What is the natural world worth? Can you put a price on birdsong?

These are among the questions to be addressed by a new project at the University of Exeter, which aims to discover how economics can help protect the environment.

Economics and conservation are often seen as unrelated, but the project will try to place an economic value on biodiversity so it can be taken into account and become part of individual, corporate and governmental decision making.

Dragon Capital and the university have together committed £1.6m over the next five years, and a newly appointed Professor will take the role of “Dragon Capital Chair in Biodiversity Economics”.

Lord Myners of Truro, Chancellor of the University of Exeter, called Dragon Capital’s support a “visionary act of philanthropy”. SWEEP Director and Director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute at the University of Exeter, Professor Ian Bateman, will be Principal Investigator on the project.

Dominic Scriven, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Dragon Capital, said:

“How can markets price the absence of birdsong? How much are people willing to pay to maintain the existence of, or be compensated for the loss of, biodiversity in all its forms?

“It has never been more important for businesses and individuals to understand the impact they are making on society to ensure the conservation of our planet.”

Mr Scriven, an Exeter graduate who studied Sociology and Law at the university, added:

“We regard sustainable development as a fundamental aspect of business management, and it is core to our values at Dragon Capital.

“We are therefore delighted to be making this combined commitment and look forward to working with the university to find answers to the key questions that too few people are asking.”

Lord Myners said:

“Our combined investment will concentrate resource into an important area where economics meets ecology.

“The Dragon Capital Chair will encourage market behaviours that foster the preservation of the natural environment.”

The project will address the central question of whether there is any correlation between biodiversity and the success of the economy and whether individuals and organisations can, and should, place an economic value on biodiversity.

As part of the applied research, the Dragon Capital Chair will develop trading platforms to advance price measurements of biodiversity. Individuals and businesses will have access to counterparties offering a wide array of conservation solutions in-country, following through on their stated preferences.

The international programme will cover both developed and developing countries, with a particular interest in the United Kingdom and in South East Asia (especially Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bhutan).

The research will also influence intergovernmental bodies such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on the design of economic incentives that allow businesses to pursue biodiversity investments while upholding financial duties.