A team measuring carbon storage values in Dominican Republic. Photo: Isadora Angarita-Martinez

New accessible toolkit helps non-experts to value important natural sites

Ecosystems provide us with an immense range of benefits such as the production of food, clean water, erosion control and climate regulation.  A reduction or loss of these services can have severe economic, social and environmental impacts.  However, methods for obtaining such data are frequently too expensive or technically-demanding to be practical.

In response a group of experts developed a Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) – an accessible, easy-to-use, and interactive toolkit that now allows non-experts to derive reasonable estimates of the provision of key services.

TESSA was launched online today to coincide with the 7th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference in Costa Rica.

TESSA provides the tools required for non-experts to measure and value sites, and has been applied at 24 sites across five continents to date.  Most users to date have been conservation practitioners, although the methods are applicable to a wide range of users, including natural resource managers (e.g. forestry, fisheries, water managers), land-use planners, development organisations (e.g. for poverty alleviation), and the private sector.

 “We hope that by making TESSA more intuitive to use, and available both on and offline, many more people will be able to assess the ecosystem service values of sites and how they might change under different land use decisions”,

said Jenny Merriman, BirdLife’s Ecosystem Services Officer and TESSA Coordinator.

TESSA provides guidance and methods to value ecosystem services currently provided by sites compared to their likely provision under different management decisions, thus allowing the consequences of alternative management decisions to be assessed.

“This information is critical for informing decision-making at the local level and when scaled up, can provide information about the social and environmental consequences of our actions”,

added Dr Iris Möller, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.

Access the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) and more information here

The development of TESSA is a collaborative initiative between Anglia Ruskin University, BirdLife International, RSPB, Tropical Biology Association, UNEP-WCMC and the University of Cambridge. The interactive development was funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account pilot awarded to Cambridge University. This builds on previous funding from other sources. TESSA is an evolving resource and, subject to continued funding, more content will be added in future versions.


The Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) has been developed through a collaboration of six institutions with input generously provided by scientists and practitioners from multiple disciplines.   The toolkit provides accessible guidance on low-cost methods for how to evaluate the benefits people receive from nature at particular sites in order to generate information that can be used to influence decision making.

TESSA is primarily aimed at conservation practitioners, although the methods may be applicable to a wide range of users, including natural resource managers (e.g. forestry, fisheries, water managers), land-use planners, development organisations (e.g. for poverty alleviation), and the private sector.

The methods in the toolkit are designed to be applicable to users from developing and developed countries, and across all terrestrial and wetland habitats (currently excluding marine areas). The current version (1.2) provides methods for assessing global climate regulation, flood protection, water provision, water quality improvement, harvested wild goods, cultivated goods and nature-based recreation.


The toolkit includes:

  • An overview of ecosystem services, key concepts and caveats
  • Guidance on conducting a preliminary scoping appraisal for site(s)
  • Decision trees (flow charts) to lead the user to the most appropriate methods according to the characteristics of the site
  • Details provided for over 50 methods for assessing particular aspects of the ecosystem services listed above
  • The valuation of an ‘alternative state’ in order to compare a current and alternative state of the site and hence estimate the impact of potential or actual changes on the ecosystem services provided
  • Worked examples on how to derive a value (quantitative, including potentially economic, and/or qualitative) for each service, including presenting the difference in value between two states of the site
  • Guidance on how to synthesise the data for each service into a summary of ecosystem service change at site scale
  • Guidance on assessing how the benefits are spread across local, national and global communities
  • Advice on how to disaggregate the values at the local level into measures that reveal potential inequities in the costs borne and benefits received by different individuals

TESSA is an evolving resource, and more content will be added in future versions (subject to funding).


What the toolkit does and does not do

Does Does not
Help users who have limited capacity (technical knowledge, time) and resources (money, people) to measure ecosystem services Assess all ecosystem services


Provide insights into the overall value of ecosystem services at sites, and a way of comparing the services provided by two states of the site Provide total economic valuations (although monetary values can be calculated for some services)
Provide scientifically robust information on ecosystem services as a first step to guide practitioners on whether more detailed studies would be useful Provide ecosystem service assessments that can be translated directly into Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) schemes and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects
Indicate who will be the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ as a result of any change in the state of a site and in associated ecosystem service delivery Provide a ‘blueprint’ for assessments – it must be adapted to the local context
Help decision-makers appreciate the true value of nature, and the consequences of loss and degradation of natural habitats


Application in the field

The methods range from household surveys and participatory mapping to habitat surveys and the use of simple modelling software. The approach is relatively low cost compared with many other tools, and does not require advanced technical skills. However, understanding ecosystem services can be fairly technical and some relevant experience and/or training may be needed, e.g. from others who have used the toolkit, or have other experience of assessing ecosystem services.

The toolkit is designed to be used both online and in the field and is provided as a ‘user manual’ in a simple workbook structure. An interactive PDF is available to download on to a computer or other device (e.g. laptop, notebook, tablet) so that the methods and guidance can be accessed in remote locations.

The methods and approaches presented in the toolkit have been tested at 24 sites to date, in countries including Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Grand Cayman, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Montserrat, Nepal, UK and Vietnam, across temperate and tropical forest and wetland habitats. To see the outputs of some of these studies, refer to the list of additional resources and publications below.


Discover how TESSA is different to other tools.


For an overview of how TESSA works please listen to this webinar:



Click here to request to

download the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-Based Assessment

 Contact details

Jenny Merriman

Ecosystem Services Officer



The Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment

has been developed by

With additional financial support from


Additional resources and publications

BCN and DNPWC (2012) Conserving biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services at Important Bird Areas in Nepal. Kathmandu and Cambridge, UK: Bird Conservation Nepal, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, and BirdLife International

Birch, J.C., et al. (2014) What benefits do community forests provide, and to whom? A rapid assessment of ecosystem services from a Himalayan forest in Nepal. Ecosystem Services (8) 118-127

CCI and BirdLife (2011) Measuring and monitoring ecosystem services at the site scale. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Conservation Initiative and BirdLife International

Peh et al. (2013) TESSA: A toolkit for rapid assessment of ecosystem services at sites of biodiversity conservation importance Ecosystem Services (5) 51-57

Peh et al. (2014) Potential impact of invasive alien species on ecosystem services provided by a tropical forested ecosystem: a case study from Montserrat Biological Invasions July 2014

Thapa, I., et al. (2014) Using information on ecosystem services in Nepal to inform biodiversity conservation and local to national decision-making. Oryx [published online 4 August 2014]

Source: http://www.birdlife.org/

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