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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Environmental report assesses true value of nature to UK economy

A new report bringing together research from hundreds of UK scientists claims to have found the ’true value of nature’ to the UK economy.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) reveals that nature is worth ’billions of pounds’ to the UK’s financial wellbeing, using new approaches to estimate the value of the natural world by taking account of its economic, health and social benefits.

The assessment, which was funded through the Living with Environmental Change Partnership* will be used by the government to direct policy in future.

The UK NEA provides values for a range of ecosystem services to help fully understand the value of the natural environment and aims to show how the benefits to individuals and society as a whole can be better protected and preserved for future generations.

Examples include:
>> The benefits that inland wetlands bring to water quality are worth up to £1.5billion per year to the UK
>> Pollinators are worth £430million per year to British agriculture
>> The amenity benefits of living close to rivers, coasts and other wetlands is worth up to £1.3billion per year to the UK
>> The health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year.

The report says that the tendency to focus only on the market value of resources we can use and sell, such as timber, crops and fisheries, has led to the decline of some ecosystems and habitats through pollution, over-exploitation, and land conversion.

It warns that continued population growth and climate change are likely to put additional pressure on ecosystems, and that actions taken now will have consequences far into the future. It stresses the need for a more collaborative approach to enhancing our environment, with everyone playing their part to capture more of nature’s benefits in a sustainable way.

Six future scenarios were developed showing how ecosystems could be affected over the next 50 years depending on what emphasis is given to environmental sustainability or economic growth.

"I want our children to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it was left to them,’ said environment secretary Caroline Spelman. "The findings of this assessment have played a big part in shaping our forthcoming Natural Environment White Paper that will help us revitalise our towns and countryside."

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at Defra and co-chair of the UK NEA, said: "The NEA shows that we need a more integrated approach to ecosystem management, involving Government, the private sector, voluntary groups and the public working together to protect the services nature provides"

The UK NEA examines the state of the full range of services provided across eight different habitats including marine, woodlands, wetlands and moorlands. It shows that while some ecosystems are getting better at delivering services, such as crop production from farmland and climate regulation by woodlands, over 30% of services assessed were found to be in decline, and others degraded, such as marine fisheries, wild species diversity and soil quality.

Copies of the synthesis report and the full technical findings are available here

*The UK NEA study was funded by Defra, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. It was coordinated through the Living with Environmental Change Partnership, formed of 22 Government departments, devolved administrations, research councils and other bodies.brought together more than 500 experts in ecology, economics and social sciences under the chairmanship of Professor Bob Watson and Professor Steve Albon.