Mental Health

My name is Max and I’m an alcoholic. 8 months ago those words would have been impossible for me to say or write down, but now I say them to myself everyday. I’ve struggled with my mental health for the past 6 years but I’m finally getting back on my feet. I’m writing this for me, but putting it out in the public domain because during my recovery openness and honesty have been crucial to repairing my self esteem and dragging myself back from the brink I was hurtling towards. After years of deceit towards my family and friends being able to say ‘this is me’ with confidence and pride has repaired how I feel about myself.

I think it began when I was teaching. I would work 13 hour days, come home and find it impossible to switch off. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist and teaching is not the profession for that mindset! You take knocks to your confidence, ego and motivation every single day. You fail in some small or large way every single day. I’d come home every day and feel like I’d fought a battle, leaving me completely mentally and physically exhausted. I quickly found this harder and harder to deal with.

To help switch my brain off I would have a beer when I got home. Often alone before my wife got back from work. Over the years this progressed from one to two to three beers. Then beer wouldn’t cut it so I moved on to strong cider or wine. A whisky before bed soon followed, although I was using alcohol to help deal with anxiety at this stage I wasn’t yet fully dependent on it.

Although I was a bloody good teacher and always did my best I felt that a move from the state sector would sort me out. I managed to get a job at one of London’s most prestigious private schools. I can remember the elation I felt when I was told I got the job. That Summer Inna and I got married and for a few months I felt good about myself. I started at my new school eager to embark on the next chapter in my life. Soon the cracks reappeared though. I doubted myself massively. If I wasn’t happy at one of the top schools in the country then what was wrong with me? I questioned every decision I made and my anxiety and depression grew worse.

It was at this point that my alcoholism kicked up a notch. I would regularly drink 6 bottles of strong cider a night, followed up by some spirit. Most of my drinking was done alone, before my wife got back from work. I knew exactly when to stop drinking, shower and brush my teeth so that when she returned she couldn’t smell it on me. I’d smoke a cigarette so that was what she would smell on me. My tolerance for alcohol grew and grew. I’d buy my booze from the shop on the way home, after a while the shop assistants recognized me and I felt guilt and judgment. So I had a rota of shops: Tesco Monday, Bargain Booze Tuesday, Sainsbury’s Wednesday. That way the people who sold me the booze didn’t think I was an alcoholic. That’s what I told myself. I’d wake up every day with a hangover, when my wife left for work a long pull on a bottle of spirit was the only way I could clear my head and get myself up for work, my heart would be beating out of my chest as I walked up the hill to work. Then I began having days off with spurious excuses, drinking all day, lost in an ocean of anxiety and self loathing. My half terms were filled with lonely days in the house, drinking to excess until my wife got home. My social life revolved around drink, I’d have 4 pints before whoever I was meeting arrived but always manage to hide it.

I needed to get out so I quit my job and pursued a Master’s degree. ‘This is finally it’ I thought, I’m back near my family, out of the big city, able to breathe and do more of the things I loved. I absolutely smashed my Master’s, I averaged 90 for my academic work and was able to secure backing for my own project to carry on to a PhD, this is a big deal. But throughout my Master’s and the start of my PhD my alcoholism progressed. We lived with my in laws during this period and I was ashamed of the jenga tower of bottles that the recycling bin would become over just a few days. So I switched to cans, drank them alone in my room, often with my mother in law reading in the next room, crushed the cans, put them in a plastic bag and dropped them in a bin on the way to university the next day. Before I got home I’d have 3-4 pints of strong beer in town. Problem solved and my secret life maintained. I worked my way through my father in law’s Whisky collection, a mouthful from alternate bottles so that hopefully they wouldn’t notice. When I thought it would become suspicious I sneaked vodka, sherry, port, whatever I could get my hands on. It’s just the stress of Master’s, PhD, not having our own place I would tell myself. I will only drink Friday to Sunday I’d tell myself but always, always I would submit to that release that alcohol gave me and I’d hate myself a little more and feel another piece of my soul wither every time I did. I became increasingly selfish and devious.

When my wife and I moved into our first house the opportunity for me to ‘work from home’ and drink to excess increased. After a couple of months of progressively serious drinking I reached absolute rock bottom. I realized that if I didn’t do something about it now I was going to kill myself, lose my wife, home, family and everything that we had sacrificed to achieve what we had over the last 6 years. Such was my level of self loathing that I briefly contemplated taking my own life to avoid the effort and pain of turning my life around. I wrote a letter to Inna that morning while she was away, drinking from a bottle of Lambs rum while I did it. I still have the letter, the ink is smeared with the tears I was crying at the time.

This is when I entered AA and finally began to find peace of mind. I have now been sober for 7 months and 3 weeks. By throwing myself into AA and following the 12 step program I feel like a miracle has occurred. I know in my heart and soul that I will never touch another drop of alcohol. I’ve lost 10 kilos of weight, I feel strong, fit and look at myself in the mirror and love who I am. I can devote my time and energy to my family and friends and put them first. I wake up early every day and can’t wait to live my life. The anxieties I suppressed with alcohol came back in a big way in my early recovery, I tried to carry on with my research during this period but soon found that impossible and eventually had to take a 4 month break. I am now back at work, with therapy and support I am now mentally equipped to deal with whatever life throws at me. My withered soul is being put back together piece by piece every day that I remain sober.

