In Europe, 2013 (the last year for which data is available) saw tightening standards under the EU Water Framework Directive drive strong interest in natural infrastructure, especially among UK-based private water utilities seeking cost-savings. EU decision-makers also passed an array of watershed investment-friendly policies including a new Green Infrastructure Strategy integrating natural infrastructure into existing agricultural and regional funding mechanisms, and a new EU financing facility for publicly and privately led natural infrastructure projects. However, political uncertainty and varying country-level commitment to implementation could limit these initiatives’ reach.


At a Glance: Watershed Investment in Europe

  2011 2013
Operational programs 15 44
Programs in development 3 8
Value $2.7M $60.8M
Total land area managed for watershed services (hectares) 65,030 1.8M
  • Watershed investment across the EU expanded considerably in 2012 and 2013, with more than $60M transacted in 2013.
  • New pilots in the UK were a major source of growth, driven by private water company demand and backed by receptive policy. The island nation accounted for a third of European programs and nearly two-thirds ($24.3M) of all European transactions.
  • Overall, program investors committed $45.6M to watershed investment between 2014 and 2020. Thirty-eight percent of buyers pledged future funding, a relatively high proportion compared to other regions around the world. But much of that money is front-loaded in 2014 and 2015. Just one program reported secure funding for three or more years.
  • Programs in Europe frequently estimate cost-benefit ratios and cost-effectiveness of watershed interventions. As a result, many programs have been able to conclusively demonstrate the benefits of IWS, compared to alternatives such as built water treatment infrastructure. A major driver is the UK Water Services Regulation Authority (known as “Ofwat”) requiring a strong evidence base for approval of watershed investment.
  • At the EU level, policymakers appear ready to correct a long-standing mismatch between water policy and agricultural, rural development, and energy policy frameworks. More than $167B in Common Agricultural Policy funding between 2014 and 2020 has been committed to subsidies for land management practices that safeguard and enhance healthy ecosystems. Common goals shared by new watershed and biodiversity agendas could also open up additional funding for IWS.

Related links:

Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace’s Watershed Connect Program Inventory:

Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace’s State of Watershed Investment 2014 report, Chapter 7: