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Ecosystem Services

30 May 2024

This is one of a series of articles about assessing natural capital on your land. The other articles in this series are:

Natural Capital Assessment

The Value of Natural Capital Assessments

Natural Capital Assessment Glossary

Ecosystem services are the benefits humans derive from the natural environment. They are fundamental to a natural capital assessment and can be split into: provisioning, cultural, supporting and regulating services.

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Provisioning services are those with tangible products. As depicted in NatureScot’s infographic above (Figure 1) they can provide things such as the food we grow, medicines from plants, and the physical energy provided by solar power. We gather, enhance and use these services from nature to support human life.

Within an agricultural context, provisioning services include:

  • Providing crops, livestock and dairy products for human consumption.
  • Sheep providing wool.
  • The production of wood for timber.
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Regulating services are naturally occurring processes which we depend on. They are often under-valued or unrecognised but are essential for humans to survive.

Within an agricultural context, regulating services include:

  • Carbon sequestration through habitats including peatland, heathland, woodlands and arable fields.
  • Water filtration through on-farm wetlands, riparian strips and buffer zones.
  • Pest control with habitats provided for natural pest predators within arable fields.
  • Pollination supported by providing habitat for pollinators in arable fields, flower rich field margins, and hedgerows.

Read more about the regulating services Scotland’s natural capital provides.

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We use cultural services from the natural environment to enhance our wellbeing. These services can include connections to space and spiritual identity; recreation provided from climbing a mountain, or swimming in a loch; to opportunities for research and learning.

Within an agricultural context, cultural services include:

  • A sense of iconic landscape for which Scotland is famed.
  • Vast amounts of research can be trialled and learned from by the agricultural sector to enhance our environment.
  • Farmland provides recreation opportunities for agritourism, wildlife and hiking.


Supporting services are the backbone to the other services. These include nutrient cycling, the provision of healthy soils and supporting biodiversity with space for wildlife to thrive. Without these essential services the wheel of services would not flow.

Within an agricultural context, supporting services include:

  • Farmland provides key habitats for many different wildlife species.
  • Nutrient cycling is a key function of agriculture, maintaining soil health and crop production.
  • Farming practices, from the crops within rotations, to cover crops and management methods to improve soil structure all contribute to the improvement of soil health.

Benefits of understanding your ecosystem services

The ecosystem services that are important to each business are site specific, driven by the business needs and future plans. Gaining an understanding of the services on your land and the condition of each service can greatly help with future management decisions. For example, if you have experienced increased soil loss through extreme weather events over the past few years and have noticed that this is affecting crop yield, looking at the ecosystem services on your land could provide management opportunities to combat this loss. These assessments can give you an overview of your land and help pinpoint areas where there are enhancement to be made, which look and focus on business requirements and sustainability.

Further information

Natural Capital Assessment | Helping farmers in Scotland | Farm Advisory Service (

The Value of Natural Capital Assessments | Helping farmers in Scotland | Farm Advisory Service (

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