An alcoholic is not a disheveled outcast drinking from a brown paper bag on a park bench. Someone who is depressed does not always shy away from life. People struggle on the inside but excel on the outside. For years and years I lived in my head, lost in self loathing and doubt. I’m writing this for myself, but if anyone I know reads this, if anyone I know is struggling themselves, then know that you are not alone. I say the serenity prayer to myself every single day and thank whoever is looking after me for helping me turn my life around, for saving me from a slow, painful, early death, so it is with the serenity prayer that I’ll end this account.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things that I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Max Rayner


My thoughts on ‘A Green Future’

It seems that the government has gone green. Having spent my working life as a teacher disagreeing with pretty much everything that Michael Gove said, I now find myself working in Environmental Science (with Gove once more my secretary of state) in the strange position of agreeing with him on multiple points. Last week the government released ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’. Having read and reflected on this document I wanted to share my thoughts. At times I couldn’t believe what I was reading from a government that before the last election proposed a free vote on reintroducing fox hunting, dropped a pledge to ban the ivory trade from its manifesto and continues to support fracking. At other times I found myself frustrated by the grand statements, wondering if all the hopeful promises will ever see the light of day. As I reflected on the implications of this report for my project, three themes developed.

1. Natural Capital and the Ecosystem Services Approach

The Natural Capital Committee were heavily involved in the preparation of the ‘A Green Future’ and the language and concepts of Natural Capital and the Ecosystem Services approach are prominent in the plan’s text. In her foreword the Prime Minister talks about utilising our environment to ‘promote greater well-being’ (p.4). The executive summary states that the government will adopt the Natural Capital approach; ‘leading the world in using this approach as a tool in decision-making’ (p.9). Justification of this approach comes almost verbatim from the ecosystem services literature; page 19 of ‘A Green Future’ states that ‘when we give the environment its due regard as a natural asset – indeed a key contributor – to the overall economy, we will be more likely to give it the value it deserves to protect and enhance it’. Compare this with Daily et al. (2009 p.21) who explain that the vision of the ecosystem services paradigm is

“a world in which people and institutions appreciate natural systems as vital assets, recognize the central roles these assets play in supporting human well-being, and routinely incorporate their material and intangible values into decision making”

Past degradation of our landscape, the report claims, was because ‘the many benefits that the environment provides are not fully understood or measured’ (p.31). Clearly experts in the field of ecosystem service assessment were listened to during the preparation of this report. Is this a good thing or not?

Had I read ‘A Green Future’ and only seen natural capital discussed in terms of economic values I would have been hugely discouraged. If ecosystem services are discussed only in terms of their potential for supporting economic development then they lose a great deal of their power for change.  But in multiple locations ‘A Green Future’ acknowledges the limitations of the the natural capital approach and highlights the intrinsic value of nature. Gove himself writes that ‘nature’s intrinsic value … is critical to our mission’ (p.6). Gove also states that our landscapes and coastlines should be valued ‘as goods in themselves’ (p.5). Aldo Leopold or Robbie Burns would skip a step to read on page 17 that ‘we should instead be recognising the intrinsic value of the wildlife and plants that are our fellow inhabitants of this planet’.

Of course economic values form an important part of the government’s plans (I doubt that governments’ approaches to conservation will ever be driven solely by moral obligation). But there is hope that economic factors will not constitute the be-all-and-end-all of decisions; the Natural Capital approach is talked about as a tool, not an absolute arbiter. I never thought I would read in a government document that ‘we do not always need to know a monetary value to know that something is worth protecting’ (p.20). Given that a central theme of my research is analysing the multiple benefits of natural capital within the Welland Catchment I find myself simultaneously encouraged by the philosophy underpinning ‘A Green Future’ and concerned that the more hopeful statements it contains will not receive the political traction required to be enacted.

2. Land Sparing, Land Sharing and Catchment Scale Measures

In the report the legislative landscape post-Brexit is framed as an opportunity to seize control of our country’s environmental management, putting the environment at the heart of policy. I’ll admit that this is the first time in two and a half years that I have felt even mildly positive about Brexit. These are grand claims and I was encouraged to see that many of the proposals put forward seem to be grounded in solid principles of landscape ecology. Gove in this instance seems not to be ‘fed up of experts‘.

One of the six policies given space in the report is ‘Using and Managing Land more Sustainably’. The plan seems to be to ‘pay farmers public money for public goods’ (p.36) in order to address the challenge of sustainable food production balanced with provision for wildlife. This sounds very much to me like a policy of direct Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), free of some of the less desirable aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy (in my opinion) such as the Basic Payments Scheme. While there seem to be many similarities with previous agri-environment schemes (AES) such as Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Sewardship, I welcome the ongoing commitment to measures encouraging wildlife friendly farming. I’ll need more time to investigate the evidence base of this policy but my initial reaction is positive.

