Natural Capital and its Relevance to Improving Freshwater andWetland Habitats
Natural Capital is an extension to the practice of economics that has become embedded in Englandís environmental and biodiversity policies, culminating in its centrality to the first of Englandís Environment Improvement Plans, the 25 YEP and, implicitly, in the current draft Environment Bill. Many tools and techniques are now available to apply Natural Capital in practice, but continual development is likely in future as practice evolves from its current embryonic state to one of greater maturity. More refined and inclusive determination of ecosystem service flows and monetary valuations may be expected as experience grows.
Based on the current state of knowledge it seems clear that cultural services provide the greatest contribution of Natural Capital benefits to society, at least in urban areas. Of these, the recreational benefits and avoided health costs (mental and physical) offered by open green and blue spaces predominate. As related in the Guide, many open spaces also contain water features, and analysis has not (so far) determined the benefits contribution of freshwater and wetland assets relative to purely green space. To capitalise on these observations, it would seem reasonable to suggest that freshwater and wetland conservation and improvement projects include prioritising the provision of public recreational opportunities Ė including the facilitation of greater access. Also, in order to maximise the probability of putting together strong bids for project funding, that urban green and blue spaces are a focus for improvement efforts, regardless of baseline habitat biodiversity.
Proposals for improvement should clearly delineate between project benefits that can be valued and project features that may be best presented as allowing natureís intrinsic worth to shine. Depending on the projectís features and the interests of the funding organisation, it may be beneficial to present both aspects Ė one being a quantitative monetary benefit-to-cost ratio, the other a qualitative argument.
Whatever the nature of the intended project it is clear that a consideration of its implications for Natural Capital benefits will serve to strengthen a bid for funding and assist the prioritisation of competing projects for available funds.
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