Irish Research

Researchers across Ireland are producing a wealth of studies on the value of nature's benefits to people.


Below, we outline ongoing and past projects and link to the results and outputs. For more information, please contact the lead researchers.

If you have a project you'd like to have included, please let us know.


INCASE: Irish Natural Capital Accounting for Sustainable Environments


Years Active: 2019 - 2023


Funded By: Environmental Protection Agency

Research partners: University College Dublin, NUI Galway, University of Limerick, IDEEA Group, Irish Forum on Natural Capital

Principal Investigator: Professor Jane Stout, Trinity College Dublin


  • INCASE seeks to apply Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) principles to river catchments in Ireland.

  • Nature's stocks of fields, forests, wetlands and rivers provide flows of services to society and the economy, such as flood regulation, carbon sequestration, food and fuel provision, and recreational amenities.

  • We need to know which systems generate which services, which are in the best condition, which are degraded and how their quality and extent have changed over time, the extent of their services' contribution to economic activity, what monetary values might be attributed to those contributions and how those values should be considered in the context of the many ways people value nature.

  • Our research will apply UN standard Natural Capital Accounting methodologies to river catchments in Ireland for the first time in order to develop decision-support tools for policy-makers.

  • The research will also conduct economic impact assessments to analyse food production policies on natural capital.

  • Natural Capital Accounts can inform integrated economic and political decision-making, sectoral policies, responsible business strategies and support evidence-based investment, rural development, health and sustainability outcomes. 

Objectives of the project:

  • Review the literature on natural capital accounting to explore methodologies, identify available data (both biophysical and qualitative), and develop a framework to test the application of NCA in Ireland. ​

  • Phase 2 - Ecosystem Accounts:

  • Identify river catchments deemed ‘Areas for Action’ in the River Basin Management Plan, collate existing datasets, develop indicators and use them to generate a range of ecosystem accounts that describe habitat condition, habitat extent, as well as environmental flow accounts that might include water, land use and carbon.

  • Use the case studies to test the strengths and weaknesses of the accounts, and identify the data gaps.

  • Develop a framework to guide the appropriate use of monetary valuation and determine how these values can be integrated with existing economic and environmental policies to inform decision-making.

  • Produce a framework by sector, industry, or organisation to support a gap-analysis of information monitoring systems and policies underpinning them. 

  • Conduct economic impact assessments to better understand the trade-offs between policy options.

  • Use bio-economy Input-Output models and extend analysis of impacts of food production policies to the wider natural capital stock.

BIOdiversity FINance IRELAND


Biodiversity Finance Ireland - Mobilising Finance for Biodiversity in Ireland

Years active: 2018 – 2020


Funded by: Irish Research Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service

Research partners: University College Dublin, Irish Research Council, National Parks and Wildlife Service

Principal Investigator: Dr Craig Bullock, University College Dublin, with Dr Shane Mc Guinness and Dr Rachel Morrison


According to most recent assessments, 86% of habitats in Ireland are in ‘unfavourable’ condition, while the number of Red-listed birds in Ireland increases at each assessment. The 3rd National Biodiversity Action Plan (2017-2021) aims to remedy this through targeted actions and strategic objectives. Concurrently, Ireland will struggle to meet its commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Addressing these challenges is further constrained by extremely limited funding. The Biodiversity Finance research project aims to define the level of expenditure needed to fulfil our biodiversity obligations, by characterising existing spending, estimating the levels of future spending required and identifying strategies to close this financial gap.

Objectives of the project:

Using the Biodiversity Finance (BIOFIN) model of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this project will:

  1. Characterise the gap between current resources and those needed to conserve biodiversity

  2. Identify potential synergies and co-benefits in meeting biodiversity and climate targets

  3. Highlight harmful subsidies that threaten these across various sectors.


This is the first time a developed nation has used the BIOFIN model (until now a developing world tool) to strategically plan the financial needs of conserving national biodiversity.



