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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


2019 / 2020
2019 / 2020

Land use and management decision are complicated by the need for multiple actors trying to achieve multiple objectives. RD1.4.2 has made further progress this year in understanding the trade-offs that result, their management, and the processes that underpin them. An initial evaluation of catchment partnerships has indicated that statutory policy objectives and associated funding are important in shaping the actions of these voluntary, private sector initiatives. The findings will be used to inform the development of Rural Land Use Partnerships and wider interests in public-private partnerships to deliver agricultural, climate and environmental goals as part of a Green Recovery. In the context of woodland expansion, operational approaches for sustainable forest management for multiple benefits have been developed, and the impact of woodland and moorland habitat connectivity modelled under alternative socio-economic scenarios.  A zonation to prioritise woodland expansion based on multiple benefits has been devised, and models of native tree distributions under climate change completed. These will be used to develop future woodland expansion scenarios, while Virtual Reality tools have been developed to allow the local effect of woodland expansion to be visualised. In addition, RD1.4.2 has completed a life-cycle assessment of protein production, demonstrating that arable land requirements for animal-based protein production and high-quality plant-based protein production are similar in Scotland. Finally, we worked with farmers, allotment holders and gardeners to explore perceptions of nature and environmental management and to explore the interplay between an individual’s efforts to manage biodiversity and wider management initiatives.


  • Aligning Policy Instruments: Work from WP1.4 on ‘Three ways to improve ecosystem monitoring and evaluation’ was selected as a highlight of the year by the OPPLA newsletter  and informed ALTER-Net's recommendations for the post-2020 EU biodiversity strategy submitted in Jan 2020, which identified the importance of monitoring and evaluation to inform policy but also to understand and promote the societal importance of biodiversity.
  • Work on social innovation to deliver multiple benefits in forestry led by Maria Nijnik (e.g. reflected in a Chartered Forester paper, Jan. 2019) has led to a series of pan-European network activities and outputs under the EFI facility “from Science to Policy”. The main collaborative product was discussed in Bonn, Prague and Scotland (at the EFI conference, Hutton, Sept 2019), launched in Brussels (Dec 2019) and developed for an open access ‘From Science to Policy’ publication (audience: policy makers, decision-makers, politicians, wider stakeholders). IUFRO Unit 4.05.05 on Social Innovation and Entrepreneurs Unit 4.05.05 coordinated was established to reach worldwide.
  • Net Zero with Nature: in March 2020 Alison Hester gave a presentation at the Net Zero with Nature conference hosted by the Cairngorm National Park presenting a holistic approach to woodland expansion pioneered by research lead by Alessandro Gimona , with Andrea Baggio and Marie Castellazzi, which emphasises the importance of considering a wide range of benefits and constraints when considering if, where and how woodlands should be expanded.
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 UK-level SSP1 and SSP5 narratives, applied to land use change, will assess impacts of the possible land use changes on diffuse pollution and habitat connectivity. Work on low emissions options (NEtNet-Zero) for land use changes, as suggested by the Committee on Climate Change will begin in the second half of 2020.   Criteria for woodland expansion will be incorporated in the analysis of Net-Zero options.  Visualisation of some scenarios for limited areas will also be developed and made available through web-based tools. 

We will analyse data from selected four case studies in Scotland and England (Dee, Spey, Hampshire Avon and Poole Harbour) to consider  how catchment partnerships combine public policy and private sector mechanisms to deliver multiple benefits (in conjunction with WP 1.2.4). A full report will be available in December 2020).

We will also focus further on the role of relational values in relation to biodiversity management and governance. Relationships with humans and the more-than-human is fundamental to our (well)being as it is through those that we experience and come to understand the intertwining between ourselves and others. In this work we focus on the interplay between specific relations to nature and more abstract concepts and values regarding the nature of humans and nature. This will help to understand better the different discourses people held around these relationships and tensions between conflicting goals and values.

Selected Outputs