A PES policy such as the one hinted at will contribute to broad and shallow measures to conserve wildlife, ensuring that participation is high and that action is taken across landscapes. This alone would not be enough, but I was glad to read plans for creating ‘an expanding patchwork of high value habitats, as well as sympathetically managed farmland’ facilitating this through joint participation, building on work such as the farm clusters concept. The government seems to appreciate that effective land management policies will combine land sparing in the form of large, protected areas of high quality habitat joined together by a network of wildlife friendly land use options across the wider ‘working’ landscape. Designated areas for conservation are and always will be hugely important but ‘the wider environment needs to be considered too’ (p.57). The creation of a new Nature Recovery Network, committed to restoring 500,000 hectares of habitat across the country will certainly help restore some of the degradation of the past. Perhaps promising initiatives such as the Great Fen Project will now receive greater backing? However I was disappointed to see that some of the target habitats are still those highly dependent on human interaction such as meadows, grasslands and heaths (beautiful as they are). Calls for restoring natural processes across large areas of the country side and leaving nature to ‘get on with it’ still seem muted.

Framing this in the context of my research; ‘A Green Future’ will provide a useful starting point for my generation of landscape scenarios for 2050. I feel that my research questions may focus more explicitly on the various degrees to which a land sparing or land sharing approach are applied in the Welland Valley.

3. The Cultural Value of Natural Capital

Finally I was very encouraged to see the prominence given to the benefits of public engagement with nature. It seems that DEFRA’s ‘Evidence Statement on the Links Between Natural Environments and Human Health’ (2017) formed an important evidence base for these proposals. I know firsthand that getting students outside has huge benefits for their learning and happiness, so plans to make it easier for schools and Pupil Referral Units to take students on trips to natural areas (p.76) are promising, as are pledges to support schools in creating nature friendly grounds on their premises. The multiple benefits of greening urban spaces are also highlighted, alongside promises to plant 1 million more urban trees and increase consultation on local authorities decisions to remove trees (too late for Sheffield unfortunately). I am thinking of incorporating an analysis of cultural services into my project, focusing on access to nature so again I find it encouraging that the government is considering these issues.


Participatory Approaches to Ecosystem Service Assessment

An important component of my project is the involvement of stakeholders in creating the scenarios for 2050. Hopefully my connections with the Welland Rivers Trust and Welland Valley Partnership will enable me to interact with a diverse range of stakeholders; but why bother?

With the rapidly expanding capability to model ecosystem services comes a set of ‘caveats’ or ‘responsibilities’ that the modeller must keep in mind in order for the assessments to be meaningful (Daily et al. 2009). Chief amongst these is the necessity to include the ‘human’ factor (Turner et al. 2016).

Deterministic and process based models such as InVEST and LUCI are incredibly powerful tools for creating spatially explicit output on the condition and value of ecosystem services (Bagstad et al. 2013, Sharps et al. 2017). But, despite much valuable work having been completed using these models Turner et al. (2016) still identify a significant knowledge gap in terms of assessing the social context along with the human demand for services. The challenge for researchers is to move away from the top left corner of figure 1 and move towards to centre / bottom right.

Microsoft Word - ManusECOLMOD2
Figure 1 – Taken from Turner et al. (2016): The socio-ecological system and ecosystem service modelling.

This is no easy task, but one way of making progress in this area, specific to studies that model alternative futures, is to involve stakeholders in the creation of scenarios (Turner et al. 2016). This is the exact approach I will be taking in my project. It is always validating (and encouraging) when you find support for your methods in the literature! The final word from Turner et al. (2016).

“Participatory modeling in this context is a powerful tool of stakeholder capacity building and an instrument for ‘leveling the playing field’ that creates potential for consensus and trust”



Bagstad, K.J., Semmens, D.J. and Winthrop, R. (2013) ‘Comparing approaches to spatially explicit ecosystem service modeling: A case study from the San Pedro River, Arizona’, Ecosystem Services, 5, pp. 40-50

Daily, G.C., Polasky, S., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P.M., Mooney, H.A., Pejchar, L., Ricketts, T.H., Salzman, J. and Shallenberger, R. (2009) ‘Ecosystem Services in Decision Making: Time to Deliver’, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(1), pp. 21-28

Sharps, K., Masante, D., Thomas, A., Jackson, B., Redhead, J., May, L., Prosser, H., Cosby, B., Emmett, B. and Jones, L. (2017) ‘Comparing strengths and weaknesses of three ecosystem services modelling tools in a diverse UK river catchment’, Science of The Total Environment, 584–585, pp. 118-130

Turner, K.G., Anderson, S., Gonzales-Chang, M., Costanza, R., Courville, S., Dalgaard, T., Dominati, E., Kubiszewski, I., Ogilvy, S., Porfirio, L., Ratna, N., Sandhu, H., Sutton, P.C., Svenning, J., Turner, G.M., Varennes, Y., Voinov, A. and Wratten, S. (eds.) (2016) A review of methods, data, and models to assess changes in the value of ecosystem services from land degradation and restoration. Ecological Modelling, 319, p. 190-207

Wrestling with vocabulary

During my PhD I am aiming to develop a method that can analyse the trade-offs in ecosystem services for the Welland Catchment under different scenarios of landscape change. It’s great to finally be under way! I’ve got a lot to get on with including brushing up on my ‘R’ skills and learning Python (eeek!).

