Local Natural Capital Accounting: Does it deliver useful management information?

In the 25 Year Environment Plan the UK government has set out an ambitious program to achieve net improvements in England’s environment over the course of this generation. After decades of environmental degradation, resulting often from neglecting natural capital in decision-making, the 25 Year Environment Plan represents an important step towards placing the protection of the environment at the top of the political agenda.

Introduction

The growing consideration of environmental issues in decision-making has been motivated by increasing evidence that environmental preservation is necessary to sustain and contribute to human well-being and economic prosperity. Natural Capital (or natural assets) – the bulk of habitats and ecosystems that underpin our natural environment – provide a variety of ecosystem goods and services (e.g. clean air and water, food, timber, recreation opportunities, biodiversity etc.) that people appreciate.

Most of these services, though, are ‘invisible’ in the sense that they are often overlooked by decision-makers. While there is some ecological knowledge available about the flows of ecosystem goods and services provided by the Natural Capital, evidence is only partial. Furthermore, the monetary value of such ecosystem goods and services is often unknown, due to the fact that only a small part of the goods and services provided by nature are exchanged in formal market settings.

One way to make the costs of environmental degradation and the benefits of environmental protection visible is through the development of Natural Capital Accounts. Natural Capital Accounts record changes in the extent and condition of natural assets over time, measure the resulting variation in the flow of ecosystem goods and services provided and, through economic valuation techniques, allow the quantification (in monetary terms) of such changes in service flows.

This report reviews recent efforts and UK scoping and pilot case studies of natural capital accounts developed for organisations in the environmental sector. This project, part of the NERC-funded programme SWEEP (South West Partnership for Environmental and Economic Prosperity), focuses on critically assessing the advantages and disadvantages (potential limitations) for decision-making of using ‘standard approaches’ to natural capital accounting at a local, organisational scale. It also discusses possible options to overcome the identified challenges, in order to make the natural capital approach more useful to inform decision-making. For this project, we focused on Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks as our case study areas and considered the entire geographical area within the National Park boundaries.

Extended Summary

Download a copy of the Extended Summary of the report.

Report

Download a copy of the report prepared by SWEEP for the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park Authorities.

Report to Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park Authorities
Published: December 2019
Michela Faccioli
Sara Zonneveld
Charles Tyler
Brett Day
University of Exeter

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