Defra launches tool for calculating natural capital

An online guide to help businesses, including farmers and landowners, better understand the value of their natural capital assets has been launched by Defra.

The new guidance is intended to help policymakers, businesses, landowners and public sector organisations make decisions that protect and boost natural capital.

The tools are not designed specifically for farmers, but elements of the guidance could help them to better understand the effect of changing land use.

See also: Natural capital on farms: what is it and how to value it. 

It may also help farmers looking to open up new business opportunities by attracting financial payments for the delivery of ecosystem services.

This is very much an emerging market, but examples include Wessex Water paying farmers to grow cover crops to reduce nitrogen leaching into the watercourse at Poole Harbour.

Background

The government is keen that a natural capital approach is put at the heart of decision-making to help protect and enhance the environment and the full range of “services” nature offers, including food, clean air and water, wildlife, energy and recreation.

The value of the environment and natural capital is routinely understated, it says.

For example, the Office for National Statistics estimate that England’s woods and forests deliver a value of services estimated at £2.3bn annually.

But of this figure, only a small proportion – 10% – is in timber values.

The rest of the value comes from the “hidden” benefits to society, such as human recreation and air pollution removal, which improve health, and carbon sequestration, which can help combat climate change.

The online resource has been published to bring together evidence and guidance about UK natural capital in one place for the first time.

It lists the different mapping and spreadsheet-based tools that can be used, for example, to put a value on biodiversity, recreation or woodland.