Fragments, functions and flows

Graham Horn

Fragments, functions and flows

Research Group

Dr Daniel Cox

Fragments, functions and flows

The benefits we gain from biological systems – 'ecosystem services' – are increasingly well understood and researched. Much emphasis until now, however, has been on their importance to rural communities. 'Fragments, functions and flows' examines their role in urban areas.

Urban areas account for only 2.8% of the Earth’s land mass, but over 50% of us live in them, and that figure keeps rising. So most people, especially in the developed world, 'receive' ecosystem services here. Urban areas also use most of the resource produced elsewhere, and generate much of the waste.

This project examines how to enhance the interaction between urban dwellers and the natural world, to reduce the demands urban systems place on the wider environment, and to increase the contribution of urban areas to the broader-scale provision of ecosystem services. This involves understanding how the relationship works between urban biodiversity and ecosystem services, how the structure of urban areas (urban form) influences these relationships, and, therefore, how existing structures can be best managed and future structures best planned.

Three neighbouring urban areas to the north of London – Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton – are the focus of the research; they share similar topographical and climatic features but encompass a variety of forms.

Principal researchers

Grants and funding

This project is part of a consortium that also involves the British Trust for Ornithology, Cranfield University and the University of Sheffield. Funded by Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS), this is a six-year (2011-2017) Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project to investigate fundamental questions about the functional role of biodiversity in key ecosystem processes and the delivery of ecosystem processes at the landscape scale, and how these are likely to change in an uncertain future.

Project website

More information on this project is available on the BESS site.