Alongside these technical issues I’ve also resumed my tussle with the literature.  I’d made a good start on this when preparing the proposal for the project but I’ve recently focused on some new areas to explore.

An important debate around my project centres on the confusion amongst policy makers regarding what exactly is meant by natural capital, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services as well as how these terms are connected. Turner et al. (2016) deals with this well. A current obstacle to achieving human well-being in a sustainable way has been a lack of understanding of these terms (by the well intentioned) combined with a reluctance to accept and adpot them (by the less well intentioned (my opinion!)).

The MEA helped redress this, making the concepts mainstream; but there is still a great deal of confusion. Here is a neat little diagram effectively explaining the relationship between these tricky concepts, taken from Turner et al. (2016).

Microsoft Word - ManusECOLMOD2

First it will be useful to define these terms, which Turner et al. (2016) can help us with again:

Natural Capital – the natural world and its ecosystems. Anything that does not require human agency to produce or maintain

Social Capital – the societal networks and norms that facilitate co-operative action i.e. cultures, institutions and the economic system

Human Capital – individual peoples, including knowledge and information stored in our brains, our physical health and are ability to perform labour

Built Capital – manufactured goods, such as tools, as well as infrastructure such as roads and buildings

With these definitions in mind the connection between the different forms of capital and humanity’s well-being become clearer. Natural capital produces everything that humanity relies upon. This is why all other forms of capital are shown within the green circle. Ecosystem functions are the processes and mechanisms that keep natural capital ticking i.e. pollination, predation, decomposition, the carbon and nutrient cycles…

The benefits to humanity that natural capital and ecosystem functions produce are seen on the diagram as a capital flow and are termed ecosystem services. These interact with all other forms of capital flow to produce the benefits that natural capital provides us. Sustainability comes into the equation when you understand that the boundary around natural capital is a hard limit. Natural capital’s stock is finite and social capital cannot expand beyond these limits. Although natural capital has some ability to repair and regenerate itself, the ecosystem functions underpinning this ability are often fragile and not fully understood. When social capital functions within these bounds sustainability is a realistic objective.

Methods to assess how changes to policy and the landscape influence the capital flow of ecosystem services (such as the toolkit I am developing) will hopefully provide policy makers with better information in order to achieve more sustainable decisions.



Turner, K.G., Anderson, S., Gonzales-Chang, M., Costanza, R., Courville, S., Dalgaard, T., Dominati, E., Kubiszewski, I., Ogilvy, S., Porfirio, L., Ratna, N., Sandhu, H., Sutton, P.C., Svenning, J., Turner, G.M., Varennes, Y., Voinov, A. and Wratten, S. (eds.) (2016) A review of methods, data, and models to assess changes in the value of ecosystem services from land degradation and restoration. Ecological Modelling, 319, p. 190-207

From point samples to continuous maps; remote sensing and biodiversity

A recent publication to come from some of the CLCR’s researchers has got me thinking on how biodiversity can be mapped and predicted across the Welland Catchment.

This post just captures some of my initial thoughts so that I can come back to them later. Bush et al. (2017) discuss an approach to converting point samples of species to continuous maps of alpha diversity (amongst other variables) using an approach they term CEOBE (connecting earth observation to biodiversity and ecosystems).

Several things from this study jump out at me that might be appropriate to applying similar techniques to the Welland Catchment. My original plan is to model habitat quality and threat using the InVEST toolkit. Here the model is paramaterised based on:

  • the suitability of a land cover / habitat to an individual or group of species (based on knowledge of that group, but still subjective)
  • the distance from / potential risk of possible threats (again not an objective value)

While I can see this output having a use, it remains subjective.

What would be great is a continuous map of alpha diversity (say farmland specialist passerines) across the whole of the Welland Catchment based on spatially explicit RS and point based data. Potential inputs into the creation of this map might be:

  • 1km gridded data from the BTO’s annual breeding bird survey; providing the point based species samples
  • High resolution RS data on NDVI from DEFRA
  • Gridded temperature and precipitation data
  • High resolution land cover data from processed Sentinel-2 imagery

Modern statistical techniques allow site by species matrix biodiversity data to be combined with site by environmental variable matrix data (perhaps taken from remotely sensed data-sets) (Bush et al. 2017). These techniques include:

  • joint species distribution models
  • community-occupancy detection models
  • generalised dissimilarity models

A baseline map of alpha diversity across the catchment would be an interesting baseline and could have useful applications to the project. Something for me to consider in more depth later…



Bush, A., Sollmann, R., Wilting, A., Bohmann, K., Cole, B., Balzter, H., Martius, C., Zlinszky, A., Calvignac-Spencer, S., Cobbold, C.A. and Dawson, T.P., 2017. Connecting Earth observation to high-throughput biodiversity data. Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Analysing Ecosystem Services – InVEST’s Carbon Module

In a previous post I discussed the growth of the concept of ecosystem services (ES), thanks in part to large scale studies such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. It is undoubtedly an attractive concept to both conservationists and policy makers alike who can see its value in both promoting conservation policies and measuring their potential benefits (Goldstein et al. 2012).

