Our Marie Curie Projects

Elia Apostolopoulou: Conservation and Ecosystem Services in the New biodiversity Economy (CESINE)

About the project

The aim of this research is to analyse how biodiversity conservation in Europe is being reconstructed around the measurement of the economic values of nature. Our case study is the UK: a country providing a relevant context for our research given its key role at both EU and global levels in emerging biodiversity “markets”.

Our empirical research is mainly focused on the implementation of biodiversity offsetting in England. Our fieldwork involves interviews with economists, bankers, governmental officials, regulators, conservation scientists and environmentalists who are involved in the establishment of an ecosystem services framework and biodiversity offsetting at the national (UK) level as well as interviews with all relevant stakeholders (e.g. local authorities, environmental administrations, private sector organizations, businesses, local community committees, NGOs) in specific field areas. Fieldwork also includes elements of informal interviews and observation, taking opportunities to participate in local meetings, living in the areas while conducting interviews.

Final Summary

The aim of the Marie Curie Project CESINE (Conservation and Ecosystem Services in the New biodiversity Economy) was to analyse how biodiversity conservation in the EU is being reconstructed around the measurement of the economic values of nature, using the UK as a case study. The project was specifically designed to address three key research gaps in critical geographical scholarship on nature-society relationships: (a) the limited amount of interdisciplinary research on recent trends in market environmentalism to recognize and describe the values of ecosystems and biodiversity, (b) the fact that the UK’s global lead in the application of a market based approach to conservation is under-researched, and (c) the limited amount of critical empirical research in the developed world and especially the EU.

By addressing these questions, the CESINE Project has provided a timely and important critical reflection on the changing approaches to the conservation and management of nature in the era following the financial crash of 2008. The CESINE project involved 63 interviews with various stakeholders, of two kinds: i) 28 semi-structured interviews with selected economists, conservation brokers, governmental officials, regulators, conservation scientists and environmentalists involved in the establishment of an ecosystem services framework and biodiversity offsetting in the UK; ii) 35 in-depth interviews and 5 focus groups with local authorities, environmental administrations, private sector organizations, businesses, NGOs and local community committees in field areas. Fieldwork was focused on 7 case studies across England where issues related both to ecosystem services and biodiversity offsetting were important in local conservation decisions. Case studies were selected to include: (a) cases that were part of the official Defra (UK Government Ministry) biodiversity offsetting pilots, (b) cases with significant conflicts over the implementation of market-based conservation, (c) cases where opposition to biodiversity offsetting related to other aspects of nature such as the use of and access to green spaces, cultural values of the countryside and the green belt. Case studies were: i) the Essex offsetting pilot; ii) the Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull pilot; iii) the Lodge Hill housing development (South East England), iv) the new high speed rail network (HS2), v) the housing development in Whitehouse Farm, North Tyneside (Newcastle), vi) the London ‘Thameslink’ project, and the vii) Coventry and Warwickshire Gateway.

The CESINE project identified biodiversity offsetting as the most radical policy innovation of market-based conservation. Biodiversity offsetting involves the exchange of biodiversity threatened in one place by development with biodiversity created or preserved somewhere else. Advocates believe such an approach can allow development while ensuring ‘No net Loss’ of biodiversity overall. The approach has been widely used in the USA, and is spreading globally. From 2010-2016 the approach was enthusiastically endorsed by the UK government and widely trialed in the UK as part of a search for ‘sustainable’ development.


