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York scientists lead major research programme into Britain's landscapes

Posted on 1 March 2011

A team of scientists from the University of York has been commissioned to direct a UK-wide research programme examining the role biodiversity plays in the ecosystems provided by Britain’s landscapes.

Biodiversity underpins ecosystem services, such as food, clean air and water, flood protection, health and recreation, provided by landscapes, so is vital for human life.

But from mountains to lowland farms, moorlands to forests, biodiversity faces major challenges in the decades ahead including a changing climate, the need for more intensive food production methods, demands for water and biofuels.

The six-year, £13m Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS) programme is funded by the Natural Research Environment Council (NERC) and will draw in teams of researchers from across the country with expertise in fields ranging from biodiversity and soil ecology, to water management, economics and satellite technology.

Dr Pamela Kempton, NERC's Head of Research, said: "We need a much better understanding of the critical levels of biodiversity needed to maintain essential ecosystem services that not only provide water and food, but also benefits such as medicines, the breakdown of waste and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. NERC's investment in the BESS programme will improve our knowledge and, ultimately, help the UK to develop a sustainable economy."

Central to the programme will be the involvement of groups with a stake in the future of Britain’s landscapes, including farmers, private industry and recreational users.

Professor Dave Raffaelli, from the University of York’s Environment Department and the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, has been appointed director of the programme.

In the face of continuing changes in biodiversity, the scientific research will give us the evidence, knowledge and understanding we need to ensure all the UK’s landscapes can be sensibly managed in the years ahead

Professor Dave Raffaelli

Professor Raffaelli said: “We know that biodiversity generates our natural assets such as food, timber, carbon regulation, clean water, crop pollination and flood protection, but what we do not know is how much biodiversity is needed for the UK’s landscapes to continue delivering these benefits in the coming decades.

“In the face of continuing changes in biodiversity, the scientific research will give us the evidence, knowledge and understanding we need to ensure all the UK’s landscapes can be sensibly managed in the years ahead. This is particularly important in the face of challenges such as climate change, the need to provide alternative energies and the necessity of maintaining food security.”

Professor Raffaelli and other members of the University’s Environment Department and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at York will play a key role in setting out the scope of the programme and monitoring the progress of research teams across the UK.

The University of York will work with environmental specialists from across the UK who will decide in the next few weeks which kinds of landscapes to investigate. These could include uplands such as the Pennines, Snowdonia or the Cairngorms, as well as lowland farming areas. 

Once the study landscapes are established, stakeholder community groups will be set up to make sure research addresses local as well as national needs and priorities. These will include Government research agencies, conservation agencies, farmers, representatives of recreational users and utility companies. Academic institutions from across the UK will then be invited to bid to carry out the research.

Notes to editors:

  • For information on the University of York’s Environment Department visit
  • The Stockholm Environment Institute is a global science policy research institute headquartered in Stockholm and with its UK office based in the Environment Department at the University of York. Its mission is to bridge the gap between science and policy to achieve change for a sustainable future. For more information visit
  • The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world’s most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on earth, and much more. NERC receives around £400 million a year from the government’s science budget, which it uses to fund independent research and training in universities and its own research centres. For further information visit

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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