The growing availability of software that is able to quantify and visualise the provision or value of ES has been crucial to its development as a cornerstone of how socio-ecological interactions are defined and analysed (Bagstad et al. 2013, Daily et al. 2009, Harmackova and Vackar, 2015).

An example of such software is InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs). InVEST will play a crucial part in the analysis for my thesis and is a widely used tool in the field of ES analysis. InVEST’s freely available models rely primarily on the input of geo-referenced land use / land cover (LULC) information combined with biophysical functions defined by the user. Some of its models are more complex and involve spatial analytical elements such as distance to potential threats (habitat quality) or flow direction (water quality) but InVEST’s carbon module is relatively simple. Each LULC class is assigned a carbon value for four pools (above and below ground biomass, soil and dead organic matter) and the total stores of carbon are aggregated based on the area of each class in the LULC raster (Sharp et al. 2016). While this might seem simple enough, the output of this model has been used in a wide variety of analyses, carbon storage and sequestration being one of the most studied and analysed ES (Ayanu et al. 2012). The table below outlines the diversity of applications of InVEST’s carbon module in the literature.

Author(s) How was InVEST used?
Sharps et al. (2017) Analysed ES provision from afforestation scenarios. Also compared the accuracy of InVEST with LUCI and ARIES, other examples of ES modelling software.
Bottalico et al. (2016) Quantified the potential impact of various forestry policies on timber production and carbon storage.
Cabral et al. (2016) Quantified the change in ES provision for a mixed urban / rural region based on past land cover change.
He et al. (2016) Combined InVEST with an econometric model of urban growth to analyse how urbanisation scenarios might affect carbon storage and sequestration.
Garrastazu et al. (2015) Modelled the potential impact on ES provision resulting from changes to legislation for vegetative riparian buffers.
Chaplin-Kramer et al. (2015) Modelled different spatial patterns of deforestation and used InVEST to assess ES provision of resulting land covers.
Harmackova and Vackar (2015) Modelled various conservation scenarios for a wetland landscape and assessed ES provision of the resulting landscapes.
Keller et al. (2015) The output of InVEST’s carbon module was used in a multi criteria analysis, selecting optimal sites for new shale gas wells.
Tao et al. (2015) Used InVEST to estimate carbon stocks along an urbanisation gradient.
Lawler et al. (2014) Analysed ES provision for national landscape change scenarios; modelled econometrically based on socio-economic drivers of change.
Bhagabati et al. (2014) Assessed ES provision for different landscapes resulting from various conservation scenarios for rare Sumatran tiger habitat.
Bagstad, Semmens and Winthrop (2013) Compared with output from ARIES in an assessment of the accuracy of ES modelling software.
Delphin et al. (2013) Assessed the potential damage hurricanes might cause to the timber industry and the ES of carbon storage.
Kovacs et al. (2013) Output from InVEST models used in return on investment calculations for society, based on potential landscape scale conservation initiatives.
Liu et al. (2013) Output included in a multi criteria analysis, defining priority areas for conservation based on their provision of ES.
Goldstein et al. (2012) Assessing the ES provision of future landscape scenarios in order to inform decision making for a private landowner.
Izquierdo and Clark (2012) Provided input to decision support software to aid in the prioritisation of conservation planning.
Bai et al. (2011) Used InVEST output in an assessment of the spatial relationship between ES and biodiversity.
Polasky et al. (2011) InVEST was used to quantify changes in ES, habitat quality and returns to landowners for LULC change in Minnesota between 1992-2001.
Nelson et al. (2010) InVEST output used to assess the impact of various 2000-2015 change scenarios on global ES provision.

There are of course limitations to InVEST’s carbon module. For one it is highly dependent on the scale and quality of the LULC data in the model as well as the accuracy of carbon pools used to calibrate it (Sharps et al. 2017). The field is aware of this and identifies the development of spatially explicit archives as a key goal in developing ES modelling (Bagstad et al. 2013, Chaplin-Kramer et al. 2015). Keller et al. (2015) directly counter this limitation, explaining that if InVEST’s output is used more as an indicator of the potential magnitude and direction of change in ES provision, then issues around the accuracy of model output can be somewhat overlooked. Unless the data that has parameterised the model is of exceptional quality using InVEST to quantify absolute values of ES may bring validity issues (Keller et al. 2015).