  1. CESINE analysed in detail the way that the concepts of ecosystem services, biodiversity offsetting and No Net Loss reframe nature conservation. It showed in particular, the profound changes that they bring about in the conception of nature and the practice of conservation, and hence ultimately the relationship between society and non-human nature.
  2. CESINE provided an empirical analysis of biodiversity offsetting in the UK, offering a historical-geographic analysis of why offsetting has emerged and how it has so far operated in the English context. This analysis engages with literature on conservation under neoliberalism, which looks at offsets as new ecological ‘commodities’. However, it concluded that, in England, its emergence and evolution also needs to be understood in the context of crises in the economy and housing provision, governmental aspirations for new infrastructure, and attempts to deregulate planning and nature conservation policies to encourage urban development. These pressures led to intensified exploitation of both urban and rural environments in the post-2008 period. Particular attention has been paid to the way offsetting has operationalized new ideas about nature conservation, its interrelationship with urbanization and the effect of the neoliberal turn in planning. While hegemonic in government and the private sector, the rhetoric of offsetting is contested by local communities and environmental activists.
  3. CESINE analysed the role of different actors in the application of the ecosystem services approach and biodiversity offsetting in England, considering its links with governance rescaling processes and its influence on the distribution of conservation costs and benefits. The Project also analysed the participatory arrangements in UK nature conservation that emerged as part of the rescaling of biodiversity governance from an environmental justice perspective.
  4. CESINE analysed one of the most controversial applications of biodiversity offsetting in England, the housing development in Lodge Hill (Kent), reconstructing the geographies that led to the attempt to use offsetting to compensate for the environmental impacts of development. The project offered a detailed explanation of why Lodge Hill did not become the offsetting success story that the UK government initially aimed for. Lodge Hill was critical set-back in the attempt to deepen the ongoing reframing of non-human nature as ‘movable’ and ‘interchangeable’, threatening offsetting’s wider popularity in the UK.
  5. CESINE provided an in-depth analysis of the calculations that take place at the heart of biodiversity offsetting, in the ‘construction of equivalence’ between the biodiversity of one place and another. This construction is necessary to allow ecological losses and gains to be traded across space (between development and offset site) and time (between losses now and gains in the future, e.g. when a new woodland matures). There are technical constraints on the ability of ‘offset metrics’ to make such comparisons satisfactorily, and calculating ‘equivalence’ has profound implications for nature-society relationships. These have been explored in the light of literature on critical political economy, nature valuation and the production of nature and space.

Overall, the CESINE project has provided a novel theoretical analysis of how non-human nature (and nature conservation) is being reconstructed around the measurement of its economic value. The use of economic valuation tools and associated ecological measurement techniques changes the political economy of conservation and development in profound ways.

The CESINE project’s detailed empirical research provides a theoretically-informed and socially rooted critical analysis of the application of market-based conservation in England. This analysis offers key insights on the contradictory and contested character of neoliberal conservation and the discourse about the ‘green economy’. These have been central to the restructuring of nature-society relationship over the past 20 years and especially after the 2008 financial crash. The CESINE project has shown how market-based conservation in England, reflecting the pervasive neoliberal policy environment, has had significant environmental and socio-spatial justice implications. This is of major socio-economic importance where local communities are displaced from green spaces to give space to housing or infrastructure projects.


The results of the CESINE project are relevant to policy makers, scholars and activists engaged in understanding the ecological, social and cultural implications of the restructuring of conservation and environmental policies around the economic values of nature. The project also opens up the possibility of alternatives to the neoliberal environmental agenda that can transcend the confines of academia by:

(i) Shedding light on the ecological, socio-spatial, economic and environmental injustices neoliberal conservation generates or reinforces.

(ii) Unraveling the role of different actors in market-based conservation and how they frame their support or opposition.

(iii) Unraveling the practical challenges that people directly affected by neoliberal conservation are facing on the ground by shedding light on the increasing social resistance to market environmentalism through reporting empirical work on several rural and urban areas across England.

(iv) Contributing to a radical rethinking of nature-society relationship by highlighting the contested character of the neoliberalization of nature and the fact that social struggles over land rights and the use of and access to land and nature lie at its core.



