On the 22nd January 2020, an ambitious new online resource was launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to help ensure better environmental decision-making by valuing our ‘natural capital’.
For the first time, a comprehensive and integrated set of evidence and guidance about UK natural capital is now accessible from one place. It is intended to help policy makers, businesses, landowners and public sector organisations make better planning decisions in order to protect and to boost natural capital.
‘Natural capital’ is the sum of our ecosystems, providing us with food, clean air and water, wildlife, energy, wood, recreation and protection from hazards. The natural capital approach will make it easier for public and private organisations to better assess and value the environment. This will help deliver benefits including long-term flood risk reduction, boosts to wildlife, improvements to water and air quality, and opportunities for biodiversity net gain.
The value of the environment and natural capital is routinely understated. For example, the Office for National Statistics estimate that England’s woods and forests deliver a value of services estimated at £2.3 billion annually. Of this figure, only a small proportion – 10% – is in timber values. The rest of the value derives from other more ‘hidden’ benefits to society, such as human recreation and air pollution removal, which improve health, and carbon sequestration which can help combat climate change.
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