Other problems lie in the simplicity of InVEST’s approach to modelling the flux of carbon sequestration. Unless there has been no change in LULC class between years then the model assumes a stable state of carbon storage. This of course completely ignores important biogeochemical and ecological process that can affect the value and flow of carbon between pools (Cabral et al. 2016).

Despite these limitations InVEST remains a widely used toolkit for ES analysis. It is freely available and has relatively low data demands; lots of default biophysical values are even included in the models should the user wish to make use of them. It has been shown to improve stakeholder engagement and understanding in the concept of ES and positively effect decision making (Bhagabati et al. 2014). ES analysis is becoming a bigger part of policy and decision making. The use of easy to understand modelling tool kits that are simple to operate will be a major boon to conservation and sustainability especially as the users of these models refine and improve them (Bhagabati et al. 2014, Cabral et al. 2016).



Ayanu, Y.Z., Conrad, C., Nauss, T., Wegmann, M. and Koellner, T. (2012) ‘Quantifying and mapping ecosystem services supplies and demands: a review of remote sensing applications’, Environmental science & technology, 46(16), pp. 8529

Bagstad, K.J., Semmens, D.J. and Winthrop, R. (2013) ‘Comparing approaches to spatially explicit ecosystem service modeling: A case study from the San Pedro River, Arizona’, Ecosystem Services, 5, pp. 40-50.

Bai, Y., Zhuang, C., Ouyang, Z., Zheng, H. and Jiang, B. (2011) ‘Spatial characteristics between biodiversity and ecosystem services in a human-dominated watershed’, Ecological Complexity, 8(2), pp. 177-183.

Bhagabati, N.K., Ricketts, T., Sulistyawan, T.B.S., Conte, M., Ennaanay, D., Hadian, O., McKenzie, E., Olwero, N., Rosenthal, A. and Tallis, H. (2014) ‘Ecosystem services reinforce Sumatran tiger conservation in land use plans’, Biological Conservation, 169, pp. 147-156.

Bottalico, F., Pesola, L., Vizzarri, M., Antonello, L., Barbati, A., Chirici, G., Corona, P., Cullotta, S., Garfì, V. and Giannico, V. (2016) ‘Modeling the influence of alternative forest management scenarios on wood production and carbon storage: A case study in the Mediterranean region’, Environmental research, 144, pp. 72-87.

Cabral, P., Feger, C., Levrel, H., Chambolle, M. and Basque, D. (2016) ‘Assessing the impact of land-cover changes on ecosystem services: a first step toward integrative planning in Bordeaux, France’, Ecosystem Services, 22, pp. 318-327.

Daily, G.C., Polasky, S., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P.M., Mooney, H.A., Pejchar, L., Ricketts, T.H., Salzman, J. and Shallenberger, R. (2009) ‘Ecosystem Services in Decision Making: Time to Deliver’, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(1), pp. 21-28.

Delphin, S., Escobedo, F., Abd-Elrahman, A. and Cropper, W. (2013) ‘Mapping potential carbon and timber losses from hurricanes using a decision tree and ecosystem services driver model’, Journal of environmental management, 129, pp. 599-607.

Garrastazú, M.C., Mendonça, S.D., Horokoski, T.T., Cardoso, D.J., Rosot, M.A., Nimmo, E.R. and Lacerda, A.E. (2015) ‘Carbon sequestration and riparian zones: Assessing the impacts of changing regulatory practices in Southern Brazil’, Land Use Policy, 42, pp. 329-339.

Goldstein, J.H., Caldarone, G., Thomas, K.D., Ennaanay, D., Hannahs, N., Mendoza, G., Polasky, S., Wolny, S. and Daily, G.C. (2012) ‘Integrating ecosystem- service tradeoffs into land- use decisions’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(19), pp. 7565.

Harmáčková, Z.V. and Vačkář, D. (2015) ‘Modelling regulating ecosystem services trade-offs across landscape scenarios in Třeboňsko Wetlands Biosphere Reserve, Czech Republic’, Ecological Modelling, 295, pp. 207-215.

He, C., Zhang, D., Huang, Q. and Zhao, Y. (2016) ‘Assessing the potential impacts of urban expansion on regional carbon storage by linking the LUSD-urban and InVEST models’, Environmental Modelling & Software, 75, pp. 44-58.

Izquierdo, A.E. and Clark, M.L. (2012) ‘Spatial analysis of conservation priorities based on ecosystem services in the Atlantic forest region of Misiones, Argentina’, Forests, 3(3), pp. 764-786.

Keller, A.A., Fournier, E. and Fox, J. (2015) ‘Minimizing impacts of land use change on ecosystem services using multi-criteria heuristic analysis’, Journal of environmental management, 156, pp. 23-30.

Kovacs, K., Polasky, S., Nelson, E., Keeler, B.L., Pennington, D., Plantinga, A.J. and Taff, S.J. (2013) ‘Evaluating the return in ecosystem services from investment in public land acquisitions’, PloS one, 8(6), pp. e62202.

