Accounting For Nature - The RSPB

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Accounting for Nature:A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England

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ContentsForeword4Summary7Natural Capital and biodiversity9Natural Capital Accounting13Developing a Natural Capital Account for the RSPB estate in England19Behind the balance sheet27Lessons learned and next steps31Scaling up a Natural Capital approach33Footnotes41The RSPB, 2017. Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’sestate in England.Written by Katharine Bolt and Malcolm Ausden with Louisa Williams and Rob Field.The following RSPB staff have also contributed to the thinking and preparation of this NaturalCapital Account report: Richard Bradbury; Abi Bunker; Mel Coath; Ruth Davis; Andre Farrar; JoGilbert; Martin Harper; Emma Fernandez-Lopes; Katie Fuller; Nick Hill; Russell Hollingshead;Kate Jennings; Tom Lancaster; John Lanchbery; Simon Marsh; Michael MacDonald; AnnMathers; Donal McCarthy; Paul Morling; Tony Shield; Katherine Stevenson; Suzanne Welch;Simon Wightman; Gwyn Williams; Matt Williams and Robin Wynde.Thanks also to Prof. Bhaskar Vira and Rebecca Clark for their input and feedback on thedevelopment of the Natural Capital Account.Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England3

ForewordThe RSPB has produced a Natural Capital Account forits nature reserves in England as a contribution to thedebate about how best to reflect the value of nature indecision-making.and generates large economic returns. For example,woodland planting, peatland restoration and wetlandcreation generate returns of up to nine times the costsof those activities.Our reserves are amazing; in England there are 110 ofthem covering over 60,000 hectares, from purple-cladheathland at Aylesbeare Common in Devon, throughwildlife-rich wetlands at Minsmere in Suffolk, dramaticseabird colonies at Bempton Cliffs in the East Ridingof Yorkshire, to swathes of restored blanket bog atGeltsdale, Cumbria.Evidence continues to build showing how a healthyenvironment results in improved health (both physicaland mental); richer educational experiences; enhancedrecreation; inspiring landscapes and amazing wildlifespectacles; higher water quality and flood defence;better soils; improved pest control; and a more resilienteconomy, by securing more sustainable supply chains,and reducing business risk.However, until now we have not tried to quantify thevalue they provide to the public. The Natural CapitalAccount is the first step to doing just that, and even itspartial assessment reports that the benefits providedby our reserves are more than double the costs ofdelivery.These benefits are largely invisible in standard financialaccounts, highlighting the contribution that NaturalCapital Accounting can make in providing betterinformation for decision-making. The account alsodemonstrates the importance of the public benefitsprovided by nature reserves and the need for publicpolicy support to ensure that nature is managed in away that is better for people and nature.The RSPB has long understood that nature is deeplyimportant to people and is also crucial for our longterm economic success. Back in 2002, in the run up tothe World Summit on Sustainable Development, weassessed the global costs of degrading natural habitatsalong with the benefits of conserving them.The conclusion was that financing an effective globalprogramme for the conservation of remaining wildnature would yield an estimated benefit one hundredtimes greater than the cost. Around the same time,we estimated that our reserves supported over 2,000jobs, providing evidence of their local economicimpact, helping to dispel the myth that protecting theenvironment is an obstacle to economic growth.Since then, the evidence from around the globe hasbeen stacking up. We’ve had exhaustive researchprojects like the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessmentand the global assessment The Economics ofEcosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) demonstratingemphatically that protecting nature is not just good forwildlife, but critical for people.More recently, in 2011, the Natural Capital Committee(NCC) was set up to provide independent advice tothe UK Government on the sustainable use of naturalcapital in England. Their work highlights that investingin Natural Capital delivers significant value for money4As we continue to learn more about the wonders andvalues of nature, the State of Nature report (2016)showed how biodiversity, the heart of Natural Capital,remains in trouble with 56% of UK species in decline.The costs of nature’s decline are increasingly evidentfrom concerns about pollinator declines, degradingsoils, disconnection from nature, health concerns andflood events.Why, when the benefits of better managing nature areso great, do these declines continue? The basic answerto this paradox is because we routinely fail to reflecteither the full costs of environmental degradation orthe full value of the benefits that nature provides ineveryday decision-making.Done well, I believe a Natural Capital approach (whichis a broader concept than Natural Capital Accounts)must have a central role in correcting the currentparadox. This approach needs to be at the heart of theway decisions are made by both the private and publicsectors. It is gratifying to see pilots being exploredby individual businesses and the approach is alreadyreflected in some of the UK Government’s recentinitiatives, such as the Clean Growth Strategy and theNational Infrastructure Assessment. This indicatesmovement towards the step change that is needed.But, critically, Natural Capital approaches need tobe applied in a way that reflects some of the moreintangible values of nature. It is not possible tomonetise all the values of wildlife and, therefore, thereis a risk that Natural Capital assessments can excludeand even undermine the importance of biodiversity.This is increasingly acknowledged as a challenge in theway that the tools have been developed.The report, using the RSPB estate in England, alsodemonstrates the steps that are needed to ensurethat biodiversity’s values remain visible within aNatural Capital Account — a tool that provides hugeAccounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England

We hope this pilot will advance understanding ofthe importance and practicalities of undertakingNatural Capital assessments. In addition, we hope ithelps to reveal the range and scale of benefits thatwe, and others, who manage the land and seas forconservation, provide to the public at large.Natterjack toad by Andy Hay ( for changing the way that nature’s valuesare reflected in decisions. We argue that biodiversitytargets (for sites, species, and habitats) are an essentialfirst step in making Natural Capital Accounts work.Martin Harper,RSPB Director of Global Conservation5

Arne by Andy Hay (

Summary Adopting a Natural Capital approach presents anopportunity to help address society’s long-termfailure to account for the full impact of naturalresource decisions and the costs of maintainingnature. This fundamental shift in thinking isneeded as, whilst there have been some notableconservation successes, our current ways ofworking have not stemmed the accelerating lossof nature. The RSPB’s Natural Capital Account reveals that ournetwork of nature reserves, which protects someof the most important and special places for nature,also provide significant additional benefits for people– some of which we have been able to measure andquantify in monetary terms. In so doing, the NaturalCapital Account provides the first estimation of theRSPB’s delivery of our charitable remit, which is toconserve nature for the public benefit. A Natural Capital approach is a stock-basedapproach. If applied well, this enables values thatrelate to the stock (notably ethical considerationsof preventing extinctions of other species andretaining the natural world for future generations) tobe combined with other economic values. Ethicalvalues sit outside of economics and cannot bevalued in the same way. Their values, as well asothers that are not amenable to economic valuation,are better reflected by commitments that societyhas adopted in international, national, and othertargets and laws. Even though we were only able to measure someof the benefits that the nature reserve networkprovides, the value of these still outweigh the costsof managing the reserve network by 2:1. To succeed, a Natural Capital approach mustcomplement, not replace, the traditional approachesto nature conservation. In practice, Natural Capitalapproaches have frequently been incompletely orincorrectly applied, with an over-emphasis on thequantifiable economic values, which can lead toperverse outcomes and hinder opportunities torestore nature and recover populations of wildlife.Badly done, a Natural Capital approach could actuallyadd to the pressures on the natural world. The RSPB has developed a Natural Capital Accountfor its estate in England to demonstrate a practicalexample of how Natural Capital Accounting cansupport better management of natural resources,with biodiversity at its heart. The account does not include monetary estimatesof all of the benefits to society provided by theRSPB’s nature reserves. The intrinsic wondersand beauty of a world rich in wildlife are largelyimmeasurable, let alone amenable to economicvaluation. It also does not include monetaryestimates of several other important ecosystemservice benefits that are difficult to evaluate at thisspatial scale, such as reducing flood risk, coastalerosion and water discolouration (which affects thecosts of water treatment). The output of any Natural Capital Account willonly ever be as good as the data that underpins it.This highlights the importance of quality datasets,including those collected, held, and maintained bythe statutory agencies. We set out the steps that are needed whenimplementing a Natural Capital Account. Thisincludes the critical step of the organisation makingspecific commitments to biodiversity. These shouldrelate to local, national or international commitmentsto biodiversity, particularly for public bodies. Thespecified commitment should be supported by along-term costed plan, which is fully reflected in aNatural Capital Account.Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England7

