New Publication: Defining Ecosystem Indicators for Improved Land Management

Sheep Grazing

Alongside the growing scientific evidence that the improvement of management and grazing practices of sheep, goats and camelids can contribute to the balance and even restoration of the biodiversity and productivity of grasslands, the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP) began a process to further the understanding between biodiversity conservation and the wool industry and contribute to the development, testing and adoption of innovative sustainable and resource-efficient wool production and management practices that support the regeneration of grasslands and farmland biodiversity and provide concrete solutions to combat desertification.

Wool is produced in about 100 countries on half a million farms and account for approximately 1,100 million heads of sheep. The main resources for sheep production are natural grasslands or implanted pastures that often have replaced natural grasslands.

Grasslands are important ecosystems because they provide goods and services to support flora, fauna, and human populations worldwide. Grasslands produce forage for domestic livestock, which in turn support human livelihoods with meat, milk, wool, and leather products. They provide supporting services such as habitat for breeding, migrating, and wintering birds; ideal conditions for many soil fauna, and rangelands for wild herbivores, as well as important regulating services such as water and nutrients cycling, carbon sequestration, and climate regulation.

However RESP identified a major gap in that existing impact assessment techniques and monitoring methodologies currently being used by the industry do not adequately address ecosystem-level issues, due to the lack of scientific-based indicators for quantifying positive and negative impacts of production systems and conservation activities on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

For this reason, RESP set out an ambitious objective to ensure the capability of measuring and quantifying the impacts of their productive and conservation activities on natural and social capital in order to enhance valuation, accounting and management practices, through the deployment of impact assessment and monitoring systems and their respective management and reporting tools.

As a first step, in 2014, the members of the IWG-WF took a firm commitment to identify, develop and test a number of ecosystem-level indicators, impact assessment and monitoring systems and their respective management and reporting tools to demonstrate – at latest by the end of 2017 – that it is possible and economically feasible to integrate quantifiable ecosystem-level data into business, scientific and policy decision-making processes.

This study puts forward a proposed set of ecosystems-based indicators with the aim of better describing the impact of the wool value chain on the environment, and the respective method to apply such indicators in the calculation of environmental impact assessments.

As a next step, the proposed method and indicators will be tested in pilot sites with the aim of ascertaining their relevance and applicability and provide recommendations on their possible integration to existing impact assessment and management tools.