Lawler, J.J., Lewis, D.J., Nelson, E., Plantinga, A.J., Polasky, S., Withey, J.C., Helmers, D.P., Martinuzzi, S., Pennington, D. and Radeloff, V.C. (2014) ‘Projected land-use change impacts on ecosystem services in the United States’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(20), pp. 7492-7497.

Liu, Y., Zhang, H., Yang, X., Wang, Y., Wang, X. and Cai, Y. (2013) ‘Identifying priority areas for the conservation of ecosystem services using GIS-based multicriteria evaluation’, Pol.J.Ecol, 61(3), pp. 415-430.

Nelson, E., Sander, H., Hawthorne, P., Conte, M., Ennaanay, D., Wolny, S., Manson, S. and Polasky, S. (2010) ‘Projecting global land-use change and its effect on ecosystem service provision and biodiversity with simple models’, PloS one, 5(12), pp. e14327.

Polasky, S., Nelson, E., Pennington, D. and Johnson, K.A. (2011) ‘The impact of land-use change on ecosystem services, biodiversity and returns to landowners: A case study in the State of Minnesota’, Environmental and Resource Economics, 48(2), pp. 219-242.

Sharp, R., Tallis, H.T., Ricketts, T., Guerry, A.D., Wood, S.A., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Nelson, E., Ennaanay, D., Wolny, S., Olwero, N., Vigerstol, K., Pennington, D., Mendoza, G., Aukema, J., Foster, J., Forrest, J., Cameron, D., Arkema, K., Lonsdorf, E., Kennedy, C., Verutes, G., Kim, C.K., Guannel, G., Papenfus, M., Toft, J., Marsik, M., Bernhardt, J., Griffin, R., Glowinski, K., Chaumont, N., Perelman, A., Lacayo, M. Mandle, L., Hamel, P., Vogl, A.L., Rogers, L., Bierbower, W., Denu, D., and Douglass, J. 2016. InVEST +VERSION+ User’s Guide. The Natural Capital Project, Stanford University, University of Minnesota, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund.

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Birds as ecological surrogates

In a broad sense, ecological surrogacy involves the assessment of one or more components of an environment or its biota, with the assumption that variation in the surrogate reflects change in another important, but difficult-to-measure attribute” – Westgate et al. (2017)

I am obsessed with birds, they brighten every single day of my life and give me an enormous amount of pleasure. For me, the intrinsic value of this taxonomic group is enough to justify continued efforts to monitor and conserve their populations. However are they of value to wider conservation and ecological studies?

One of the analyses I aim to perform as part of my PhD is an assessment of the habitat quality of the Welland Catchment using the InVEST module for habitat quality and risk. The model parameters need to be calibrated with a specific taxonomic group in mind to achieve the best results (Sharp et al. 2016) and naturally I am hoping to model habitat quality for passerine songbirds. While it is not an explicit aim of my research to scale these results to the wider ecological health of the catchment, it would be useful if the habitat quality for birds could be used to infer quality and threats for other taxa. Fortunately there is evidence in the literature to justify my choice.

 “Excellent knowledge exists of bird ecology and behaviour and they have great public resonance and so are good at raising awareness of biodiversity issues” – Eglington, Noble and Fuller, (2012)

Birds are the most extensively monitored taxonomic group within Europe, whilst worldwide they comprise 75% of biodiversity atlases (Eglington, Noble and Fuller, 2012). Up until 2013, bird population indexes formed part of DEFRA’s annual sustainability indicators (DEFRA, 2013).

Yesterday, the British Trust for Ornithology published its annual ‘State of the UK’s Birds report’, an example of the kind of long term monitoring that birds receive . The report has tracked population changes in the UK’s bird species since 1999 and identifies those of conservation concern (Red, Amber or Green). A brief explanation of how the levels of concern are determined can be found here.

The report is based, in part, on data from breeding bird surveys, carried out by volunteers twice a year in the spring and early summer. My Dad and I conduct the surveys for two sites, it is a great way for anyone with an interest in ecology and conservation to help contribute to long term data (more information on getting involved is here). This year’s report was the product of surveys from 2,600 volunteers, of whom a large proportion have monitored their sites for many years.

There were mixed headlines from the report, with an increase in the number of species now included on the red list. Worryingly, a quarter of all species assessed are now found on the list of species of highest concern (BTO, 2017). However 13 species moved from the amber to green list based on improvements in their status (BTO, 2017). The Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, was the focal species of my MSc dissertation and I was pleased to see that their population is continuing to recover following near devastation at the end of the 20th century.

The theory behind their power as bio-indicators is that as birds utilise a wide variety of habitats and can be found at or near the top of their food chains they make useful general indicators of the state of wildlife (Eglington, Noble and Fuller, 2012). But doubts remain whether the accuracy of birds in this role is a benefit or hindrance to conservation. Two recently published studies address this and provide some support for my choice of taxa for the intended habitat quality assessment.