National Biodiversity Expenditure Review (NBER): Published 2018. The NBER examines existing expenditure and its contribution to Ireland’s international and national commitments. It records biodiversity spending by government departments, agencies and NGOs between 2010 and 2015 and compares these with the objectives and targets of Ireland’s National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 and the CBD Aichi Biodiversity targets.

Policy and Institutional Review (PIR): Produced February 2020. The PIR presents the initial stages in developing an holistic view of the fiscal, economic, legal, policy and institutional frameworks of the larger biodiversity finance assessment. It provides an overview of the institutional and policy landscape driving threats to biodiversity at a national level and foundational knowledge of existing biodiversity finance mechanisms in place, including subsidies and sources of revenue.

Financial Needs Assessment (FNA): Expected delivery December 2020. Having assessed the levels of expenditure on biodiversity in the NBER, and the functioning of relevant policies and institutions in the PIR, the Financial Needs Assessment will ascertain the levels of finance required to, at minimum, meet our national biodiversity conservation targets. Through stakeholder consultation, this report will characterise this financial gap, identify potential improvements in efficiencies or expenditure allocation, and highlight future sources of funding.

Strategic Financial Plan (SFP): Conditional on funding. Having ascertained the funding gap in meeting our national and international biodiversity commitments, those institutions involved in delivering biodiversity actions and having reviewed modes by which funding may be improved, the Strategic Financial Plan will present a roadmap to achieving this.

VACES: Valuing Agricultural Catchment Ecosystem Services


Years Active: 2016 - 2018


Funded by: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Research Partners: NUI Galway (SEMRU), Teagasc 

Principal Investigator: Dr Stephen Hynes, NUI Galway


  • Agricultural ecosystems or agro-ecosystems are a supplier of ecosystem services which represent the flow of services from our natural capital (MEA, 2005). Some of these services add greatly to society well-being but sometimes disservices are also generated. Many of these are non-market ecosystem services and disservices which are not valued by the market.

  • The purpose of this project is to create an inventory of the ecosystem services provided by farmers in agricultural catchments and place economic values on these services. Cost-effective public policy, in the form of agri-environmental schemes that provide incentives for farmers to provide ecosystem services from agriculture, require estimates of how society can maximise returns on such investments.

  • Both market and non-market valuation methods can provide estimates of the costs to farmers of supplying these ecosystem services as well as the amount that consumers would be willing to pay to receive them.

  • Research is required both to design cost-effective incentives to provide ecosystem services in agricultural catchments and to measure which kinds of ecosystem services could provide the greatest overall welfare benefits to society.


Objectives of the project:

  • Identify the most significant agro-ecosystem services relevant in Irish agricultural catchments

  • Identify suitable indicators to quantity the most significant agro-ecosystem services across Irish agricultural catchments

  • Use appropriate valuation techniques to estimate the value of these agro-ecosystem services

  • Demonstrate an assessment and valuation of agro-ecosystem services for a case study in Irish agricultural catchments.


POLLIVAL: Valuing Pollination Ecosystem Services


Years Active: 2016 - 2018


Funded By: Environmental Protection Agency

Principal Investigator: Prof Jane Stout, Trinity College Dublin


  • The agri-food and drink sector in Ireland accounts for 7.2% of the goods and services produced by Ireland’s economy and 12.3% of Ireland’s exports (source: DAFM). The horticultural industry alone produces >€380 million worth of fruit and vegetables annually, including many common insect-pollinated crops such as apples, strawberries and raspberries. However, this only represents a small proportion of total demand and as a result we import >€1 billion worth of fruit and vegetables each year (source: CSO). Many of these are pollinator-dependent crops (e.g. oranges, peaches, pears etc.) and therefore the global loss of insect pollinators is predicted to have a profound impact on our local economy.

