Demystifying Nature-based Solutions

With the increasing recognition and awareness of climate change and the global biodiversity crisis, Nature-based Solutions are becoming increasingly common. Sam Shove, our Associate Director of Ecology in the South West and South Wales blogs here about their importance.

Sam Shove
Written by:

Sam Shove

December 15, 2021

Nature-based Solutions are becoming a key part of delivering the binding responsibilities represented by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, the Environment Act 2021, and the Well-being of Future Generations Bill, if passed.

What are Nature-based Solutions?

Nature-based solutions (NbS) are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits’.  The Joint Nature Conservancy Council’s (JNCC) Triple Win Toolkit defines NbS as ‘actions which enlist elements of nature or natural processes to address a particular problem, or suite of problems, faced by society and which deliver multiple benefits in the form of public goods’.

Simply put Nature-based Solutions are design, implementation and management choices that make use of natural habitats and processes to the benefit of both people and the planet.

As their name suggests, working with nature is at the core of NbS with the following principles driving their design, implementation and management:

  • Protection – of existing habitats and processes
  • Restoration – of previous habitats and ecosystems and the processes that drive them
  • Management – that is environmentally sensitive and sustainable in the long term
  • Creation – of new habitats and ecosystems in appropriate locations

NbS can be applied at a variety of scales and across a range of sites and situations from small-scale community green spaces to large-scale flood defence and water management schemes.

Nature-based Solutions

They can also be applied in isolation or as part of wider measures, including in conjunction with ‘grey’ or engineered solutions.

What are the Benefits?

The benefits of NbS vary depending on the details and circumstances of each approach.  Each NbS is designed to maximise benefits on a ‘triple win’ basis, benefitting biodiversity (the variety of plant and animal life present), climate, and people.

Some of the most common benefits of NbS are:

  • Greenhouse gas reduction
  • Flood and erosion control
  • Coastal defence
  • Cooling and shading
  • Flood and water security
  • Creation and maintenance of livelihoods
  • Protection of cultural values
  • Creation and maintenance of social capital
  • Mental and physical well-being
  • Biodiversity provision

In addition to these benefits, NbS can also help reduce the need for regular and intensive management, which, in turn reduces the maintenance burden and green waste generation.

Opportunities and Solutions

The opportunities available under NbS are extensive, often with a focus on forestry, agriculture, or infrastructure.  However, there are numerous examples from other areas including watercourse and watershed restoration, urban parks, allotments and community gardens.  One of the more common forms in the UK is found in the use of ponds, shallow ditches (swales), and reedbeds as part of drainage networks, often referred to as SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems).

The first step in adopting NbS is identifying the potential opportunities.  This can be as simple as changing existing management practices to work with natural processes rather than against them, or it can be as complicated as creating wetland habitats to provide flood and erosion protection.

Opportunities can arise at any time during the life of a project, including retrospective implementation as NbS grow and develop with new technologies, better knowledge and understanding, and larger, more detailed databases and successes.  Our teams can help you identify these opportunities, and talk you through the potential options and solutions that may be suitable and how to incorporate these within specific projects or implement them on a larger scale.

Useful Links

Nature-based Solutions

ICF Evidence Project: Nature-based Solutions ‘Triple Win Toolkit’

The EU and Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions Initiative