Natural Capital Investment Strategy
Natural Capital is a framework that views the natural environment through the lens of its benefits to wildlife, the economy and society. In that sense it is perfectly aligned to the mission of the LNP. Natural capital considers assets and flows. Assets are land, water, forests, biodiversity, clean air. The flows that emanate from these assets are known as Ecosystem services, and it is the distribution of these that our Natural Capital mapping project has spatially represented. Ecosystem services are things like carbon sequestration and storage, air pollutant removal, water flow regulation and include cultural services, such as sense of place and human interaction with nature.
Natural Capital Investment in Gloucestershire has hitherto focussed much attention on small sites, been restricted largely to land owned by conservation organisations or public bodies, and limited by the size of public funds and charitable donations. More recently, novel approaches have been trialed, such as the Payments for Ecosystem Services pilot led by FWAG and CCRI which sought to understand whether private 'buyers' of ecosystem services, in this case water quality, could pay land holders to deliver this service for them. The buyer can be a water company, paying farmers to stop using (for instance) slug pellets, the cost of whose removal from the water course at a later date is greater than the cost of paying farmers to stop using them. This is known as a market in avoided costs.
Other examples of natural capital investment, or payments for ecosystem services, are carbon trading, and biodiversity net gain. Many actors, from individual members of the public to large multinational corporations, wish for a variety of reasons to pay others to sequester carbon, usually through planting trees (although a project is underway to establish a carbon code for soils, whereby farmers could get paid for more soil-friendly farming practices).
In order to ensure that natural capital investment in Gloucestershire does not have unintended dis-benefits and delivers in the most cost effective manner against local priorities the Local Nature Partnership has determined to support the establishment of an entity or vehicle to collate, blend, prioritise and distribute funds (blending here refers to the ability to mix, say, carbon money with biodiversity money, ensuring delivery of multiple benefits and providing cost savings).
Key principles we may wish to consider:
- ability to deliver biodiversity net gain in alignment with Defra metric
- transparent governance process, probably with a board of Trustees
- evidence based, with decisions guided by data from the Natural Capital and Nature Recovery mapping
- strategically aligned, such as with the Gloucestershire Tree Strategy, Local Industrial Strategy, Local Nature Recovery Strategy etc
- ability to deliver cross-boundary projects
- ability to leverage private investment, for instance
The Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership cannot and will not run such a body. We can, however, provide access to any necessary expertise, evidence, project identification and strategic alignment. The LNP Board can help guide the direction of travel for its establishment, and the partnership manager may also assist with identifying and submitting funding applications.
This is an exciting time for Gloucestershire's nature, but haste is needed to ensure we are able to act at scale to mitigate the ecological and climate emergencies that threaten the resilience of our natural environment.