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In March, the Ecosystems Knowledge Network held a training event in Edinburgh to demonstrate the InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Trade-offs) decision support tool. InVEST is free software developed by the Natural Capital Project. Abigail Page from the CSGN Support Unit attended the event to learn more about the tool.

The Natural Capital Project describes InVEST as, “a family of tools to map and value the goods and services from nature which are essential for sustaining and fulfilling human life”. The tools allow a number of scenarios of managing an ecosystem to be modelled to provide valuable information to decision makers. The workshop was an opportunity to look at case studies where the approach has been used and speak directly to staff from the Natural Capital Project that were visiting the UK.

The day began with a (rather competitive) game to demonstrate the principles behind Ecosystem Services before moving on to discuss a number of case studies that have used InVEST to support decisions around land management. These case studies are available on the Natural Capital Project website.

The tool, which carries out spatial analysis using user provided inputs for different scenarios, is freely downloadable. It can be run using ArcGIS desktop tools, or as a standalone package that produces outputs for use in any common GIS package.

Although there were no formal case studies demonstrating the use of the tool in the UK, The James Hutton Institute were able to demonstrate some work they had undertaken looking at different modelling tools, include InVEST, on a river catchment and the results showed that overall the model performed well in comparison to other techniques.

The benefits of using the approach to engage with stakeholders were well outlined, however most attendees noted that the major obstacle for developing and using the tool in Scotland would be the lack of suitable data. To run a project successfully at an appropriate scale, work would need to take place to identify, collate and in some cases capture the data required to allow the model to generate a useful output. As a large number of the software downloads have been in the UK, it will be interesting to see if some UK based case studies are developed and how the data issue can be addressed.

The InVEST tool is available to freely download with associated documentation and case studies on the Natural Capital Project website.