In a large meta-analysis, investigating 145 measures of effect size from the literature, Eglington, Noble and Fuller (2012) demonstrated that, on average, bird species richness explained 19% of the species richness of other taxa. An ecological explanation for this lack of strength is that birds have repeatedly been shown to respond to ecological resources on a landscape scale (e.g. Hardman et al. 2016) whereas plants and invertebrates respond to resources at much finer scales (Eglington, Noble and Fuller. 2012). For mammals, who respond to ecological resources at comparable spatial scales to birds, the strength of the relationship was greater.

While the average strength of the general relationship indicates that birds do not make good indicators of total species richness, the study highlights other aspects of birds as bio-indicators that do suggest utility. Effect sizes were shown to be much larger in studies that were based on heterogeneous, patchy landscapes, such as agricultural areas, when compared to studies in more homogenous landscapes such as grasslands (Eglington, Noble and Fuller. 2012). The Welland Catchment fits the bill for patchy and heterogeneous habitats, so inferences about other taxa from birds may potentially be more relevant for my landscape of study.

Westgate et al. (2017) also performed a meta-analysis examining the optimal taxa in terms of species richness and composition for use as ecological surrogates for other taxa. This study takes a different approach to Eglington, Noble and Fuller (2012), focusing on an analysis of patterns of pairwise, cross taxon congruence. Their key finding was that

birds and vascular plants outperform a range of alternative taxa as surrogates for the richness and composition of unmeasured taxonomic groups” – Westgate et al. (2017)

Results were shown to be highly dependent on the target of surrogacy and also the metric used for analysis but birds featured in many of the most powerful surrogate pairs for other taxa. Of all studies analysed, birds and mammals were shown to be optimal taxa for representing the composition of unobserved vertebrate taxa, possibly due to the ecological similarities mentioned earlier.

The most complex statistical analysis carried out by Westgate et al. (2017), involving the inclusion of study sample size and spatial variables, showed that birds were the optimal taxa for representing both the richness and composition of other vertebrates. For an assessment of richness and composition for all taxa, a combination of birds and plants was shown to be the most powerful surrogate.


Validation of these findings

Both studies included sensitivity testing of the results of their analyses to validate their utility. For Eglington, Noble and Fuller (2012) this took the form of a vote counting method which, although it does not include information on the strength of correlation, indicates that “significantly more studies have reported positive relationships between species richness in birds and that of other taxa” (Eglington, Noble and Fuller 2012) than have not (keeping in mind the ‘file drawer-effect of meta analyses (Eglington, Noble and Fuller 2012)).

Westgate et al. (2017) showed that the optimal surrogate identified by their analysis always had higher monitoring power than randomly selected surrogates, especially when specific taxonomic targets are identified over assessing ‘total’ biodiversity.



Eglington, Noble and Fuller (2012) state that birds will continue to be used as bio-indicators or ecological surrogates due to the wealth of knowledge on their ecology, their public resonance and the relative ease with which they can be assessed. While both studies discussed in this post highlight the potential of birds as indicators it is vital to be critical and explicit in terms of what taxa or component of a region’s ecology they are acting as surrogates for. This is because although birds often outperform other taxa as surrogates for diversity and composition, especially when specific taxa are targeted, they still account for relatively small variances in total diversity.




BTO (2017), ‘State of the UK’s Birds 2016’, British Trust for Ornithology, available at: (Accessed: 12/04/2017)

DEFRA (2013) ‘Sustainable development indicators’ Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, 2013

Eglington, S.M., Noble, D.G. and Fuller, R.J. (2012) ‘A meta-analysis of spatial relationships in species richness across taxa: birds as indicators of wider biodiversity in temperate regions’, Journal for Nature Conservation, 20(5), pp. 301-309

Hardman, C.J., Harrison, D.P.G., Shaw, P.J., Nevard, T.D., Hughes, B., Potts, S.G., Norris, K. and Marini, L. (2016) ‘Supporting local diversity of habitats and species on farmland: a comparison of three wildlife‐friendly schemes’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 53(1), pp. 171-180

Sharp, R., Tallis, H.T., Ricketts, T., Guerry, A.D., Wood, S.A., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Nelson, E., Ennaanay, D., Wolny, S., Olwero, N., Vigerstol, K., Pennington, D., Mendoza, G., Aukema, J., Foster, J., Forrest, J., Cameron, D., Arkema, K., Lonsdorf, E., Kennedy, C., Verutes, G., Kim, C.K., Guannel, G., Papenfus, M., Toft, J., Marsik, M., Bernhardt, J., Griffin, R., Glowinski, K., Chaumont, N., Perelman, A., Lacayo, M. Mandle, L., Hamel, P., Vogl, A.L., Rogers, L., Bierbower, W., Denu, D., and Douglass, J. 2016. InVEST +VERSION+ User’s Guide. The Natural Capital Project, Stanford University, University of Minnesota, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund

Westgate, M. J., Tulloch, A. I. T., Barton, P. S., Pierson, J. C. and Lindenmayer, D. B. (2017), Optimal taxonomic groups for biodiversity assessment: a meta-analytic approach. Ecography, 40: 539–548