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Nested Environmental Status Assessment Tool


DEVOTES was a collaborative project funded for 4 years (2012-2016), with a total budget of € 12 million, of which €9 million is from the  7th Framework Programme of the European Union. One of the main objectives of the DEVOTES Project was to develop, test and validate innovative integrative modelling and monitoring tools to improve our understanding of ecosystem and biodiversity changes, for integration into a unique and holistic assessment.

Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer

  • How can pressures from human activities and climatic influences affect marine ecosystems?
  • What indicators are available to assess biodiversity and how can these be harmonised across Europe’s regional seas?

Implementation Context

The overall goal of DEVOTES was to test indicators proposed by the EC and to develop new ones for the assessment of Good Environmental Status (GES) at the species, habitat and ecosystem level, which will lead to a classification status of marine waters, integrating the indicators into a unified assessment of the biodiversity and the cost-effective implementation of the indicators (i.e. by defining monitoring and assessment strategies).

Aspects / Objectives

The objectives were to:

  • improve understanding of human activities impacts (cumulative, synergistic, antagonistic) and variations due to climate change on marine biodiversity, using long-term series (pelagic and benthic). This objective will identify the barriers and bottlenecks (socio-economic and legislative) that prevent the GES being achieved
  • test the indicators proposed by the EC, and develop new ones for assessment at species, habitats and ecosystems level, for the status classification of marine waters, integrating the indicators into a unified assessment of the biodiversity and the cost-effective implementation of the indicators (i.e. by defining monitoring and assessment strategies). This objective will allow for the adaptive management including (a) strategies & measures, (b) the role of industry and relevant stakeholders (including non-EU countries), and (c) provide an economic assessment of the consequences of the management practices proposed. It will build on the extensive work carried out by the Regional Seas Conventions (RSC) and Water Framework Directive, in which most of the partners were involved
  • develop/test/validate innovative integrative modelling tools to further strengthen our understanding of ecosystem and biodiversity changes (space & time); such tools can be used by statutory bodies, SMEs and marine research institutes to monitor biodiversity, applying both empirical and automatic data acquisition. This objective will demonstrate the utility of innovative monitoring systems capable of efficiently providing data on a range of parameters (including those from non-EU countries), used as indicators of GES, and for the integration of the information into a unique assessment


The work of the DEVOTES Project was separated into 7 Work Packages (plus 1 project management): Human Pressures and Climate Change (WP1), Social-economic implications for achieving GES (WP2), Indicator testing and development (WP3) Innovative modelling tools (WP4); Innovative monitoring techniques (WP5); Integrative assessment of biodiversity (WP6); Outreach, stakeholder engagement and product dissemination (WP7).

The outputs of the above work packages were combined to create a suite of software tool and applications:


The NEAT (Nest Environmental status Assessment Tool Methodology

The central principle in the NEAT method is a hierarchical, nested structure of spatial assessment units (called SAU in the software and the remainder of the report) and habitats. The order of these hierarchies is such that the assessment begins with the hierarchically nested SAUs.


Example of spatial assessment units (SAUs) that are nested and hierarchically structured.

One or more habitats is assitgned to each SAU. Thus, a specific SAU (e.g. a regional sea or an individual bay) is divided into several adjacent or disparate habitats. These habitats are themselves nested and hierarchically structured so an indicator is assigned to one individual habitat or to more than one habitat comprising all habitats from the hierarchical levels below. As such, the habitats can be seen as special kinds of SAUs that are not solely geographically defined but additionally carry information about the abiotic conditions which are the basis for the animal or plant communities inhabiting them. This is important since indicators on biodiversity typically are designed around specific species or communities which spatially are located in their own habitats. Each of the habitats (or rather SAU/habitat combinations) is then used to assign various indicators to. These indicators are often specific to individual species or biotic communities. The assessment will always strive to assess a geographically bounded space. Within this space, several living spaces can be delineated, which have different characteristics and behave in specific ways. These are the habitats within the SAU. Inside these habitats, the living organisms are found, interacting with their habitat and with each other. These are the targets of the indicators. As biodiversity is an abstract concept that cannot be measured directly, we use indicators instead to measure various aspects of what biodiversity is being represented by.

All indicators are aggregated by measuring values using the same scale. In this instance a 5-class scale (bad, poor, moderate, good, high). Each indicator can have its own set of class boundaries and its own specific indicator scale. It is even possible to have individual indicator scales for every SAU and every habitat. By default, aggregation is done across all indicators belonging to a SAU. However, NEAT is designed to do aggregation to any other entity. For example, the method can be used to aggregate all indicators of a SAU and show the status divided among the different ecosystem components of the SAU. Also, the order of aggregation is in principle not a fixed one. While currently the weighting, and thus the aggregation, is done from the SAU, to the habitat and finally to the ecosystem component, other orders are possible.

In essence, the NEAT value is the weighted average of all indicators belonging to a specific group. The normalized indicator values are weighted according to the principles described above and finally their average (arithmetical mean) is taken.

Alongside the indicator value, an estimate or calculated value of the error of the indicator value must be entered. This error value is interpreted as the standard error by NEAT. The indicator value and its standard error are used to perform a Monte Carlo simulation and repeat the assessment multiple times using these simulated values. The error then propagates through the assessment scheme and leads to different NEAT values in each simulation. As a result, this leads to a quantitative estimate of uncertainty for the original NEAT value, expressed e.g. as the percentage of values falling into the five different assessment classes.

Once all values have been input the software tool will provide you with assessments results as per the example below:

Example of the results of an Assessment

Main Outputs / Results

The main outputs of the DEVOTES Projects were a series of tools and applications which could be used to


The NEAT (Nested Environmental status Assessment Tool) software is a flexible and user-friendly desktop application implementing the biodiversity assessment tool developed in work package 6 (Integrative assessment of biodiversity) of the DEVOTES project ( The most recent version integrates an indicator catalogue (Teixeira et al. 2014) as a source for choosing predefined indicators for the biodiversity assessment. Four different setups are preconfigured for the use in the four European Regional Seas, showing only the indicators which have been assigned to the respective Sea according to Teixeira et al. (2014). A custom configuration is also possible. The software was continuously enhanced with features allowing users to modify various aspects of how the tool arrives at the environmental status of a given spatial assessment unit (SAU). This requires knowledge of the inner workings of the tool and an understanding of the assessment method. Users, who just want to use the tool with the predefined settings, can arrive at the environmental status of a SAU by choosing the marine region, entering the assessment values for the indicators chosen (along with an uncertainty measure and the classification scale) and hitting a button which then starts the calculations and shows the resulting status assessment..

As an example, NEAT avoids the dominance of certain indicators or habitats or spatial units by a proper weighting procedure. Thus, no bias is introduced into the assessment by the choice of the indicators.


Whilst the NEAT software has four pre-defined assessments named after the four European Regional Seas used as the focus of this study, custom settings can be used by selecting the ‘Non EU regional sea’ option. The tool also allows you to define your own custom hierarchies of SAUs, habitats and ecosystem components.

Although this version is implemented with biodiversity status assessment in mind, it is, however, not principally restricted to status assessment. The assessment principles used in NEAT are universal and can easily be adapted to other assessment types such as pressure assessments.

Responsible Entity

Fundacion Azti/Azti Fundazioa

Costs / Funding Source

Total Budget €12 million

EU 7th Framework contribution €9 million

Contact person

Project coordinator

Angel Borja