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Access to nature comes at a cost – so let’s calculate

Natural capital affects not just our relationship with nature but also our economy – that brings risk and reward, says Eleanor Harris.

On 24 April 1932, groups of ramblers led an ‘organised trespass’ to the top of Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District, to protest against the Duke of Devonshire’s exclusion of the public. The event catalysed a movement that resulted in 1949 in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.

On 24 April 2021, Extinction Rebellion and Right to Roam marked the anniversary of the Kinder Scout trespass by organising a new one, raising interesting questions about the value of nature – what we call Natural Capital.

Walking barefoot across cold sand and paddling into the sea got me through the winter lockdown. Connecting with nature is vital, especially for the diverse urban majority, and disconnection has made us inattentive to its destruction.

Yet the reality is much more complex. This week, crews battled a deep-seated peat fire on Kinder Scout, one of many thought to have been caused by a disposable barbecue. These, like plastic grass, space heaters, sky-lanterns, 4x4s, and dogs which disturb ground nesting birds or carry insecticide into rivers, are used not by nature-haters, but by people trying to connect with nature. Ironically, those who prefer the gym, pub or X-Box cause far less trouble for nature.

Increased interest in landscape and wildlife reflects growing global concern over the environment, especially climate change and biodiversity loss. This is also reflected in major policy changes, such as the UK’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, and England’s new Environmental Land Management Schemes.

We long for nature – but encouraging England’s 56 million people to head for its most biodiverse spots in a country of only 13 million hectares, even with some encouraging messages about acting responsibly, can’t be the answer to tackling nature’s decline. There are no easy answers to this conundrum.

In any Natural Capital valuation it’s vital to take social aspects like accessibility, beauty, education and spiritual values seriously alongside items such as clean water, carbon capture or provision of food and timber. They can seem harder to measure because they are more intangible, but Natural Capital provides a way to disentangle these risks, opportunities, costs and benefits – and to begin to identify ways for city and country to move forward. If we don’t, all of us are going to pay.

Our work in helping clients manage and make the most of this natural wealth brings to bear many decades of expertise and practice gained in working for farmers, communities, investors, developers and others – across the full range of activities.

Why not contact me to discuss how we can help?