Can we use recovery timescales to define good environmental status?

Robert B. Thorpe, Michael Heath, Christopher P. Lynam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Ecosystem-based management is mandated by international legislation, including the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in the EU. This introduces a requirement for marine environments to achieve “Good Environmental Status” or GES, implying that the ecosystem is in a healthy and biodiverse state which does not limit the management options of future generations. Indicators of GES typically refer to the current or past state; however, an alternative approach that defines GES in terms of being able to recover to the appropriate reference unperturbed state within 30 years if human activities cease has been suggested. In this study we evaluate this “longest recovery timescales” (LRT) approach using the StrathE2E2 “big picture” model, an end-to-end ecosystem model designed to evaluate both top-down and bottom-up effects at an ecosystem level. We ask whether the approach is enough to prevent severe depletion as well as ensuring recovery at some future time. We also ask whether implementation is practical given uncertainties in defining appropriate baselines for recovery, defining what recovery looks like relative to this baseline, and taking account of natural variability. We find that the main issues with implementation of LRT are a) defining the appropriate baseline for recovery in a changing environment, and b) ensuring that there is stakeholder acceptance of any recommended actions in the event that they differ substantially from current policy. Subject to these two issues, we conclude that the LRT method is a valuable addition to management in support of achieving GES alongside existing methods that focus on current or near-future states.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110984
Number of pages17
JournalEcological Indicators
Early online date27 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2023


  • North Sea
  • fisheries
  • environmental status
  • modelling
  • StrathE2E


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