Puffin by Chris Gomersall (

1.1 Taking a Natural Capital approachHumans depend on nature, not only for the provisionof drinking water and food production, but alsothrough the inspiring landscapes and amazing wildlifespectacles that enrich our lives. It is increasinglyunderstood that protecting and enhancing the naturalenvironment should not be considered as an economiccost, but as the foundation of a strong, stable economyand resilient society.Yet, our economic system continues to fail to reflectthe importance of nature in decisions that affect it. Thislong-term failure is at the heart of the over-exploitationof and under-investment in nature that has driven somuch of the destruction of the natural world — a lossfor both people and nature.A Natural Capital approach sets out a framework thatcan address this failure, by better reflecting the valuesof nature during decision-making. If widely adopted, itcould deliver huge benefits for nature and people.This is increasingly being recognised, and reflected inrecent initiatives by individual businesses to integratea Natural Capital approach into their decision-making,as well as in public policy. It is reflected in globalcommitments and the UK Government has pledgedto structure its 25 Year Environment Plan aroundthe Natural Capital approach in order to deliver itscommitment to improving the natural environment.Recent initiatives, such as the Clean Growth Plan andNational Infrastructure Assessment, demonstrate howthe approach of Natural Capital is gaining in recognition.The Natural Capital FrameworkSTOCKSNatural capitalFLOWSEcosystem andabiotic servicesVALUEBenefits to businessand to societyBiodiversityReproduced from the Natural Capital Coalition, 2016. “Natural Capital tural Capital is the stock of living and non-livingresources, including soils, land, freshwater, forests,atmosphere, oceans, ecological communities andthe natural processes that underpin their functioning.The extent, condition, and location of these assetsdetermine the flow of goods and services (AKAecosystem services) that Natural Capital provides.The Natural Capital approach emphasises the10importance of the stock. For nature conservation,this is an important distinction from the ecosystemservice approach, which is unable to reflect someof the most fundamental reasons that people careabout saving nature. The Natural Capital approachincorporates values that relate to the stock (notablyethical considerations of preventing extinctions of otherspecies) with economic values that relate to the flowsof ecosystem service benefits.Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England

1.2 Retaining visibility of biodiversity in Natural CapitalWoodland by Jodie Randall ( is at the heart of natural capital, as theliving component of the stock. Yet, the lack of visibilityof biodiversity within Natural Capital approacheshas been identified as a key issue in the pilotNatural Capital Accounts that the RSPB developedin consortium with PwC and eftec for the NaturalCapital Committee (see eftec, RSPB, & PwC, 20152).In addition, when the draft of the Natural CapitalProtocol (a guide for business on implementing NaturalCapital) was released for public consultation, over 100comments from business and NGOs focused on theneed to better integrate biodiversity concerns.Indeed, implementing a Natural Capital approachcan present potential risks to nature conservationwhen incompletely or incorrectly applied. In practice,the scientific and practical challenges mean that itis not possible to measure all of nature’s values. Forexample, while we can estimate and value the carbonsequestered by a woodland, it is not possible to valueEngland’s woodlands reverberating with birdsong. Putsimply, economic valuation will only ever be a partialreflection of nature’s values and is unable to reflectthe value of retaining the wonder of nature, for its ownsake and for future generations to enjoy.Given this, any approach to Natural Capital whichfails to incorporate the role of biodiversity or overemphasises the partially-quantified economicvalues will lead to perverse outcomes and hinderopportunities to restore nature and recover populationsof wildlife. There is no guarantee that increases inNatural Capital economic value will be accompaniedby improvements in the ‘stock’ of nature and wildlife.Indeed, it is equally possible for the measurableeconomic benefits of nature to increase, while thevalue of the stock of nature declines. For example, anancient woodland could be replaced by a non-nativeconiferous forest, increasing its Natural Capital “value”as measured by its rate of carbon sequestration andcontribution to regulating the climate. Add someBMX cycle tracks and the recreational value is alsoenhanced. But, what is lost is irreplaceable and itsvalue cannot be quantified.A critical point is that the Natural Capital approach isa stock-based approach. If applied well, this enablesvalues that relate to the stock (notably societal valuesthat relate to the ethical considerations of preventingextinctions of other species) to be combined withother economic values. The RSPB is supported by1.25 million members united by our shared and deeplyheld concerns for wildlife and the habitats and sitesthat support them. We believe that their supportfor our mission to create a world richer in nature isdriven primarily by a deep appreciation of the intrinsicvalue of nature. This extends to support for rare andthreatened animals and plants in remote places, oftenoverseas where the majority of us will never encounterthem directly. As in much of life, moral choices areconsidered alongside the economic concerns – theyare not mutually exclusive.Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England11

