Ecosystem services certification in Italy - could the UK be next?

A forest management group scheme in Italy has become the first FSC certificate holder to achieve verification of impacts on all five ecosystem services covered by FSC procedures.


Ancient woodland in the lowlands of Italy; could similar woods in the UK also be candidates for ecosystem services certification?
What are ecosystem services?

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment describes ecosystem services as “the benefits provided by ecosystems that contribute to making human life both possible and worth living”.

In addition to obvious tangible products like timber and food, they can include services such as regulation of floods, drought and climate, and cultural values such as recreational and spiritual benefits.

FSC and ecosystem services

Traditionally, FSC claims have been made on timber and non-timber forest products, such as foods or rubber. Then, in May 2018, FSC launched a new Ecosystem Services Procedure which offers businesses and governments a new tool to demonstrate and communicate the impact their work has on the conservation and restoration of forest ecosystems.

Under this procedure, forest management impacts can be verified for one, several or all five of a specific subset of ecosystem services: carbon sequestration and storage, biodiversity conservation, watershed services, soil conservation, and/or recreational services.

Early successes

The very first successful FSC ecosystem services verification was for positive impacts on water quality by a smallholder at Lajas Blancas in Chile.

The verification of impacts by the Waldplus forestry cooperative in Italy is the second in the world, the first in Europe, and the first to cover all five services included in the FSC procedure.

The Waldplus group scheme covers over 1,000 hectares in the Trentino Alto-Adige, Veneto and Lombardy regions. Waldplus worked in partnership with Etifor, a consultancy that provides innovative solutions to measure positive impact.

“We are very happy to celebrate Waldplus’ success,” says Ilaria Dalla Vecchia, Forest Management Technical Advisor at FSC Italia, “and we are certainly proud that Italy has led the way in demonstrating that forest owners recognise the value of FSC ecosystem services certification in a European context.”

Can the UK learn from Italy’s success?

On a recent visit to Italy, FSC UK Forest Standards Manager Dr Owen Davies had the chance to see one site with existing verified ecosystem service impacts and another where the owner is considering ecosystem services certification.

“While the species – and the weather! – may be slightly different, I think these woods would seem familiar to many foresters from the UK,” says Owen. “The publicly owned woods at Bandiziol and Prassaccon were planted with native species between 1995 and 1999 to restore forest cover on sites which were cleared at the time of the Second World War. The privately owned Otello forest, in contrast, is a small fragment of ancient semi-natural woodland in the otherwise intensively farmed Po Valley. I can certainly see parallels with woods managed by local authorities and with small and farm woodlands in many parts of the UK.”

The management of the woods at Bandiziol and Prassaccon already has verified impacts on the conservation of forest carbon stocks and the enhancement of areas of importance for recreation. The owner of Otello forest, whose primary motivation is to preserve and raise awareness of traditional management, is considering certification of biodiversity conservation and recreational services.


Verifying the positive impacts of management of these public woodlands is about reputation, not money.
Going to the heart of things

Lucio Brotto, a co-founder of Etifor, is very clear on how people approach the concept of ecosystem services – and how we should pitch it to them.

“People buying ecosystem services don’t buy a forest with technical properties,” he says, “they buy emotions, stories.”

We know that forests and the benefits they can provide are dear to the hearts of many people in the UK; while FSC certification provides a concrete mechanism to verify the positive impacts of forest management, what we are really selling is a good news story.

It’s not all about the money

Not that it all comes down to attaching a cash value to ecosystem services. While motivations may well be financial – and while the owner of Otello forest might expect to see some returns in terms of more visitors and spending at his adjacent vineyard, for example – in other cases reputation may be even more important – and the municipal managers of Bandiziol and Prassaccon forests sought ecosystem services certification primarily to demonstrate to their community that their management delivered real benefits.

Do you have a story to tell?

If you have a good news story about the contribution your woods and your management make to protecting the environment or providing healthy, outdoor recreation opportunities, and if you think that FSC can help you to tell that story, please do get in touch with Owen at owen@fsc-uk.org.

We’re also keen to hear from individuals or organisations who love these feel good stories and might want to support woodland owners and managers, so they can keep on telling the story of Forests For All Forever.


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