This paper develops a framework for improved mainstreaming of ecosystem science in policy and decision-making within a spatial planning context. Ecosystem science is advanced as a collective umbrella to capture a body of work and approaches rooted in social-ecological systems thinking, spawning a distinctive ecosystem terminology: ecosystem approach, ecosystem services, ecosystem services framework and natural capital. The interface between spatial planning and ecosystem science is explored as a theoretical opportunity space to improve mainstreaming processes adapting Rogers’ (2003) diffusion model. We introduce the twin concepts of hooks (linking ecosystem science to a key policy or legislative term, duty or priority that relate to a particular user group) and ‘bridges’ (linking ecosystem science to a term, concept or policy priority that is used and readily understood across multiple groups and publics) as translational mechanisms in transdisciplinary mainstreaming settings. We argue that ecosystem science can be embedded into the existing work priorities and vocabularies of spatial planning practice using these hooks and bridges. The resultant framework for mainstreaming is then tested, drawing on research funded as part of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow-On programme (2012-2014), within 4 case studies; each reflecting different capacities, capabilities, opportunities and barriers. The results reveal the importance of leadership, political buy in, willingness to experiment outside established comfort zones and social learning as core drivers supporting mainstreaming processes. Whilst there are still significant challenges in mainstreaming in spatial planning settings, the identification and use of hooks and bridges collectively, enables traction to be gained for further advances; moving beyond the status quo to generate additionality and potential behaviour change within different modes of mainstreaming practice. This pragmatic approach has global application to help improve the way nature is respected and taken account of in planning systems nationally and globally.