Valuation, legislation and planning

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Indicators in legislation

In policy and regulatory frameworks indicators are used to identify, measure, summarise and communicate relevant information on environmental activities and their consequences. Indicators can play an important role in legislation where some form of measurable standard or output is required to meet a regulatory objective.

EC law tends to be explicit in its use of indicators, as in the case of the Water Framework Directive, which requires specific indicators to be used to ensure a harmonised approach to environmental protection across Europe. International law seldom refers to indicators, although they may be used within management frameworks established by treaties, such as the Law of the Sea Convention or OSPAR.[1]

The effectiveness of indicators in management

To investigate how well environmental indicators actually work within a regulatory framework, the utilisation of sustainable development indicators in the UK was investigated using the marine aggregate and dredging industry as a case study. Management in this area is complex, and the study examined policy and legislation at all levels of government - local, national and international.

In the recent past, aggregate extraction was undertaken under non-statutory ‘Government View’ procedures, whereby if the activity was deemed to be environmentally acceptable, this was accepted and applicants were offered a licence. Under this procedure, applicants had been required to provide an environmental statement, which was followed by an environmental impact assessment.

Information from these assessments, along with other indicators, has helped to improve the scientific basis for predicting the effects of these extractive activities and the recovery of the ecosystems once activities cease. Public consultation was also required throughout the process, but it was considered highly inefficient and burdensome. Good communication between the various government agencies and disciplines is highlighted as being important to better achieve sustainable-development objectives.

In 2007, the Environmental Impact Assessment and Natural Habitats Regulations consolidated the EU directives relating to dredging for land-based activities. Although the 2007 regulations use indicators, they are not overly prescriptive. They establish a flexible system for managing marine-extraction projects and they facilitate an integrated approach to sustainable development goals. The regulations allow for some discretion in selecting indicators that are appropriate to the activity and consistent with the regulatory framework.

A more detailed study on the operational use of indicators is being carried out under a UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) project, ME4118, in collaboration with MarBEF.

Research shows that indicators should be measured according to the following criteria[1]:

  • policy relevance – they correspond to a management framework with operational objectives
  • legal relevance – they may be influenced by legal obligations, which are mandatory
  • communication – there should be an effective line of communication of indicators to both policy-makers and stakeholders, which may involve expert interpretation
  • responsiveness – indicators should be designed to meet management needs
  • scientific rigour – they should be accurate and of good quality
  • quality-control review – they should be subjected to independent and objective quality control
  • process standards – indicators should be designed according to a process that ensures the indicator can withstand critical scrutiny.

Marine decision support systems

Decision- and policy-making in the marine environment is challenging, as it is a complex system consisting of ecological, economic and socio-cultural factors. Furthermore, the information and data available on these factors is far from complete. As a result of the imperfect information and the complexity of the system, the decision-maker has to consider not only complex and partially unknown environmental data and effects, but the economic, social and ecological consequences of the decision as well.

A possible tool to help in decision-making is a computer-based decision support system (DSS) that can [1]:

  • assist individuals or groups of individuals in their decision process
  • support rather than replace judgements of individuals
  • improve the effectiveness rather than the efficiency of a decision process.


A demonstration prototype of such an DSS (MarDSS) has been developed by MarBEF. This DSS currently has a regional focus, but it is being developed so that it can be adapted to operate at all levels of EU decision-making. The final system will illustrate the relationships between marine biodiversity and human marine activities. The spatial aspects of these relationships will be shown in maps so that it is possible to assess the effects of alternative policy scenarios, including the use of weights and choices for different components of the marine ecosystem, marine economic activities and social impacts.

The demonstration version focuses on marine ecosystem issues that relate to human activities in the Dutch North Sea. These issues are analysed in an integrated assessment taking the social, ecological and socio-economic forces into consideration and using the Driving Forces-Pressures-States-Impacts-Responses framework (DPSIR framework) as a starting point. As most problems in the marine environment have a spatial dimension, the decision support models that have been developed are all spatially explicit. Social, economic and ecological information and methodologies collected and developed in MarBEF are being used as baseline data for some of these models, and are visualised on maps, or are provided as background information.

In the models section of the DSS, the decision-maker can choose to model the placement of marine reserves for fisheries or the placement of wind turbines. The latter model allows the user to designate restrictions such as levels of bird and fish populations that must still be maintained and amount of energy that should be generated. The results are shown in maps and tables. The interactive maps of the European seas enable the user to zoom in and look at the available data for these seas, access some local countries data, oceanographic data, time-series data, models and background information (where available). Biological valuation maps for some of the MarBEF case studies are also included. These maps can serve as a basis for the wind farm model to designate which areas should be offered protection. The socio-economic valuation will be used to put a value on the losses of certain activities, whereas the socio-cultural valuation can inform decision-makers about the aspects of marine biodiversity and the marine environment that people find important.

The background section presents a DPSIR analysis of the problems in the European seas, with possible policy instruments to combat some of these problems. The system can easily be filled with more data as it becomes available.[1]

Further reading

Marbef booklet Marine Biodiversity Ecosystem Functioning


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Heip, C., Hummel, H., van Avesaath, P., Appeltans, W., Arvanitidis, C., Aspden, R., Austen, M., Boero, F., Bouma, TJ., Boxshall, G., Buchholz, F., Crowe, T., Delaney, A., Deprez, T., Emblow, C., Feral, JP., Gasol, JM., Gooday, A., Harder, J., Ianora, A., Kraberg, A., Mackenzie, B., Ojaveer, H., Paterson, D., Rumohr, H., Schiedek, D., Sokolowski, A., Somerfield, P., Sousa Pinto, I., Vincx, M., Węsławski, JM., Nash, R. (2009). Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning. Printbase, Dublin, Ireland ISSN 2009-2539