  • In addition to the market values of pollinators, we also appreciate them for their intrinsic value and for the ecosystem services they provide. They play a vital role in maintaining plant community structure and for the propagation of wild species, thus maintaining healthy biodiversity in our landscapes. For example, the celebrated landscapes of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, which attract visitors from all over the world for their beauty, depend on pollinators to support a rich variety of wild flowers.

  • Assessing and evaluating natural capital and ecosystem services which flow from it are key national environmental research priorities enabling integration of natural capital into decision-making processes and the sustainable use of natural resources. POLLIVAL aims to develop national and European capacity in evaluation of ecosystem services using pollination as a case study.

  • By integrating market and non-market values, assessing current status and identifying drivers of future change, the project will develop a model system to enable evaluation of other forms of natural capital for decision-making and planning processes.

Objectives of the project:

  • To identify best practice to evaluate the current market values of pollination services in Ireland.

  • To develop methods to assess non-market values.

  • To integrate the implications of land use change (driven by various processes including environmental change, policy change and consumer behaviour) on the value of pollination services in Ireland. The project will integrate approaches from natural, social and economic sciences and will involve consultation with experts and integration of expert knowledge, data-gathering, development of methods, and modelling of future scenarios.



Cultural Value of Coastlines


Years Active: 2016 - 2019


Funded By: Irish Research Council

Principal Investigator: Prof Tasman Crowe, University College Dublin

Key Findings from the Project Report: 

  • Our coasts are precious. Our surveys and analyses show that people value many aspects of our coastlines, especially for the benefits they bring to human society in the form of scenic beauty, water sports, wild space, leisure and recreational activities, sense of place, engagement with nature, fresh air, seafood, and space for contemplation.

  • Our coasts are in danger. Our surveys and analyses also show that these values are dependent on conditions which may be under threat. Pollution, coastal erosion, climate change, urban and industrial development, offshore wind farms, and litter endanger the future health and benefits of our coasts.

  • Enjoyment of the coast is a modern phenomenon. Our cultural analyses reveal that enjoyment of the coast, as a space for leisure and recreation, is just over two hundred years old. Before the late eighteenth century, the coast was regarded as either a functional space (for fishing or shipping) or a space of terror and repulsion. Art and literature show that the shore became associated with pleasure and romance alongside the growth of industrialisation and modernity.

  • The cultural value of coastlines is closely linked to issues of access, freedom, and contact with nature. Our surveys suggest close links between the values people associate with the coast, and their sense that the coast is a common, accessible and free space, relatively undisturbed by urban and industrial development, and by economic interests. There is some resentment of offshore developments which threaten to ‘territorialise’ the sea, and a reluctance to ‘put a price’ on contact with nature.



VIBES: Valuing Ireland's Blue Ecosystem Services


Years Active: 2015 - 2016


Funded by: Environmental Protection Agency

Principal Investigator: Dr Stephen Hynes, NUI Galway


  • This project aimed to map and value the ecosystem services generated in the coastal and marine zones around Ireland.

  • Valuation involves the measurement of the benefits that an individual can get from a good or service. While the value of some these goods such as fish and aquaculture are somewhat easier to measure, the value of many other benefits such as carbon sequestration, waste treatment and recreation are not captured in any market.

  • Marine ecosystem services are provided by the processes, functions and structure of the marine environment that directly or indirectly contribute to societal welfare, health and economic activities. These services are vital to ensuring blue growth in the ocean economy.

  • Without incorporating these values into the decision making processes, these benefits may be ignored or underestimated and changes within coastal and marine zones may incur a net loss to Irish society.

  • Blue growth is about fostering development of marine economic activities in such a manner that the long term ability of the marine environment to continue to provide ecosystem service benefits is not compromised. Knowing what those benefits are and understanding how marine ecosystems’ ability to continue to deliver services is impacted by changes in the economic activities taking place in our waters is vital for deciding on the best use of our marine resources and to support blue growth.

  • Until recently, very little information was available in relation to the value of the many services provided by the marine environment; services such as carbon sequestration, waste assimilation, coastal defence, aesthetic services and recreational opportunities. This project is a first step at filling this research gap.


