Natural Capital

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology


Over the next five years CEH will deliver its strategy, Meeting the Challenges of Environmental Change, by Science Areas underpinned by Monitoring & Observation Systems and Environmental Informatics, through Business and Policy Innovation, and Public Engagement. Humans are dependent on goods and services provided by the natural environment, including soils, insect pollinators and water. We use the term natural capital to recognise the importance of nature’s assets and the benefits that flow from them. This gives natural capital equal status in decision-making alongside: manufactured capital (e.g. buildings), human capital (e.g. knowledge), financial capital (e.g. loans) and social capital (e.g. relationships). It is often the combination of natural and other capital that delivers society’s needs. CEH has unrivalled expertise and experience in the science of the natural environment that underpins natural capital. The Natural Capital Science Area brings this together, such that the new whole is more than a sum of the existing and future parts of CEH. We will use surveys, experiments, analysis and modelling to produce detailed knowledge of water, soils, plants, animals and atmosphere provided by the UK environment. We will assess the amount and character of living and non-living resources, how they relate to each other and how they produce goods and services for us. With this knowledge we will work with other experts in economics, health and sociology to evaluate the benefits of natural capital to human well-being, how to balance exploitation with protection and where management and restoration efforts should be targeted.


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Description Science Area Annual Report: Natural Capital October 2014 1. Introduction 1.1 CEH's Challenges 2014-19 Our strategy, Meeting the Challenges of Environmental Change, covers the period 2014 to 2019 and sets out three interdependent, major societal and environmental challenges aligned with NERC strategy: securing the value of nature, building resilience to environmental hazards, and managing environmental change. 1.2 Meeting the Challenges To deliver our ambitions our research is managed through nine Science Areas. The 'Natural Capital' Science Area will deliver to all three strategic areas whilst focusing on securing the value of nature by improving our knowledge of natural capital and how it helps deliver benefits to human well-being. We will assess the current state of natural capital, examine how it is changing and why, identify thresholds of change and develop strategies for restoration and management. 2. Science Area Status Whilst other SAs cover more traditional areas of research, Natural Capital is a new science area for CEH. Natural Capital can be considered as a way of looking at much of CEH science in terms of how the interactions and configuration of natural elements produce ecosystem services and benefits to people. As such it integrates research being undertaken in other CEH Science Areas, such as Water resources, Sustainable land management and Soil. Good progress has been achieved in using major datasets to define the status of the UK's natural capital, particularly through novel mapping techniques. We have also identified trends in species and habitats, including some losses and some re-appearances. This work has helped us produce knowledge and guidance for UK and European institutions to help them develop strategies and restoration programmes. 3. Research highlights 3.1 National Biodiversity Network Gateway record The NBN Gateway, launched just a decade ago, has reached its 100 millionth record, making it one of the biggest wildlife databases in the world. CEH hosts the infrastructure for the Gateway and has worked with the NBN to develop the functionality of the site over the last 10 years. This online resource has grown rapidly, from its prototype beginnings when 100,000 species records were available in the late 1990s, to 20 million records in 2006, 50 million in 2010 and now a staggering 100 million records from across the UK, making it a critical repository of knowledge of our natural capital. The 100 millionth species record is Adalia bipunctata (2-spot ladybird) and was part of a dataset of more than 17,000 records from the National Trust's Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. 3.2 Glastir Monitoring & Evaluation Program (GMEP) GMEP is a novel and highly ambitious programme to monitor the impacts of the Glastir agri-environment scheme on social-ecological systems across Wales. In the first year 60 1km squares have been surveyed for a range of ecosystem properties including birds and pollinators, soils and headwater streams, historic features and footpath condition, hedgerows and woodlands. Contextual data on long-term trends in priority species and section 42 species have been assembled and a priority species indicator developed that statistically controls for changes in recorder effort. A method has been developed and is being implemented to derive indicator 'bundles' derived from the field survey data that express the impact of Glastir interventions on habitat suitability for section 42 species. 