Abstract Many coastal communities benefit from a lively and profitable economy based on tourism but, simultaneously, cannot rely on the ecosystem services (ESs) provided locally, which have become insufficient because of increasing demand. In the Apennines, a mountain range in central Italy, coastal areas are characterised by growing population and tourist demands and upstream lands mainly supply ecosystem goods and services. Mechanisms to re-distribute resources or payments for ESs would be helpful to foster the sustainability of regional systems. However, currently, there is neither an appreciation for such services nor institutions responsible for addressing this problem. In this paper, we analyse and rank the ecosystem services provided by the forests of two river basins to assign economic values to four ecosystem services relevant for distinguishing provision and benefit areas: soil protection, water retention, drinking water supply and CO2 sequestration. A simplified methodology was developed for contexts with poor environmental datasets. The aim was to provide ecological information to recognise ESs and encourage effective governance of ESs at a regional level. The results showed that the indirect value of the considered ecosystem services was three times higher than the direct value, and a spatial mismatch emphasised a “debt” in coastal areas from upstream areas for selected ecosystem services.