Request > Incorporating ecosystem services in mitigation hierarchy policy

How can we improve adherence to the mitigation hierarchy using ecosystem services with particular focus on the avoid stage?

Requester: Office Français de la Biodiversité (OFB) – French Biodiversity Agency

Type of request: Knowledge Synthesis

This request aims to explore and identify existing knowledge, gaps and trade-offs in the context of the implementation of the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, reduce, restore, compensate). Particularly by trying to tackle the challenge of the effective application of the first step, “avoid”, in the mitigation hierarchy and impact assessment to enhance biodiversity conservation and understand risks and potential ecosystem service trade-offs.

Reference: Request CfR.5/2020/2

Expert Working Group
  • Sini Savilaakso (University of Helsinki, Finland), Co-chair
  • Joanna Storie (Estonian University of Life Sciences), Co-chair
  • Daniel Depellegrin (Landscape Analysis and Management Laboratory, Department of Geography, University of Girona, Spain)
  • Danica Lacarac (The National Green Roof Association, Serbia)
  • Sylvie Campagne (Station Biologique de Roscoff, CNRS and the Sorbonne University, Paris, France)
  • Beatriz Caitana Da Silva (Centre for Social Studies – CES, Portugal)
  • Davide Geneletti (University of Trento, Italy)
  • Ifigeneia Kagkalou (Democritus University of Thrace, Greece)
  • Francesca  Leucci (Bologna/Rotterdam/Hanburg Universities)
  • Sandra Luque (INRAE – Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement, France
Methods Expert Group
  • Alister Scott (University of Northumbria, UK)
  • Lyudmyla Zahvoyska (Ukrainian National Forestry University, Ukraine / University of Valladolid, Spain)
Contact points
  • KCB Focal Point: Onno Knol, Agnes Zolyomi (deputy)
  • EMB Contact Point: Karla E. Locher

The Eklipse Expert Working Group (EWG) reports on how ecosystem services/natural capital as concepts foster the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity within planning processes in sectors that are likely to have a direct impact on biodiversity.

The evidence report shows room for improvement in understanding and implementing the concept of mitigation hierarchy in practice. There is a need to ensure the strengthening of the implementation of the mitigation hierarchy, especially the avoid stage, to protect remaining natural ecosystems as they are irreplaceable habitats. To achieve effective avoidance at the country level, the EWG recommend a holistic approach that targets the underlying drivers of avoidance (e.g., policies and regulations) alongside improving practices to use the mitigation hierarchy. The recommendations below are derived from the evidence we found both in the literature and through expert engagement.


In France, the principles of the hierarchy have been reaffirmed by the law “Reconquest of biodiversity, nature and landscapes” of 2016. Each project, plan or program leading an impact assessment is requested to avoid, reduce, and then mitigate its effects on biodiversity. Concerning the first stage of the hierarchy, ecosystem services are explicitly mentioned in the law. To be authorised, a project, plan, or program must demonstrate the correct implementation of the hierarchy, including the first step, “avoid”, in the impact assessment. The matching authorisation process is the stage of decision making that is concerned by the requester.

The main goal of the request is to foster the consideration of ecosystem services at the first stage (avoid) of the mitigation in the authorisation process. This request seeks to identify transferable tools (potentially based on best practice) to adequate consider ES and natural capital of relevant projects, plans, etc., within the context of the mitigation hierarchy.

The main goal of the request, put forward by the French Agency for Biodiversity, is two-folded:

1. to identify EU-wide cases and practices of considering/addressing ecosystem services in impact assessments, mitigation hierarchies or similar processes
2. to develop guidance on best practices and information on: 

  • if and how ecosystem services consideration/operationalisation can be integrated into impact assessments and mitigation hierarchies to enhance biodiversity conservation and understand risks and potential ecosystem service trade-offs.
  • what kind of outcomes, impacts, challenges, solutions, etc., may occur when the ecosystem services concept is used in the impact assessment, mitigation hierarchies and
    similar processes.
  • available and suitable tools to help the avoid stage or ways to enable planners to consideration of various options during plan preparation.

The activities should focus on the mitigation hierarchy “avoid” stage.


Date request received: April/2020

End of Call for Knowledge (CfK): 11/12/2020

Call for experts (CfE): 12/05/2021

Methods protocol open review: 9/11/2021

Final evidence report open review: 20/12/2022

The first step of the mitigation hierarchy consists in avoiding that a project, a plan or a program negatively affects biodiversity, including ecosystem services. In practice, the implementation of the hierarchy shows that the first step is neither correctly applied nor well-documented. A common mistake is the lack of consideration for ecosystem services at the “avoid” (but not only) hierarchy stage. The knowledge gap does not seem to explain this state of play because the scientific community developed many tools and methods to assess ecosystem services over the last decades. We advocate that the development of a simple, ready-to-use decision-making tool could increase the consideration for ecosystem services. A preliminary step should clarify whether and how the consideration of ecosystem services fosters the preservation of biodiversity. The Eklipse approach would be very useful for reviewing and synthesising the existing practices in EU member states.

Scoping phase

The Document of Work (DoW) described the results of the scoping activities and the background of the request and was the basis for the call for experts.

Answering the request

Selection of an Expert Working Group

To answer this request, Eklipse sent out a Call for Expertise (CfE) and received 33 applications, from which 12 experts were selected in February 2021. These experts covered a broad range of expertise, gender and geographical representation to form the Eklipse Expert Working Group (EWG). Two experts dropped out in the beginning due to unavailability.

Methods Protocol

The next step was for the EWG to develop a methodological protocol based on the DoW, including the scientific aspect of a thorough literature search and possible appraisal.

The methods protocol was open for public review until the 9th of November, 2021. From the consultation process, six reviews were received. The EWG answered and integrated the reviewer’s comments, and the final version of the methods protocol with be downloaded in the Final outputs section (above).


The draft report developed by the expert working group to answer the question of “how we can improve adherence to the mitigation hierarchy using ecosystem services with particular focus on the avoid stage?”  was released for external review in  December 2022. The EWG has integrated the comments from this process, and the final report is publicly available on our website.