‘Ecological infrastructure’ and ‘green infrastructure’

Ecological infrastructure refers to naturally functioning ecosystems that deliver valuable services to people, such as fresh water, climate regulation, soil formation and disaster risk reduction. It is the nature-based equivalent of built or hard infrastructure, and is just as important for providing services and underpinning socio-economic development.

Ecological infrastructure includes, for instance, healthy mountain catchments, rivers, wetlands, coastal dunes, and nodes and corridors of natural habitat, which together form a network of interconnected structural elements in the landscape.

Although biodiversity is fundamental to many ecosystem services, not all elements of our rich biodiversity can be considered ecological infrastructure. The concept of ecological infrastructure should therefore be seen as complementing, rather than replacing, other arguments for conserving biodiversity, such as those that invoke moral imperatives and intrinsic value.

The term should also be distinguished from ‘green infrastructure’, which is broadly seen as any infrastructure that is good for the environment and promotes sustainable development. This could include public transport systems that reduce the use of fossil fuels, renewable energy infrastructure such as wind farms, or (perhaps more typically) environmentally-friendly components of built infrastructure, such as permeable pavements, green roofs and artificial ecosystems like constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment. There are some definitions of green infrastructure that have a wider meaning that includes natural ecosystems, along with green spaces such as parks and private gardens. Ecological infrastructure may therefore be a component of some definitions of green infrastructure, but can be clearly understood in its own right and as distinct from parks, private gardens, or environmentally friendly components of built infrastructure.

The text on this page is extracted from a factsheet on ecological infrastructure. Additional resources on ecological infrastructure include: