Bringing natural capital to mainstream use: key role for researchers

The Natural Capital Initiative (NCI) recently launched its Valuing our Life Support Systems summit report at an event in Westminster. One of the speakers was Rosie Hails, the Head of the Programme Coordination Team for the Valuing Nature Programme. In a guest post, NCI’s Project officer Daija Angeli summarises the main findings and key messages to researchers.

The concept of valuation and stewardship of natural capital in planning and development is clearly gaining traction with UK business and is being incorporated into policies and strategy. The increasing interest in and activity around the concept was reflected in the breadth of the audience from across academia, policy, business, and civil society at our natural capital summit last year. More than 250 delegates assessed current natural capital thinking as well as the state of research and its practical application. However, in order to realise the potential benefit of current focus on natural capital, there is a need for robust and coherently applied concepts, terms and principles that are based in sound science.

Researchers will therefore play a key role in enabling use of natural capital concepts and their applications in mainstream management. For example, many businesses have limited understanding of the importance of natural capital in their supply chains. Researchers can work collaboratively with business to advance business knowledge and subsequent action through improving access to research, data and measurement. But it’s not enough to simply provide data and modelling results - scientific results of natural capital research must be translated into a language that is easily understood by businesses and land users working with the natural and the built environment.

Mapping can be an effective tool for communication. It can help land managers, environmental practitioners, local authorities and others to take natural capital into account in decision making.

...scientific results of natural capital research must be translated into a language that is easily understood by businesses and land users...

Considerable knowledge and data has been accumulated about the various components and functions of natural capital. However, we do not yet have an agreed set of metrics which we can use to assess the state, trends and future directions of natural capital in the UK. The UK is one of the best monitored countries in the world, but funding for some long-term monitoring programmes is under threat. We need a greater consistency in monitoring to ensure we can make the most of our wealth of information. 

Models and proxies are useful to estimate what we cannot measure, and helpful in projecting the future. However, we must be transparent about their inherent uncertainty. Greater testing and more rigorous comparison of models are needed to find the most appropriate for a given issue, location or spatial scale. 

Measuring cultural services is an intellectual and technical challenge in itself. Research has shown that good outcomes are achievable, but techniques must take into account the differences in value assigned by different groups of people to natural capital and the services it provides.

Participants at the event identified mainstreaming the adoption of good practice in business and government as priorities for future activity. However, mainstreaming natural capital thinking will require a collaborative effort and researchers play a crucial role in providing and communicating evidence and assessing existing examples of evidence. 

The ‘Valuing our Life Support Systems’ summit report summarises main findings of the event and addresses key messages to policymakers and planners, business leaders and researchers. The annexes provide a comprehensive summary of key note speeches and working sessions. All outputs of the summit, including speaker presentations and videos, are available on the summit pages on the NCI website.

Daija Angeli


Download the full report: Natural Capital Initiative 2015: Valuing our Life Support Systems 2014. Summit Summary Report.

Watch a video about the Valuing our Life Support Systems summit in November 2014

The Natural Capital Initiative is a partnership between the Society of Biology, British Ecological Society, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the James Hutton Institute.