3.3 Statistics for citizen science Involvement of citizens offers a powerful means of environmental data collection. However, it is difficult to ensure continuity of data received. CEH research has shown how trends in species' status can be estimated robustly from such unstructured biological records. Computer simulations of the process by which recorders collect data were employed to generate five scenarios of biased recording behaviour and compared the statistical performance of a suite of methods for trend estimation. Simple methods fail easily, and methods that model the data collection process outperform those that attempt to remove bias. CEH has also been working with Defra and partner organisations to develop biodiversity indicators based on unstructured biological records. This has resulted in a Priority Species Indicator that includes insect groups for which no intensive monitoring scheme exists. Developing this index allows the UK Government to report on national and international biodiversity targets for a much wider range of organisms than was previously possible. Isaac, N.J.B., van Strien, A.J., August, T.A., de Zeeuw, M.P., Roy, D.B. Statistics for citizen science: extracting signals of change from noisy ecological data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12254 3.4 Vascular plants at risk The first England Red List for vascular plants shows a fifth of wildflower species under threat. The list is a comprehensive and objective analysis of changes in the distribution of native flora and identifies threatened species. Wild flowers associated with either highly acid or basic open habitats on infertile soils, such as Great sundew (Drosera anglica) or Burnt-tip orchid (Orchis ustulata) fare particularly badly. The analysis was carried out by CEH in collaboration with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). Many of the 13 million plant records analysed had been collected by BSBI volunteers and others since 1930 Stroh, P.A., Leach, S.J., August, T.A., Walker, K.J., Pearman, D.A., Rumsey, F.J., Harrower, C.A., Fay, M.F., Martin, J.P., Pankhurst, T., Preston, C.D. & Taylor, I. 2014. A Vascular Plant Red List for England. Bristol: Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. ISBN: 9780953971862. 3.5 New atlas reveals trends in British and Irish dragonfly species A new atlas of the dragonflies of Britain and Ireland has been published by a team including CEH, building on data collected over the last two centuries. Dragonflies are regarded as good indicators of wetland health and climate change. The new atlas shows how some species have expanded their ranges - northwards in particular - and apparently consolidated their previous ranges. In contrast, a few species have declined and/or retreated northwards, perhaps resulting from warmer temperatures. For example, 14 (31%) of the 42 established breeding species have expanded their ranges, including the Scarce Chaser and the Red-eyed Damselfly, and appear to have benefited from a warming climate, together with a general increase in the number and quality of wetlands. In addition, 8 species (19%) have declined including the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly and the White-faced Darter. The reasons for this change are not fully understood, but may include climate change and/or habitat loss or deterioration. Cham, S., Nelson, B., Parr, A., Prentice, S., Smallshire, D., Taylor, P. 2014, Atlas of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland, 280pp. Published by the Field Studies Council for the Biological Records Centre, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, with the British Dragonfly Society. 3.6 The 'reappearance' of the U.K.'s rarest freshwater fish in the face of multiple stressors The vendace (Coregonus albula) is the U.K.'s rarest freshwater fish and a BAP Priority Species, with only four native populations ever having been recorded. Two populations in south-west Scotland were extirpated several decades ago, with a third in Bassenthwaite Lake, north-west England, lost in the 2000s. Likely reasons for the recent extirpation include the multiple stressors of eutrophication, sedimentation and species introductions. CEH monitoring data from Bassenthwaite Lake and Derwent Water since the 1990s have been used to direct local and national habitat management and conservation activities to improve lake conditions. In 2013, the annual fish community survey of Bassenthwaite Lake unexpectedly recorded a single underyearling vendace representing a 'reappearance' of this species after an apparent absence of 12 years. In 2014, this has been followed by the local recording of two adult vendace. The most likely explanation for these individuals is that they are the offspring of recolonisers that have reached the improving lake from Derwent Water by travelling downstream along the connecting River Derwent. The underyearling vendace (length 54 mm) recorded in Bassenthwaite Lake in 2013. 3.7 Assessing the links between water quality and ecosystem service provision in lakes Monitoring of water quality at Loch Leven, Scotland, has continued into its 46th year. Information on more than 500 physical, chemical and biological determinands is recorded at fortnightly intervals. These data, supplemented by long term data from a range of other organisations such as Kinross Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, have been used to explore the links between good ecological status, as required by the EU Water Framework Directive, and ecosystem service provision - especially in terms of recreation and angling. Maps of the potential for nature-based recreation around Loch Leven have been produced, in collaboration with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. These were generated from a model that now incorporates recreational thresholds that reflect the health risks associated with algal blooms and includes local sources of information on why people visit the loch. Work at Loch Leven has also established positive relationships between water quality and fishing quality, with increasing numbers of fish being caught per boat per hour as water quality improves. Largest brown trout on record caught in Loch Leven, 2013. Photo: Loch Leven fishery. 3.8 Mapping natural capital Understanding the spatial distribution of specific environmental variables and the interdependencies of these variables is crucial for managing the environment in a sustainable way. CEH has been exploring different methods of mapping -including a Geographical Information System classification-based approach and a statistical model-based approach. Statistical model-based analysis provides the potential for greater understanding of underlying relationships and of the uncertainty in predictions; it also facilitates scenario testing. CEH assessed the potential benefits of the statistical model-based approach to mapping natural capital through the use of two national survey datasets; The CEH Land Cover Map and the British Geological Survey's Parent Material Model to predict national soil microbial community distributions based on data from a sample of > 1000 soils covering Great Britain. The results were mapped and compared to a more traditional, land classification-based approach. The comparison showed that, although the maps looked broadly similar, the model-based approach provides better spatial prediction, and the contribution of individual model terms are far easier to understand and interpret. Henrys, P. A., Bee, E. J., Watkins, J. W., Smith, N. A. and Griffiths, R. I. 2014. Mapping natural capital: optimising the use of national scale datasets. - Ecography doi: 10.1111/ecog.00402 3.9 Ecomaps Maps provide a way of visualising spatial patterns and for land mangers to prioritise action. When high quality data are only available at selected locations, models are needed to fill-in missing areas. Ecomaps has been developed to produce national maps of natural capital metrics based on site data from Countryside Survey and the continuous maps of, for example, land cover, climate and geology. The Ecomaps software has been integrated with the CEH Land Water Information System (LWIS) web portal. Analyses from Ecomaps are being used to support the UK Soils Observatory and the DEFRA Sustainable Intensification project. There is interest from the working group on Mapping and Assessment on Ecosystems and their Services (MAES), which coordinates and oversees Action 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Action 5 foresees member states carrying out mapping and assessment of the state of ecosystems by 2014 and the EU JRC is keen to discuss how ECOMAPS might be used in this context. 3.10 LWIS project within Natural Capital The Land & Water Information System project is delivering enhanced web-based access to environmental data, which enables integration of monitoring data with modelled outputs and models over the web. As an example, a new drought portal has been developed to enable visualisation, through mapping and graphing, of a variety of aspects of drought. This has helped us understand spatial and temporal aspects of water resources through dry periods. The underlying technology can readily be adapted to visualise various types of natural capital information. 3.11 Long-term social and ecology research platforms European LTSER platforms encourage use of the data and infrastructure provided by long-term ecological research (LTER) sites and marry this knowledge with social and economic research in a place-based approach to facilitate sustainable management of an area. There are now over 30 LTSER platforms across Europe. The Environmental Change Network site in the Cairngorms National Park was launched as the UKs first LTSER platform in 2013. The site was originally established over 15 years ago to support ecological monitoring, but now has a more holistic approach routinely collecting data relevant to social science research. Work relates closely to the OpenNESS project that investigates the operationalisation of natural capital and ecosystem service concepts. CEH presented two case studies, Cairngorms and Loch Leven, at the public launch of the Ecosystem Service Community for Scotland event at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation in 2014. 3.12 Valuing air pollution threats to Natural Capital CEH has pioneered the ecosystem services approach to calculate the economic value of air pollution on ecosystem services, in a series of projects funded by Defra and conducted in partnership with the environmental economics consultancy EFTEC. The approach was developed three years ago and CEH have subsequently been improving the methodology to incorporate spatially-explicit calculation of air pollution impact, and valuing those impacts using more robust value-transfer evidence. CEH has recently produced improved economic estimates for nitrogen impacts on biodiversity and ozone impacts on wheat. The main aim of the studies is to calculate damage costs (the economic cost to an ecosystem service per tonne of pollutant nitrogen dioxide or tonne of ammonia emitted) for use in policy appraisal by economists in Defra. 3.13 Climate change adaptation strategies The work of CEH scientists to the European Commission's REFRESH programme contributed to informing EU policy on climate change and the management of freshwater habitats. CEH's work on the impacts of more frequent droughts and floods on current climate change adaptation strategies (REFRESH Deliverable 2.14) was used in a EU policy brief which addressed the EU Water Framework Directive, the EU Water Blueprint and the EU Green Infrastructure (Stronger need for maintaining environmental flow in streams in a changing climate. REFRESH Science policy brief 4, January 2014). CEH scientists also produced high level management guidelines for European rivers, targeting WFD implementation and adaptation to climate change REFRESH Deliverable 2.16 Guidelines on ecological thresholds for temperature, low flows and nutrients in European Rivers. 