The Suffolk Marine Pioneer has been exploring how a natural capital approach works in practice, working from the framework set down by the Natural Capital Committee. For any given environment or geography of interest, the (simplified) application of a natural capital approach can be delivered in a five stage process.
- Understand your starting point
- Build a natural capital evidence base
- Decide on your priorities
- Construct a plan to deliver your priorities
- Implement that plan
Simplifying these five stages hides the complexity of delivering each stage, but the example works well to illustrate the content of this page. The Pioneer’s products and outputs are presented under each of these five headings to indicate how each contributes.
1. Understand your starting point
The Suffolk Marine Pioneer was established to understand how a natural capital approach works in practice. The Natural Capital Committee’s “How to do it: a natural capital workbook” set the foundation from which the Suffolk Marine Pioneer would work.Prior to delivering a natural capital approach, it is prudent to understand the issue the approach is seeking to address. That being, a continued and progressive decline in natural environmental quality and extent. This degradation has occurred despite a multitude of intent, policy, action and legislation to curtail or reverse it.
A natural capital approach, broadly speaking, seeks to value the beneficial goods and services natural affords to humans. Where value is expressed financially.
The implication being that decision makers will be better equipped to account for the environment in their decision making once an economic value (not price) has been placed on it. The difference between natural capital approach and previous attempts to conserve or enhance the environment is that the natural capital approach communicates these messages to a wide and diverse audience in an established and universal language. Currency. This indicates a fundamental change to the way things currently work. One of the first tasks of the Pioneer was to examine how the change to natural capital thinking might manifests within the current context.
2. Build a natural capital evidence base
If the goal is to understand the economic value of the natural marine environment and use that to improve how we make decisions, the next question logically follows; How do we value nature?’
Leaving aside the specific for the moment, reaching a value needs to be done in an objective, repeatable, consistent manner. If this isn’t the case the value derived, will be open to questioning and so may be undermined and become ineffective. A significant amount of information is needed to inform a valuation, this includes;
- The environment and natural assets of interest.
- A physical account of the natural capital assets. You need to know what you’ve got and what condition it’s in.
- An understanding of how the benefits flow from your assets.
- The continuity and regularity of the flow of benefits over time.
- Who benefits from the flow, and how?
- The audience of your value.
Even with all of the information above, obtaining a value for nature isn’t easy Scientists have been trying to understand this question for over 20 years. A very famous paper by Robert Constanza et al., way back in 1997 attempted to value the world’s ecosystem services. They valued the worlds ecosystem services at $33 trillion per year(!) but acknowledged that this value was far from precise.
The aspiration to value the worlds ecosystems was far beyond the scope of the Suffolk Marine Pioneer. The Pioneer chose instead to build up a natural capital evidence base for estuarine saltmarsh. Exploring a natural capital approach so specifically offered the Pioneer a number of advantages: 1) A relatively large amount of publicly available data are available for saltmarsh: 2) Focus on a single asset (as opposed to specific geography) permitted the Pioneer to explore in greater detail, effectively increasing resolve and locally relevance 3) Suffolk estuarine saltmarsh has attracted significant public and regulatory interest over the past 20 years, this assisted engaging stakeholders with the (often conceptual) work of the Pioneer. 4) Accessibility 5) The ecosystem services provided by saltmarsh are relatively well understood.
A number of contributors have assisted the Suffolk Marine Pioneer in developing the saltmarsh evidence base. These are outlined in Figure 1. Reports are made available below when they become available.
3. Decide on your priorities
The natural capital approach relies upon a strong evidence base to inform environmental priorities. If one's ability to collect a pure natural capital evidence base is limited, it is prudent to explore pragmatic ways togain knowledge through other means. Regardless of the scale at which a natural capital appraoch is implemented, physical interventions to improve the benefits from nature, and in turn, the state of nature will occur at a specific geography. This invariably leads to interaction with people and place. For any management approach to work sustainably, the approach must work form the those whom it effects. A participatory approach, involving those likely to be effect has long been mooted as a useful tool.
The Suffolk Marine Pioneer has been working with a team comprised of researchers from the Universities of Hull and Aberdeen to adminster a participatory appraoch that works in a natural captial context. An important stage of this process was co-developing an understanding of what natural asset are present in the Deben and how these provide benefits. Figure 2 is screen shot of the interactive document produced that illustrates this. The interactive pdf can be found below.
A summary of the first and second workshop (March and June 2019, respectively) can be found below.
4. Construct a plan to deliver your priorities
Outputs coming soon (April 2019)
5.Implement that plan
Outputs coming soon (April 2019)