In recent times, use of market-based instruments to facilitate enhanced protection or production of ecosystem services has achieved a high public profile. However, much work remains to apply these tools in practice. Particular issues include definition and measurement of ecosystem services, development of institutions and mechanisms to facilitate trade and integration of these instruments into the broader natural resource management agenda and toolbox. In this paper these issues are explored with respect to pilot markets for ecosystem services in three case study catchments. Emphasis is placed on pilot selection rationale and identification of key facilitative mechanisms and institutions.