Natural capital and ecosystem services in the Nene Valley: mapping and valuation
This major project has identified, mapped and valued natural capital and ecosystem services across the Nene Valley in Northamptonshire and Peterborough. The aims were to highlight the key benefits provided by the natural environment, to increase understanding of the interdependencies between the natural environment, people and the economy, and to help planners and decision makers protect, enhance and restore the natural environment for the benefit of both people and wildlife. This project was part of the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area Project, a government (Defra) funded flagship nature conservation initiative to promote landscape-scale conservation across the Nene Valley from Daventry to Peterborough.
Mapping natural capital – we created a detailed land-use and habitat map, which was an essential prerequisite for the subsequent ecosystem services maps. Comparing this to a map from the 1930s revealed that 95% of semi-natural grasslands have been lost over the last 80 years, whilst woodland, urban and water areas have increased. Maps were also produced showing biodiversity: nearly 300,000 species records were used to map the species richness of 6 taxonomic groups.
Mapping ecosystem services – we developed very high resolution maps for 11 different ecosystem services: air purification, carbon storage, water quality, water flow, local climate regulation, noise regulation, pollination, agricultural production, tranquillity, accessible nature, and green travel. We mapped the capacity of the natural environment to deliver those services (the current supply) and, wherever possible, the local demand (beneficiaries) for each service. The maps highlight the importance of woodlands and the River Nene corridor at delivering multiple ecosystem services.
Monetary valuation – we assessed that ecosystem services in the Nene Valley NIA are valued at £109M each year and £300M across the wider Nene Valley, with the vast majority of this derived from the value of recreational visits. On average, each hectare of land delivers £2,639 of services per year in the core NIA. This assessment has revealed the highly significant contribution that natural capital makes to the local economy and illustrated the importance of the publicly accessible sites along the river valley. As it is only possible to place a monetary value on some ecosystem services, the full value of the natural environment will be considerably higher. The maps and monetary values can be used in land-use planning, awareness raising, and natural capital (ecosystem) accounting.
Enhancing nature conservation – this information is being used to identify the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services, and locate land which is delivering many different services. From this we can target areas to conserve and areas to manage better, or differently. We are writing an introduction to ecosystem services for planners and developers, and have worked with local planning authorities to embed ecosystem services into planning policies, such as the newly adopted North Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy.