Creating value by local communities through adapting green infrastructure for landscape services benefits

Authors and Affiliations: 

Eveliene Steingröver1 Sabine van Rooij1, Paul Opdam1,2

1 Alterra Wageningen University Research, Wageningen NL , 2 Land Use Planning Group, Wageningen University, NL


To solve environmental problems, in particular the biodiversity crisis and the degradation of ecosystems, interdisciplinary efforts and approaches that enable scientists to work together are crucial. The concept of ecosystem services (ES) emphasizes the multiple functionalities of ecosystems, humanity’s dependence on nature as well as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” (MA 2003). Nowadays, the concept is becoming mainstreamed in the international environmental agenda, attracting practitioners, policy-makers and scientists from many disciplines. However, it only starts to enter the domain of community-based landscape planning (Opdam, 2013a). To develop evidence based approaches that integrate landscape ecological knowledge about the pattern and processes in landscapes with values that people connect to using the landscape is an important challenge. The need for this is accentuated by the ongoing trend from government -led (top-down) planning towards planning based on the perception of future demands of well-being of local communities. An important challenge for community based planning is how to switch between different spatial scales to make sure that local initiatives contribute to higher scale landscape structures, needed for p.e. for water retention and biodiversity (Opdam 2013b). The challenge for the European N2000 network is to realize a connection in the multifunctional areas between the protected sites and EU policy expects the green infrastructure to play an significant role in this development.  In this contribution we discuss a method that we are currently developing in the Interreg project GIFT-T! (Green Infrastructure For Tomorrow – Together!). We aim to initiate an innovation in the way local networks of stakeholders perceive and use their landscape by (a) making them aware of benefits from natural processes and use these as the core for a long term-vision, by (2) helping them to create a view on improving green infrastructure to realize the wished for benefits, and by (3) establish a green infrastructure business plan to implement this view by the local communities. Essential to this approach are deliverability, brokering new alliances and collaborations, and financial arrangements to attract new funding for green infrastructure.


Documenting the learning process is critical to our approach. We monitor two learning loops, the first one within the GIFT-T! partnership itself to create the final GIFT-T! method. The second one in the local communities in which we observe how local actors respond to our approach by which we  gain understanding of the impact of the method in the local planning process. We started to assemble a prototype method from building blocks already developed by the partners. This prototype will improve by applying it in real life case study areas. Because the five cases encompass a gradient of developed to undeveloped land, and also a variety of planning systems and protocols, what we learn about the effectiveness and impact will ensure that the final GIFT-T! method is robust enough to apply in land governance across NW-Europe.

The GIFT-T! method consists of three modules:

  • Setting the future: Raising awareness and building a vision
  • What and where? Diagnosis and design
  • Planning action: Making a Green Infrastructure Business Plan

Module 1: Setting the future: Raising awareness and building a vision: Local stakeholders and end users are asked to express the benefits they expect from landscape services, why these are important to them and of interest of the sustainable future of the area. The stakeholder desires are carried into a long-term ambition plan which states how the desired benefits may be enforced by developing green infrastructure.

Module 2: What and where? Diagnosis and design: This module identifies where and how green infrastructure should be maintained or can be adjusted at the lowest cost-effectiveness. Using spatial data we provide stakeholders with information about the complete picture of the green infrastructure resource and the range of landscape services it may provide in their area. This will assist stakeholders to decide between alternative interventions in the landscape. Building upon their desires and ambitions the stakeholders design spatial alternatives to implement green infrastructure.

Module 3: Planning action: Making a Green Infrastructure Business Plan (GIBP): The outcome of the second module will be used for options to change green infrastructure to gain the desired economic, environmental and social benefits as specified in the long term-ambition plan. Valuation techniques will be used as one of the means to decide between spatial alternatives and to initiate negotiations. The GIBP will specify the contribution to the long-term vision and priorities of local communities, and to policy and programme changes that are being promoted by regional and national authorities.  It will also include concrete actions, a time schedule, responsibilities for taking action, and stakeholder agreements based on the distribution of benefits and investments, and identify means of funding green infrastructure implementation.

Learning experiences based on preliminary results

The GIFT-T! project is currently in its second year. Based on our experiences thus far we will address the following topics in our presentation:

1. Dream sessions. An important building block for the collaborative creation of the long-term vision are the dream sessions, in which local stakeholders are asked to (dream about) express the benefits they would like to receive from nature. This raises the following questions: a) how much information do we give stakeholders about ES at the start of the session, b) how can we translate general wishes into ES, c) how do we select the stakeholders for the dream session, and finally d) how do we integrate the different dream session results into one long-term vision, while stakeholders are still able to recognize their individual dream?

2. The level of scale. While landscape services often require cohesive regional scale physical networks,  and environmental policy is often implemented from a regional to a local level, the social network which is supposed to be the unit of change might function at the local scale. A multinational enterprise acts globally, but  is socially and environmentally embedded in the region. How can we bring together stakeholders and their ES wishes acting on different scale levels?

3. Use and relevance of valuation. Current valuation methods are usually based on fixed, generic monetary values. A major issue is to which degree valuation should be made stakeholder and context specific. Can we develop valuation as a tool for priority setting by stakeholders? How could a valuation tool help a) to make stakeholders aware of each other’s different values and the reason behind them, b) to bring together different stakeholder values, and c)  to balance different values in a collaborative negotiation process?

4. Selection and continued  participation of stakeholders. A major point experienced by all partners is how to keep continuity in the group composition when moving from the goal setting to the diagnose and design phase, resp. the business plan phase. What are the implications of discontinuity on the composition and engagement within stakeholder groups for the GIBP?

5. Attracting businesses, brokering new alliances and financial arrangements. GIFT-T! leans on self-governance of local communities, and on finding new ways of funding green infrastructure.  Up till now, most green infrastructure is funded by local and regional policy programs.


Millennium assessment 2003.

Opdam, P. 2013a. Using ecosystem services in community-based landscape planning: science is not ready. In: Fu, B. and Jones, B. (eds) Landscape Ecology for sustainable Environment and Culture, Springer verlag (in press).

Opdam, P. 2013b. Incorporating multiple ecological scales into community-based landscape governance. In: Padt, F., Opdam, P., Polman, N., Termeer K. (eds) Scale sensitive governance of the environment.Wiley-Blackwell, London (accepted).