Project Aims:

  • Provide a profile of the marine ecosystem services derived from Ireland’s coastal, marine and estuarine natural resources.

  • Provide estimates of the value to society of these marine ecosystem services.

  • Provide data that assists in the delivery of management and planning decisions relating to human activities in the marine environment.

  • Provide information on the relative importance and potential economic trade-offs of existing marine uses as reflected in their social and economic values. This information should feed into assessments that are required under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive and Maritime Spatial Planning Directive.

  • Identify knowledge gaps that continue to exist in the valuation of marine ecosystem services.


Key Findings:

  • The report indicates the significant contribution that provisioning, regulation and maintenance, and cultural marine ecosystem services make to our welfare, health and to economic activity. On an annual basis, recreational services provided by Irish marine ecosystems are estimated to have an economic value of €1.6 billion. Fisheries and aquaculture are estimated to be worth €664 million in terms of output value from Irish waters, carbon absorption services are valued at €819 million, waste assimilation services €317 million, scientific and educational services €11.5 million, coastal defence services of €11.5 million, seaweed harvesting €4 million and the added value per annum to housing stock of being close to the shore (aesthetic services) is valued at €68 million. Even though not all of the ecosystem services provided by the marine environment can be monetized, this report indicates that the value of those that can is substantial.



ESManage: Incorporation of Ecosystem Services Values in the Integrated Management of Irish Freshwater Resources


Years Active: 2015 - 2017


Funded by: Environmental Protection Agency

Principal Investigator: Dr Mary Kelly-Quinn, University College Dublin


  • The ecosystem services provided by Irish freshwaters are extensive and are currently not well documented. This project undertook a scoping exercise to identify the range of ecosystem services (i.e. provisioning, regulating and maintenance, and cultural services) derived from the five main categories of water resources [i.e. rivers, lakes, groundwaters, wetlands and heavily modified water bodies (e.g. reservoirs, canals, etc.)] from which Irish society benefits.

  • The Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) was used to categorise and define our freshwater ecosystem services. The relative importance of each freshwater ecosystem service to Irish society is also gauged, with much of the supporting data derived from evidence provided within this report, a stakeholder workshop held in September 2015 by the ESManage project and expert opinion.

  • This qualitative estimation of the relative importance at local, regional and national levels in Ireland was undertaken in order to evaluate and identify the potential for change in ecosystem services in Irish freshwaters in response to selected catchment management options and programmes of measures implemented on behalf of restoring good ecological status and meeting EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) goals.

  • The catchment management options, mostly relating to reductions in nitrate, phosphate and sediment pressures were chosen following a meeting with the EPA in March 2016. We have also included “intensification” (vis-à-vis Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025), which will likely increase the nutrient and sediment pressure on some Irish rivers with potentially negative effects on ecosystem services. Thus, the changes to management highlighted may be either positive or negative in response to reduction in contaminant inputs (the latter in the case of further intensification without additional measures to address nutrient and sediment problems).


Project Aims:

  • Literature review of the state of knowledge of ES in freshwaters

  • Provide a synthesis of current knowledge on the Irish freshwater resource in the context of ecosystem services and select key ES for analysis and valuation 

  • Scenario analysis to show how changes in drivers (land-use) affect inputs to rivers and associated physical and chemical water quality stressors.

  • Analyse existing and new biological data to investigate biological responses to stressors/drivers and links to selected ecosystem services. Combine with Obj. 3 to illustrate change in ecological condition/ES provision.

  • Estimate the economic impact of future changes to the provision of key aquatic ecosystem services in Irish rivers.

  • Recommend how the ecosystem services approach can best be embedded into policy and decision-making for sustainable management of water resources.




Follow us:      Twitter        |       YouTube       |        LinkedIn

Email us  |

Privacy Policy   |   © 2020 by Irish Forum on Natural Capital CLG, Company No. 632971.