3.14 Supporting the Natural Capital Committee As part of implementing the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper, the Natural Capital Committee was established in 2012 to provide expert, independent advice to Government on the state of England's natural capital. CEH has been instrumental in building evidence and material for the NCC's second State of Natural Capital (SoNC) report. This contains a more accurate understanding and measurement of our natural capital including when, where and how natural capital assets are being used unsustainably. It also helps us to understand whether restoration of Natural Capital is possible. CEH work included identifying and collating monitoring data that could be used to report on natural capital metrics and reviewing restoration times and economic costs of restoration. 3.15 Ecosystems Knowledge Network The Ecosystems Knowledge Network (EKN) is a knowledge exchange service, provided by CEH in partnership with Countryscape and University of Exeter. It shows how current thinking in ecosystem management - including the notion of natural capital - is being applied in practice. Since April 2013 the Network has grown from 800 to 1,300 members distributed throughout the UK and across the private, charity, public and academic sectors. Over this time period, EKN has organised workshops on payments for ecosystem services, mapping ecosystem services and land valuation to include natural capital, a field visit to a ecosystem service valuation project and a webinar on local economic development. The Network has produced four editions of Ecosystems News, the Network's electronic magazine 3.16 Biodiversity Offsetting Knowledge Exchange Fellowship Biodiversity offsetting is employed mainly by planning authorities and developers to prevent biodiversity loss and, in some circumstances, create biodiversity gain. The idea is to re-create the same amount, type and quality of habitat at new locations as is being lost by development. CEH has been awarded a NERC Fellowship in biodiversity off-setting, which has initiated meetings of experts and a report on this event was submitted to Defra alongside a CEH response to the Government's consultation on biodiversity offsets. The Fellow has raised the profile of biodiversity offsetting capabilities at CEH, supporting a Technology Strategy Board project on the topic. He also ran a seminar at the Business and Biodiversity Offset Programme's international conference on biodiversity offsetting in London in June 2014. 3.17 Putting biological knowledge into water abstraction management Abstraction of water from rivers and aquifers is managed worldwide to maintain river ecosystems in a state that provides a range of benefits to mankind. This has been largely handled scientifically by using simple response functions that link river flow directly to river ecosystem condition. Most approaches do not incorporate complex in-river processes such as population dynamics and food web dynamics. CEH is undertaking research to link internal processes with external stressors, such as flow change. Analysis of data from the Tadnol Brook in Dorset by CEH suggests that flow influences community structure with very different responses being observed among species. 3.18 Natural Capital Initiative The Natural Capital Initiative (NCI) was established by CEH, Society of Biology, British Ecological Society and James Hutton Institute to support decision-making that results in the sustainable management of our natural capital based on sound science. Workshops and dialogues have been held on a range of topics including natural capital and barriers to evidencing impacts on human health and natural capital and flood management. Considerable effort has been dedicated to organising a natural capital summit, "Valuing Our Life Support Systems", to bring together 250 leading influencers from across academia, policy, business, and civil society to assess progress made and further enable the valuing of natural capital in planning and decision-making using best available science. 3.19 Valuing air pollution threats to Natural Capital CEH has pioneered the ecosystem services approach to calculate the economic value of air pollution on ecosystem services, in a series of projects funded by Defra and conducted in partnership with the environmental economics consultancy EFTEC. The approach was developed three years ago and CEH have subsequently been improving the methodology to incorporate spatially-explicit calculation of air pollution impact, and valuing those impacts using more robust value-transfer evidence. CEH has recently produced improved economic estimates for nitrogen impacts on biodiversity and ozone impacts on wheat. The main aim of the studies is to calculate damage costs (the economic cost to an ecosystem service per tonne of pollutant nitrogen dioxide or tonne of ammonia emitted) for use in policy appraisal by economists in Defra. 4. Future research The priority research areas for the Natural Capital Science Area over the next five years include the identification of new metrics that allow natural capital concepts to be taken-on by a wider community including those in government, business and NGOs. We will extend our working on natural capital mapping and provision of knowledge through our information gateway. We will undertaken further research to identify thresholds of natural capital exploitation to define sustainable management strategies. We will also work further on methods and techniques for natural capital restoration. To achieve some aspects of our work we need to strengthen our relationships with experts in complementary disciplines, such as economic and sociology. Through NCI and EKN we will interact more strongly with those beyond the research community. CEH's coordination of the multi-partner-funded 'Valuing nature' programme will provide leadership to the community on interdisciplinary research and link outputs end users.
Exploitation Route Through seminars, workshops and meetings of the Natural Capital Initiative and Ecosystems Knowlege Network.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description To be determined at 'end of grant' in 2019
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic