Scoping report on metrics and standards for water outcomes from Nature-based Solutions

Deryck Irving, Head of Place Innovation at the University of Stirling Hydro Nation Chair, reports on research into water metrics and standards and the potential for water-related ecosystems service markets in Scotland.


The report ‘Water Metrics and Standards | Review of current approaches, challenges and issues’, published on 31 August 2023, revealed that, when compared with England, water-related ecosystems service markets in Scotland are fairly immature and there is a relative absence of regulatory or economic drivers which will make things happen with private investors and buyers. However, the relative immaturity of systems and approaches allows us to prioritise action in the areas and with the stakeholders who are most ready to engage.

There is still need for research and evidence of water outcomes from Nature-based Solutions (NbS) interventions and we probably need to start with an in-depth review of the existing evidence base to allow us to identify and address clear evidence gaps and work to make evidence available and usable by all stakeholders.


Action is needed to make any system for NbS markets as straightforward
and predictable as possible for all the key players.


Funders and investors need portfolios of projects at a scale that make sense for their priorities and scheme developers (and those seeking to buy ecosystem services) need clear guidance on how to forecast impacts and benefits and how to measure/assess impact as projects mature.


Extract from Report on Water Metrics and Standards


The desirability of stacking benefits – both to make the case for water outcomes and to increase the viability of NbS schemes – was a common theme across the research interviews. As the ‘non-carbon’ metrics and markets develop, work is still needed on additionality and stacking and developing robust and acceptable methodologies to recognise multiple outcomes from ‘single’ interventions. There is also a need to explore how multi-outcome investment portfolios can be developed and marketed – especially given the feedback that many investors are currently primarily interested in ‘charismatic carbon’ approaches to wider benefits.


The Water Metrics and Standards working group

The report captures learning from a short scoping study carried out in late 2022 which is the first phase of a study initiated by the Water Metrics and Standards working group made up of SEPA, NatureScot, Forest Research, IUCN UK Peatland Programme, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and University of Stirling.


The aim of the wider study is to identify, or develop, metrics and standards which:
Recognise and value multifunctional benefits of nature-based and land management solutions Encourage and support private ‘green finance’ investment
(including as part of hybrid finance approaches)
Allow public finance to be more effectively and efficiently targeted
(including as part of hybrid finance approaches)








The scoping study focused on the current stage of development of water standards, metrics and markets – with reference to their potential applicability in Scotland. The study expressly did not cover carbon sequestration nor biodiversity outcomes. Attention was given, however, to the need for any water metrics and standards to be compatible with and operate alongside these ‘other’ metrics and standards with due consideration to the challenges of demonstrating additionality and accommodating trade-offs.


We are looking for your feedback

The report makes seven recommendations for action for the Water Metrics and Standards working group.

  1. R1 Establish a Water Outcomes Technical Group
  2. R2 Explore market requirements with funders, investors and buyers
  3. R3 Understand research/evidence needs around NbS and water outcomes
  4. R4 Support the development of guidance and tools
  5. R5 Support the development of market drivers in Scotland
  6. R6 Develop Scottish Demonstrators
  7. R7 Promote the establishment of national, regional and local governance and delivery structures for NbS at catchment scale

The working group is keen to get your ideas on what should be prioritised along with any suggestions for locations, projects etc which could be engaged in taking forward the recommendations.  

The report can be found at https://www.hydronationchair.scot/projectoutputs

Please have a look at the report and give us your feedback using the associated anonymous survey. The survey closes at 5pm on 15th December 2023.

You can also join the series of workshops exploring Options for Developing a Market for the Water Environment, the first is on 30th November.


Author’s note

This is a rapidly evolving and important area of activity. Since the initial research was carried out, the projects and initiatives I engaged with have moved forward and there are new initiatives emerging all the time.

Through my work in Fife, I’m particularly aware of the Dreel Burn Investment Readiness (DBIRP) partnership which is one of the suite of projects funded by the Facility for Investment Ready Nature in Scotland (FIRNS) grant scheme. I’m also involved in the British Standards Institution’s current work on Nature Investment Standards – which again highlights the relative immaturity of measures and standards for many of the key water-related benefits.