Policy Briefs

  1. Biodiversity Offsetting in the UK: A Beginner’s Guide. CESINE Biodiversity Offsetting Policy Brief No. 1.
  2. Biodiversity Offsetting in the UK: Implications and Policy Recommendations. CESINE Biodiversity Offsetting Policy Brief No. 2.
  3. Biodiversity offsetting in England: social implications. CESINE Biodiversity Offsetting Policy Brief No. 3.



Marie Curie Individual Intra-European Fellowship (IEF) within the 7th European Community Framework Programme Grant PIEF-GA-2013-622631, CESINE.




Jose Cortes-Vazquez: Protected Areas and the Expansion of Neoliberal Capitalism in Europe (PAENCE)

About the project

The aim of this project is to analyse the impact of the neoliberal agenda in environmental policies in post-crisis Europe. Through the study of cases in Spain and Ireland, my goal is to identify and understand the technologies of government and power relations that are behind the changes and transformations in nature conservation.

This research project involves interviewing and examining the network of individuals and institutions that are linked to the management of one different NPAs in the Region of Andalusia (Spain) and Connemara (Ireland). This includes: EU environment, agriculture and development experts and policy-makers; people working for national, regional and mixed bureaucracies with responsibilities in environmental conservation, sustainable development and the implementation of EU Common Agriculture Policy at national level; members of international and national conservation NGOs with a record of engaging with these NPAs; Park officials and experts from University Departments and National Research Councils with research interests in these areas; and members of ecotourism lobbies.


(in preparation) Cortes-Vazquez, J. and Apostolopoulou, E. ‘Rights to Nature: alternative political ecologies in post-crisis Europe’ We are coordinating a Special Issue for the journal Geoforum

(in preparation) Cortes-Vazquez, J. ‘Post-crisis natures: neoliberal governmentality, natural protected areas and the State’ Geoforum

(submitted) Cortes-Vazquez, J. ‘The end of the idyll? Natural protected areas and amenity migrations in natural protected areas.’ Journal of Rural Studies

(submitted) Cortes-Vazquez, J. and Ruiz-Ballesteros, E. ‘Practicing Natures: New human-environment engagements in natural protected areas in Ecuador and Spain’. Conservation and Society

(submitted) Revez, A; Cortes-Vazquez, J. and Floods, S. ‘Environmental flood impacts: a case for reframing policy in Ireland’. Environment and Planning A

(submitted) Zafra-Calvo N.; Pascual U.; Brockington D; Coolsaet B; Cortes-Vazquez J; Gross-Camp N; Palomo I; Burgess N ‘Towards Social Equity in Protected Areas: A Call for Inclusive Indicators’. BioScience

(forthcoming) Cortes-Vazquez, J. ‘De la naturaleza como mercancía a la naturaleza como empresa’. In O. Beltran, B. Santamarina and A. Coca (eds.) Antropología Ambiental. Estado de la cuestión. Valencia: Institució Alfons el Magnànim

(2016) Cortes-Vazquez, J; Jimenez-Esquinas, G. and Sanchez-Carretero, C. ‘Heritage and Social Participation’ Anthropology Today (accepted, in press)

(2016) Burlando, C; Seagle, C; Aijazi, O. and Cortes-Vazquez, J. ‘Matters of value: Natural Capital, Cultural Diversity and Rights-based Governance’ IUCN Commision on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy newsletter (4/4/2016)

(2014) Cortes-Vazquez, J. ‘A natural life: neo-rurals and the power of everyday practices in protected areas’ Journal of Political Ecology, 21: 493-515

(2014) Cortés-Vázquez, J.A., Valcuende, J.M. y Alexiades, M. ‘Espacios Protegidos en una Europa en Crisis: Contexto para una Antropología del Eco-Neoliberalismo’ En J. Prat (Coords.) Periferias, Fronteras y Diálogos, Tarragona, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, 2819-2833


Marie Curie Individual Intra-European Fellowship (IEF) within the 7th European Community Framework Programme Grant PIEF-GA-2013-623409, PAENCE.


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