The Solent Forum

Working in partnership for the future

Natural Capital

Natural capital refers to all of the parts of nature that we rely on because it produces value or provides benefits to people; this might be direct such as the food we eat or indirect like the regulation of our climate. Damage to these natural capital assets could not only impact ecological functioning, but also our economy that relies on them, and our cultural or societal well-being.

The Office for National Statistics published natural capital accounts containing information on ecosystem services for marine and coastal areas in the UK. Key points from the 2021 bulletin include:

The recent Hampshire 2050 Commission of Inquiry identified that Hampshire’s natural environment is a significant and valued asset. To inform understanding of Hampshire’s natural environment, it prepared a report providing a high-level ‘snapshot’ of many key elements of Hampshire’s natural environment. The report has a base date of January 2020 and has been produced with input from partners and stakeholders.

Defra has published a policy paper on a proposed Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment Programme. This will be set up to collect data on the extent, condition and change over time of England’s ecosystems and natural capital, and the benefits to society. It includes marine habitats.

In March 2019, Portsmouth University was commissioned by the Environment Agency to provide a strategic update of the natural capital value of habitats and species in the context of water quality for the Solent and Isle of Wight area. The overall aim was to provide evidence to help value the changes in the level of ecosystem service that could result from changes in the quality of benthic habitats as a result of increasing or reducing nutrients.

in 2019, the New Forest National Park Authority published a New Forest Natural Capital Report. This report demonstrates how 'public money for public goods' may be applied to the Crown Lands and other commons in the New Forest.

Asset Value

The Office for National Statistics identifies the asset value of natural resources, such as our waters and beaches, and the long-term stream of services that we get from them. Examples of this include fish stocks where our marine environment provides us with food, coastal habitats providing services that we benefit from, such as recreation at beaches, views for us to enjoy from our homes, and saltmarshes help keep flood water at bay. To calculate an asset value, we need to estimate the flow of services that will be provided by our natural marine resource over its lifetime. This is known as the asset life. Renewable services are those that can continuously create benefits for us. For these services, we assume an asset life of 100 years, and for non-renewable services, we assume a 25-year asset life. In our marine accounts, non-renewable services would include fossil fuels, minerals and stocks of fish that are fished unsustainably or have unknown levels of sustainability.

Key terms and concepts relating to natural capital:

  • Natural Capital: The Natural Capital Committee defines natural capital as “the elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions."
  • Ecosystem services: the components of nature that are directly enjoyed, consumed, or used in order to maintain human wellbeing. A natural capital approach describes the natural environment as a stock of assets from which there is a flow of ecosystem services to people who benefit from them.
  • Ecosystem Approach: a framework for the sustainable management of land and sea for the benefit of both biodiversity and people in a way that integrates ecological, social and economic understanding. The Ecosystem Approach heavily influences how we do natural capital in
  • practice in a participatory and equitable way.
  • Nature-based solutions (NBS): defined by the IUCN as actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. A natural capital approach can help us make arguments in favour of NBS by demonstrating the role of nature in human wellbeing and helps us decide where the best places to put them are.


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