Natural Capital for Catchment Partnerships

Type: Technical Support & Training

This page provides a narrative to explain what natural capital is, why it is important for catchment partnerships and guides you through the growing list of resources

Most of us are familiar with the concept of physical assets such as buildings or roads and financial assets such as stocks and shares. Natural capital extends this concept by describing the natural environment as a stock of assets.  The concept of assets reminds us to maintain and restore where necessary, to ensure a sustainable balance between different asset types and to try to increase the value of our capital or ‘natural wealth’. The natural capital approach fits seamlessly within the CaBA workflow. Many partnerships are already delivering it.

The Natural Capital Committee advises the government on natural capital, such as forests, rivers, minerals and oceans. It 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.

The flow of services from natural capital to the benefits gained by people is illustrated in the diagram below.

For example, a catchment provides ecosystem services including water supply, water purification, erosion protection and fish habitat. These services provide benefits (e.g. clean and plentiful water and recreational opportunities) that people value. Ultimately society and the economy depend on the state of our environment (natural capital).

Natural capital should not be considered in isolation, but together with human, social, cultural, physical and financial capital which   are all bounded by and dependent on natural capital. The different capitals can be applied to the catchment based approach which aims to ensure a healthy water environment (natural capital). It reduces the risk to our homes and livelihoods (physical and financial capital) from flooding. A healthy water environment means better places to live where people (human capital) live and flourish. The Catchment Based Approach embeds collaborative working thus building social capital. The current emphasis on natural capital aims to turn around the decline in our natural environment by taking full account of the value of natural capital and the benefits we obtain from it. The flows between these capitals is illustrated in the figure below.



Benefits of the natural capital approach

The benefits of the natural capital approach include:

  • Improved planning and decision making that takes full account of the value of stocks of natural capital and the benefits obtained from them;
  • Improving reporting on environmental outcomes;
  • Demonstrating the overall value for society, delivered by natural capital investments;
  • Development of new markets and revenue streams to support natural capital.

The benefits of natural capital approaches are explained in more detail in the first state of natural capital report published by the natural capital committee and in Dieter Helm’s 2015 book – Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet.

The natural capital approach for CaBA partnerships

Partnerships implementing the CaBA workflow are already following much of the Natural Capital approach as set out in the Natural Capital Workbook (NCW). Partnerships should initially take a light touch approach to the assessment of natural capital until they know which parts of the approach will bring the greatest benefit to their work. The following sections will be added to as partnerships gain experience and will provide guidance and practical advice on integrating the natural capital approach into the CaBA workflow. Tools to assist with these activities are already available to catchment partnerships and more will be released in 2018/19.

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