NATURESCAPES awarded Horizon Grant

Helicopter view of green zone between buildings
Photo: Weixiang - Zeitgeist Photos

The NATURESCAPES research project into the assemblage of nature based solutions (NBS) has been awarded a Horizon Grant of 6.5 million euro in total. While singular nature-based solutions - such as green roofs or community gardens - bring multiple societal and environmental benefits, we lack an understanding of the synergies and trade-offs that multiple NBS bring. A consortium of researchers from several universities and NGO’s will be investigating this from November 2023 in several case studies in the Global South and the Global North. Ideally, this will also lead to a manual to make local naturescapes work, in coordination with the relevant stakeholders, including previously disadvantaged groups. 

We are really delighted to have secured the funding for the NATURESCAPES project which will build on the excellent track record Utrecht University has in research on nature-based solutions to address the key challenge of how such interventions can work at the landscape scale, says Harriet Bulkeley, project lead. As more and more NBS are being implemented in cities, their hinterlands and coastal areas, we lack an understanding of how this all adds up - are we creating synergies and integrated action across different sustainability challenges, from climate change to biodiversity loss, well-being to economic development, or are there unexpected and unintended trade-offs now emerging that we need to consider?

Transformative change for climate, nature and people 

There are, for example, a lot of projects in South-America regarding the renaturing of mangrove forests, because they can store a lot of carbon, says Utrecht University economist Katrin Merfeld who, together with Utrecht’s Helen Toxopeus, is also involved in the NATURESCAPES project. However, with more mangroves and more water in which they grow, there will also be more mosquitos – with a risk of more malaria cases. That will have a negative effect on the people that do not have the means to protect themselves against this. So, there is a trade-off with on the one hand a benefit for nature and society as a whole but worse health conditions for some.

The NATURESCAPES are about viewing things more holistic

Most of the Nature Based Solutions are isolated 'pocket solutions', Merfeld explains. But they need to be connected, for instance to really contribute to biodiversity. And we need to understand how they can work together. Especially as various NBS are implemented with limited access to or at the expense of vulnerable groups, it needs to be understood how the overarching implementation of NBS can be strengthened in order to generate more inclusive and sustainable development that is socially just. So, in general, the NATURESCAPES are about viewing things more holistic.

Together we hope to be able to contribute to the key challenge of ensuring that NBS are not just nice to have, but can contribute to transformative change for climate, nature and people with a legacy that endures over time, says Bulkeley. 

Research partners

The project is led by prof. Harriet Bulkeley from Utrecht University, partnering with the Central European University, Nature Conservancy Europe, Trinity College Dublin, Lund University, ICS University of Lisbon, the WWF and together with the consultancy Grupo Leara who have a track record of experience in evaluating NBS all over the world. The project also involves collaboration with local partners and communities in Colombia, Peru and the USA as well as Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and Romania. 

The researchers from Utrecht University are affiliated to the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and the Utrecht University School of Economics (U.S.E.).