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Nature worth billions to the UK

By Ruth Hendry - 03 Jun 2011 9:25:0 GMT
Nature worth billions to the UK

An independent report has calculated that the UK's forests, wildlife, parks and lakes are worth billions of pounds to the economy.

The report - the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) - is the first in the UK to quantify and put a monetary value on ecosystems. Using new approaches to estimate the value of nature, and taking into account economic, health and social benefits, the report highlighted strong arguments for protecting and enhancing the environment.

Health benefits arising from the UK's green, freshwater and marine spaces were also assessed and given an economic value. Living with a view of a green space was found to be worth around £300 per person per year.

This was partly due to the provision of areas for exercise, but also, perhaps surprisingly, because a view of nature lifts people's spirits. However, these benefits are rarely taken into account by councils or governments when determining how to develop or conserve an area.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said "The natural world is vital to our existence, providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air, but also other cultural and health benefits...the UK National Ecosystem Assessment is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us."

Eight different habitats including marine, woodlands and wetlands, were studied for the UK NEA report. Some ecosystem services, such as climate regulation by woodlands, are improving. However, around one third of ecosystem services were found to be in decline. Marine fisheries, wild species biodiversity and soil quality were found to be severely degraded.

These degraded and declining ecosystem services can have economic repercussions, most clearly demonstrated in food production. Food production in the UK relies heavily on pollinators such as bees and butterflies, both of which are in decline. This leads farmers to produce less food or spend more to produce the same amount, outcomes which are detrimental to our economy.

Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientists at Defra and co-chair of the UK NEA said: "There is an urgent need to better manage our ecosystems and the natural resources they provide us with...UK NEA introduces groundbreaking approaches to measure the value of these services and how they will be affected in future if we do not make the right choices now."

Previous governments believed that protecting the environment was costly. The current government has been derided for its attempts to sell off national forests and get rid of environmental regulations. Now the UK NEA has highlighted pressing economic reasons for conserving our natural assets. It remains to be seen whether the government will heed the advice.

Image: Porthcurno beach, Cornwall UK. Credit: © Sharpshot.