Projects and Partnerships Officer Neville Makan reflects on a recent conference that posed the question – how do we value nature?
Valuing nature poses many challenges. Yet recognising what we value in nature is an essential first step in establishing a more sustainable way of life. Recently I was fortunate to be able to attend the third annual conference in Cardiff of the Valuing Nature Programme – a five year, £6.5m initiative that considers the economic, societal and cultural value of nature.
Our keynote speaker Professor Ian Hodge did not avoid the complexities by asking us first off, what is it that we are trying to value? Do we want to maintain an ecological system in a particular state to make it resilient to change or to maximise economic gain? It is safe to say that we cannot value everything in economic terms, even though hard numbers persuade politicians. We cannot put a price on a sacred cultural site or a wildflower meadow. The moral argument clearly favours more considered approaches to valuing nature over cost-benefit analysis. Ian suggests a pluralistic approach is required, with both quantitative and deliberative methods employed, requiring more research to inform policy and practice.
Rob Cooke, director of EU Transition at Natural England, presented the emerging context for domestic agricultural policy post-Brexit. He sees a move in all four of the UK countries’ developing policies towards more sustainable agricultural systems that look after natural capital over the long-term. Also developing are schemes that would provide income and investment support to more economically marginal farms to ensure their resilience and to reward them for providing public goods. More advice to farmers in developing land management plans is a strong theme, as is more landscape-scale collaborative working. The overall annual cost of meeting environmental land management priorities across the UK is expected to be £2,118m (£448m for Scotland). It will be society that decides how much we spend, so there is real pressure to embed valuation into this decision-making.
Natural England gave a presentation on the natural capital accounting that has been trialled on National Nature Reserves to inform land management decisions, while other talks covered a variety of ways of how valuing nature can inform decisions. For example, biodiversity net gain was shown to be possible in a Clackmannanshire housing development case study using habitat maps, while in Southampton a majority of businesses were found willing to invest in urban green infrastructure.
There is around $69 trillion in global circulation, with 100s of billions of dollars being invested by the likes of insurance companies and pension funds. So there is much needed money out there, and according to a session on investing in natural capital, things are moving quickly in terms of connecting the private sector with natural capital investment opportunities. However, there is still much to do, with a need for more brokers or skilled communicators to make the links, more evidence, information, monitoring and tools.
We live in a changing and complex world, however overall the conference reflected a positive feeling that our values of nature are being brought more into decision-making. But attitudinal and cultural changes are still required and there is still a sense of urgency in the need to tackle the huge challenges we face. There was a call for more local work – connecting people with their places and tapping into the emotional feeling that most people have with nature. The more that people can get on and do what’s right in their area, the more this is likely to influence the decisions that politicians and business leaders make.
Find out more about the Valuing Nature Programme here.