We all need Ecosystem Services…

Since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 there has been increasing emphasise on the importance of conserving and enhancing our ecosystem services. But what is meant by this term and how does it affect you and your community?

Whether you realise it or not, you and every single person on Earth benefits directly and indirectly from the environment and the ecosystem services it provides.

Downstream View of Old Bedford River

Downstream View of the Old Bedford River. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystems are a combination of all living (plants, animals, organisms) and non-living components (water, air, soil) in the environment around us. In turn ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. These include security, health, basic material for a good life and good social relations. The services provided by the environment fall into four categories: Provisioning, Supporting, Regulating and Cultural.

How do they affect me?

The most likely to pop to mind are provisioning ecosystem services. The environment and ecosystems supply the food and fresh water we consume and use in industry. It also provides the wood, fibre and fuel we rely on to keep us warm, build our infrastructure and drive our vehicles. Without the provision of these you would not have the clothes you wear, the paper you write on and if you travel by car, your journey to work would be very different without these ecosystem services.

wildlife habitat and food production side by side

Wildlife habitat and food production, demonstrating ecosystem services side by side. Source: RSPB

Supporting ecosystem services occur around us continuously. They provide benefits to humans indirectly and therefore aren’t necessarily the first that you would think of when considering ecosystem services. Soil formation, nutrients cycling and primary production are all examples. Think of the trees and flowers in your garden. Without the continual formation of soil you would not have the growth and rich diversity of colour that you experience. As a gardener or someone who enjoys the outdoors you would not receive the enjoyment from the plants that you do.

For farmers nutrients are hugely important in the success of crops and growth of livestock, contributing to soil fertility and good quality agricultural land. Through the process and knowledge of nutrients cycling farmers can manage their crops to provide the optimum nutrients supply and enable optimum growth. In terms of primary production the process of photosynthesis is a significant aspect maintaining the clean oxygenated air we and all living organisms breathe and require to survive.

Regulating ecosystem services include the regulation of climate, flooding and disease. We also heavily rely on the water purification services that the environment provides. When referring to flood defence we tend to think of man-made defences, not the natural defences provided by our environment.

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WWT Welney. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

The habitats native to the Ouse Washes and Old Bedford and Middle Level Catchment are great examples of natural flood defences. The wetland habitat acts as a giant sponge, absorbing and holding water, slowing the speed at which runoff is received by the rivers. Upland bogs and moors, woodlands and species-rich grassland also work in similar ways. In fact these natural ecosystem services are now the inspiration for new flood defence schemes as considered by The Wildlife Trusts.

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Ely Ouse. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Lastly cultural ecosystem services include aesthetical, spiritual, educational and recreational aspects. Every time you take the dog for a walk, take the kids for a bike ride or go on a boat ride you are benefitting from the ecosystem services of our environment.

 

As well as enjoyment, and education for locals these services encourage people from further afar, bringing tourism and other benefits to the local economy.

Even those people who are located in urban areas benefit from the aesthetic value of ecosystems. It is as simple as looking out of your office window and admiring a tree, we all benefit from ecosystem services on a daily basis.

Nature Reserve

Local Nature Reserve on the River Witham, Lincolnshire. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

You are given the option of two walks; both are equal in terms of distance and health benefits. One walk would take you down a busy high street. The other would be along the river bank taking in the local environment and wildlife. Which would you choose?

Whether you recognise it or not ecosystem services are significantly important for everyday life, we rely on them and they affect all of us in multiple ways. There is a lot of pressure applied to the preservation of the services that nature’s ecosystems provide. The Water Care Partnership within Cambridgeshire ACRE aims to raise awareness of their importance and contribute to their conservation.

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Elvers Galore

An exceptionally early arrival of large numbers of elvers and eels has been recorded at the new Wiggenhall St Germans Pumping Station elver pass near Kings Lynn. After decades of very poor numbers of young eels returning from their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea, a significant improvement has been recorded in 2014 at many sites around the UK. At the new Wiggenhall St Germans Pumping Station, the second largest in Europe, an elver pass has been installed to allow the young eels to migrate into the waterways of the Middle Level catchment. The catchment covers 70,000 hectares of the Cambridgeshire and West Norfolk fens between the Nene Washes near Peterborough and the Ouse Washes from Earith to Downham Market.

The new St Germans Pumping Station near Wiggenhall St Germans, Kings Lynn. It is one of the largest pumping stations in Europe.          Photo Cliff Carson   ref. IMG_2394

The new St Germans Pumping Station near Wiggenhall St Germans, Kings Lynn. It is one of the largest pumping stations in Europe. Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_2394

At the beginning of April the first elvers of the year were seen making their way up the 35 meter long pass from the tidal River Ouse. The elver pass is an angled trough with bristle boards inside it that help the eels to climb up it. They are attracted to it by the fresh water that is trickled down the trough from the upstream side. 10,000 glass eels were recorded in the first three days of April.

The elver pass during construction. The green bristle tufts in the trough enable the elvers to climb its 35 meter length.                                  Photo Cliff Carson  ref IMG_9281

The elver pass during construction. The green bristle tufts in the trough enable the elvers to climb its 35 meter length.
Photo Cliff Carson ref IMG_9281

Glass eels are the early stage of elvers (young eels) and are nearly transparent. They are thinner than a shoe lace and less than three inches (75mm) long. During the first three weeksof April nearly 50,000 elvers made their way through the pass. This is an exceptional quantity for so early in the elver migration period which lasts from April to October.

Some of the 50,000 elvers that came through the elver pass during April 2014.                                  Photo Cliff Carson ref IMG_2892

Some of the 50,000 elvers that came through the elver pass during April 2014.
Photo Cliff Carson ref IMG_2892

There is a chamber at the top of the elver pass where they can rest and be counted. It is difficult to count the small elvers in quantity but they can be weighed and their numbers calculated from the weight. As the season progresses the glass eels become darker and are referred to as elvers.

Glass eels at the top of the elver pass queuing up for the final leg of their three-thousand-mile journey.                               Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_9077

Glass eels at the top of the elver pass queuing up for the final leg of their three-thousand-mile journey.
Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_9077

Glass eels at the top of the elver pass queuing up for the final leg of their three-thousand-mile journey.                               Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_6119

Glass eels at the top of the elver pass queuing up for the final leg of their three-thousand-mile journey.
Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_6119

Later, larger young eels also climb the elver pass. They too are looking for fresh water in the Middle Level catchment to feed in. They will spend the next 10 to 15 years growing and putting on fat that will sustain them on their long journey back to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea.   Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer for the Middle Level BAP Partnership said ‘It is great to see a boom year for elvers after so very many years when their numbers were less than 5% of the former totals returning to the UK.  We hope this improved trend will continue. The St Germans Pumping Station elver pass will give excellent access for eels and elvers into the Middle Level rivers and drains that will benefit eel population recovery in the future’.    

Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners monitoring elver numbers at the St Germans Pumping Station elver pass.            Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_2955

Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners monitoring elver numbers at the St Germans Pumping Station elver pass. Photo Cliff Carson ref. IMG_2955

 

 

Cliff Carson is the Environmental Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners. The Middle Level Commissioners are one of the partners in the Water Care Partnership, more information on them can be found at www.middlelevel.gov.uk.