Visibility of biodiversity valuesVALUEMaintaining ecologicalfunctionMISSINGSTOCKSNatural capitalFLOWSEcosystem andabiotic servicesVALUEGoods and servicesPARTIALLYHIDDEN ORMISSINGBiodiversityVALUENature as natureMISSINGIn practice, a Natural Capital approachtends to focus on the quantifiable andmonetisable economic values, oftenleading to biodiversity’s “value” beinghidden or missing. This is becausemonetised estimates only reflectrelatively minor elements of themulti-faceted nature of biodiversityvalues, which can be categorised intothree groups of value:in the total values of nature but arerarely highlighted and therefore arenot visible.Ecosystem and biotic services:Direct benefits to people are typicallythe easiest to assess, such as thevalue of hunting or wildlife watching.As the RSPB is well aware, wildlifewatching is highly valued in theUK. While this value is important,it is likely to be a small element ofbiodiversity’s total value.Maintaining ecological function:While biodiversity provides benefitsto people directly and indirectlyas described above, it also hasvalue as an asset, being the livingcomponent of the Natural Capitalstock. While man-made assets tendto be replaceable, there are likelyto be critical levels of biodiversitybelow which ecological function isdisrupted. If biodiversity declinesbeyond a certain point, the naturalfunctioning of the system canchange in the short or long term inunpredictable, non-linear, and nonmarginal ways.Biodiversity also indirectly supportsnature’s ability to provide all thegoods and services that we value.For example, bacteria’s role inpurifying water, and plants that helpsupport populations of pollinatorswhich ensure crops are fertilised.The values of these intermediate orsupporting services are embeddedRelated to this is the role ofbiodiversity in the ecosystems abilityto cope with shocks and change,such as new diseases and changesin climate. These systematic values,related to notions of persistence ofresilience, do not lend themselvesto marginal valuation reflected ineconomic valuation.Reproduced fromBolt et al (2016)and originallyadapted from theNatural CapitalCoalition, 2016.“Natural CapitalProtocol”As such, biodiversity is nature’sinsurance policy, supporting a widerrange of nature’s benefits into thefuture. It also provides the opportunityto deliver different benefits, as desiredby future generations.For example, even 20 years ago, itwas not appreciated that healthy peatbogs would play an important role inregulating our climate. Retaining asyet undiscovered and unappreciatedroles of nature is a critical aspect offuture proofing and commitment tointer-generational equity and fairness.Value of nature as nature: Manypeople hold the deep seated valuethat saving nature is the right thing todo as stewards of this planet. These‘moral’ values are often inter-twinedwith other ‘non-use’ values, such assense of place and cultural values.Regardless of how we refer to suchvalues, it is clear they are extremelyimportant and are also not amenableto robust monetary valuation.Summarised from Bolt et al, 2016 Biodiversity at the Heart of Accounting for Natural Capital12Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England

2.1 Natural Capital Accounting and biodiversity“Our inability to convey the value of investing in environmentalimprovements and the benefits of preventing degradation has been a majorfactor in the loss of Natural Capital that has been seen over the past halfcentury or more.“Natural Capital Committee (2017)Natural Capital Accounting is a rapidly-developing toolto support delivery of a N

Accounting for Nature: A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England 77. Puffin by Chris Gomersall ( 8. Humans depend on nature, not only for the provision of drinking water and food production, but also through the inspiring landscapes and amazing wildlife spectacles that enrich our lives. It is increasingly understood that protecting and enhancing the natural .

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