16/05/2017

Natural Capital – Working with ecosystems to generate economic growth

Robert Spencer & Max Heaver from Perfect Circle explore the concept of Natural Capital and the impact it has on economic development. 


Beyond the obvious real estate value, many authorities are recognising that their land assets make vital contributions to the growth and resilience of the local economy.  

Natural Capital Assessment (NCA) provides a framework for determining the direct and indirect ecosystem services flowing from the ‘stock’ of natural capital assets (such as trees, green spaces and natural resources). 

NCA provides a means to communicate the contribution that the natural environment plays in supporting economic vitality and social wellbeing.  It can also be used to evaluate how investment in green infrastructure or flood defences might support or compromise the capacity of ecosystems to function.

Developing a natural capital assessment with monetary values provides a common language for different sections within public bodies to discuss land use decision-making.  

For example, in recent work for Kent County Council, we developed a natural capital valuation using a robust framework for understanding the benefits of green space and its value in accommodating significant projected growth.

– Robert Spencer & Max Heaver, Perfect Circle

Such valuation exercises can be used to help shape spatial planning; inform decision making around infrastructure delivery; and prioritise investment into habitat management/enhancement initiatives.

Mindful of the economic, political and environmental issues facing public bodies; at Perfect Circle we work collaboratively with our framework partners and clients to find creative solutions.

3Fold

We have identified a threefold approach to natural capital accounting for public bodies:

Demonstrating value and securing funding

This typically shows how the value of an area’s natural capital underpins the functioning of the economy.  By demonstrating the value of sustaining biodiversity, regulating water quality and maintaining aesthetic appeal, public bodies can initiate or encourage investment in green infrastructure and payments for ecosystem services schemes (e.g. payments to upstream landowners to cost-effectively mitigate flood risk).

Developing policy and delivering on it

An understanding of ecosystem service flows, particularly across authority and land ownership boundaries can provide a very effective case for collaboration between public bodies on green infrastructure development and improved land management.  This in turn can help establish priorities, promote smarter spatial targeting of investment and help improve project design.  It also provides a useful body of knowledge with which to engage stakeholders and communicate the rationale of development decisions.

Optimising land use

Natural capital accounts can be incredibly valuable for revealing the connection between a land management practice and the loss or gain of ecosystem services as a result.  It can help take into account the impact of new pressures on ecosystem services and highlight trade-offs, e.g. between water quality, biodiversity and aesthetics changes in land use conversion.

Natural capital accounting offers opportunities for cost efficiency, effective public-private partnerships and innovative development.  At a time of scarce resources, and with an imperative to provide infrastructure and new services cost-effectively, can we afford to overlook the value of our existing natural assets?

Written by Robert Spencer & Max Heaver from Perfect Circle. 

Perfect Circle is a joint venture formed by Pick Everard, Gleeds and AECOM, set up to realise value and opportunity for public authorities, Scape and communities across the UK. 

Perfect Circle leads the Built Environment Consultancy Services framework. 

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