemes for Water Framework Directive, Natura 2000 and Agri-environment measures across 9 EU case studies is available. The report illustrates that the monitoring schemes are not currently meeting all the theory-derived criteria required to support an Ecosystems Approach, but there are examples of good practice in terms of public access to information, a systemic approach and citizen involvement.
2016 / 2017
2016 / 2017

MCA is a form of (non monetary) valuation and prioritisation of different land functions, useful to improve decision making that ultimately aims at achieving the objectivs of the Land Use Strategy and of the land-related sustainable development goals. We have developed methods based on spatial multicriteria analysis to enable researchers and stakeholders to explore benefits and trade-offs between various options of land use change. Prototypes of  interactive tools to facilitate such exploration have been constructed. An example of an application was a study informing the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the energy plan for Perth and Kinross. This approach will be applied to woodland expansion and peatland restoration in the next months. Further development of this approach will be carried out in consultation with CNP (for woodlands ) and SNH (for peatland restoration)


  • Working across WP1.3 and WP1.4 and with stakeholders, a concept note has been developed on a national habitat connectivity process.
  • We convened a habitat connectivity workshop involving eleven organisations to agree on a set of actions to support the development of a National Ecological Network.

Future Activities

Work on land use change scenarios will continue, and be linked to the UK-level  narratives developed by the SPEED project. Metamodels of ecosystem services developed in previous months will be used to assess the impact in terms of key ecosystem services.

The connectivity analysis approaches developed thus far for key habitats will be used to assess implications for habitat connectivity and fragmentation. The potential impact on priority areas identified so far will also be addressed.

We will integrate Earth Observation measures and existing geographic data bases to develop important layers needed for spatial multicriteria analysis of land use change options. Among these, the spatial and temporal distribution of soil moisture, essential to model plant species distribution and land capability.

Woodland expansion scenarios will be constructed and their consequences on terrestrial habitats and the ecological status of streams will be evaluated. Visualisation of some scenarios will also be developed and made available through web-based tools.  These activities will benefit from interactions with Scottish Forestry, SNH, RSPB. Later this will be improved by a models of suitability for native tree species under different climatic scenarios.

We will carry out work to develop tools that help with  the exploration of land use change options   to support decisions for multiple benefits from the land . This will go towards fulfilling the objectives of the Land Use Strategy by improving decision making on land use change and incentive targeting.

Selected Outputs