Natural Capital Approach

Natural Capital refers to our environmental assets (i.e. the ocean, land, freshwater, air, the species and habitats they contain) and the processes and functions that occur within them which provide value for people. The Natural Capital Approach captures the various elements of this complex environmental-economic relationship, by bringing environmental considerations into decision-making.

Valuing Nature
Prof Ian Bateman OBE, SWEEP Director

Nature Capital Thinking
Prof Sir Dieter Helm CBE, Chair of the Natural Capital Committee

As a framework for decision support, the Natural Capital Approach clearly offers the potential for significant improvements over commonly applied alternatives such as reliance upon markets and prices.

Professor Ian Bateman OBE

It is now widely recognised that the natural environment and the economy are two complex systems which are inextricably bound together. The economy is a subset of the environment and is wholly dependent upon its inputs. In turn the economy massively affects the quality of the environment. It is essential to transition to a form of decision-making which recognises this inter-dependence.

The Natural Capital Approach:
Ecological and economic perspectives

SWEEP Director Prof Ian Bateman, and Dame Georgina Mace DBE, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems, and Head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London gave a talk (below) in 2018. This explored some of the emerging methodologies used to measure natural capital and to assess and measure ecological services and benefits more fully in economic analysis.

SWEEP resources

Local Natural Capital Accounting: does it deliver useful management information? A case study of Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, June 2020

Applying the Natural Capital Approach to decision making for the marine environment, 2019

The potential of ecosystem services and natural capital approaches to support decision making for improved environmental outcomes is much valued. However, it is well documented that there remains a disconnect between academic research and actual integration into policy frameworks and subsequent decision making.

A Five Capitals Model approach – building a business case for investment in nature for health, 2022

This resource demonstrates how the Five Capitals Model approach, backed by relevant evidence, can provide a convincing and credible framework for strengthening such business cases, placing natural capital and human health benefits at the centre of interest. As such, this document has the potential to be a valuable tool for stakeholders delivering nature-based health outcomes across a range of applications from strategic development thinking, resource planning, prioritisation and delivery of projects, monitoring and evaluation activities and outcomes and the development of funding proposals.


NEVO – Natural environment valuation online tool for existing and altered land use across England and Wales

GeoNode – North Devon Marine Natural Capital Plan GeoNode – web based mapping and data sharing

ORVal – Outdoor Recreation Valuation tool providing information that might be useful to government, businesses and communities in understanding the benefits that are derived from accessible greenspace in England, for example, as part of strategic or project appraisal, policy evaluation or natural capital accounting.

Further information

  • The Natural Capital framework for sustainably efficient and equitable decision making, 2020, Bateman & Mace, Nature Sustainability
    The concept of ‘natural capital’ is gaining traction internationally as recognition grows of the central role of the natural environment in sustaining economic and social well-being. It is therefore encouraging to see the first signs of a ‘natural capital approach’ to decision making being accepted within government policy processes and the private sector. However, there are multiple different understandings of this ‘approach’, many of which misuse or omit key features of its foundations in natural science and economics. To address this, we present a framework for natural capital analysis and decision making that links ecological and economic perspectives.
  • Enabling a Natural Capital Approach guidance, 2021
    This guidance is intended for those looking to learn about natural capital and to apply it. It forms part of a suite of Defra resources collectively called Enabling a Natural Capital Approach’ (ENCA). ENCA is recommended for use by HM Treasury’s Green Book: appraisal and evaluation in central government Green Book: appraisal and evaluation in central government and represents supplementary guidance to the Green Book.
  • Natural Capital Committee: natural capital workbook, 2017
    This practical guide is aimed at anyone who wants to use natural capital approaches in making decisions about the natural environment. It is intended to support decision makers, including planners, communities and landowners, but has particular relevance for place based decisions.
  • The Scottish Forum on Natural Capital has developed this signposting page
    to help you to access briefings, tools, resources & guidance to drive understanding of natural capital’s importance for your organisation’s board members and practitioners.
  • The Natural Capital Committee
    an independent advisory committee which ran from 2012 to 2020.The NCC advised the government on natural capital, including ecosystems, species, freshwaters, soils, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions.
  • Ecosystems Knowledge Network
    whose purpose is to equip people to deliver wellbeing and prosperity through a healthy natural environment. Enabling people to work more effectively, learning from one another across the public, private, third and academic sectors.