Tools developed to capture the full value of the natural world

26 June 2014

UK researchers have provided new information and developed tools to help a range of decision-makers understand the wider value of our ecosystems and the services they offer us.

The work is published today in a report entitled 'UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow-on' (UK NEAFO). It builds on the findings of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA), published in 2011.

In 2011, the UK NEA concluded that the natural world and its ecosystems are important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision-making.

However, the relationship between our 'natural capital' and the wider economy is complex. By mapping the relationships between ecosystem services and major sectors of the economy, such as agriculture or food manufacture, we can begin to understand how changes to our ecosystems will affect the economy.

A Natural Capital Asset Check tool developed by the UK NEAFO will help with this process. It can be used to consider thresholds, trade-offs and the performance and resilience of our ecosystems.

The UK NEAFO also uses an updated model of changes in how we use the land to quantify the benefits of different forest planting strategies. The model includes changes in agricultural production and farm incomes, net greenhouse gas emissions, recreational visits, water quality and biodiversity.

The report also improves the treatment of marine shelf ecosystems and how they're affected by changes in land use.

Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC's chief executive, said:

"UK environmental science leads the world in excellence. NERC has worked with a wide range of stakeholders through the Living With Environmental Change partnership to bring together the best UK environmental scientists to build on the 2011 National Ecosystem Assessment for this follow-on work. The resulting transformative report will make the use of natural capital and ecosystem awareness a cornerstone to decision and policy making at a range of scales relevant to the UK.

The report will put the UK and its environmental scientists at the heart of understanding the relationship between the value of our environment, the services it provides, and its role in the conventional economic analyses that inform decision making."

The UK NEAFO was commissioned to address the UK Government White Paper on the Natural Environment - 'The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature'. The White Paper aims to put nature at the heart of our decision-making by:

  1. Investigating how to get the greatest benefits for people from our ecosystems and the services they provide.
  2. Developing practical tools to help decision-makers to apply the lessons of the UK NEA.

The UK NEAFO was a collaborative effort between NERC, the Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs, the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the Economic & Social Research Council, and the Welsh Government.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411516
07917 557215