Woodland planting of up to 250,000 additional hectares. Located near towns and cities, such areas can generate net societal benefits in excess of £500 million per annum;
Peatland restoration on around 140,000 hectares in upland areas. This would deliver net benefits of £570 million over 40 years in carbon values alone. Further work is needed to determine water quality, recreation and wildlife values. Including these will significantly increase the net benefits of such investments;
Wetland creation on around 100,000 hectares, particularly in areas of suitable hydrology, upstream of major towns and cities, and avoiding areas of high grade agricultural land. Benefit cost ratios of 3:1 would be typical, with up to 9:1 possible in some cases;
Restoring commercial fish stocks, particularly white fish (like cod) and shellfish, which remain considerably below optimal levels. We recognise that reducing the level of fishing effort to allow these stocks to recover will have short-term impacts on the fishing industry, but the long-term gains are potentially large, securing jobs in the industry for generations to come. Investing in measures to restore certain stocks of shellfish could deliver benefit cost ratios in excess of 6:1;
Intertidal habitat creation to meet objectives set out in Shoreline Management Plans. These areas provide a wide range of benefits including coastal flood protection (and can reduce costs of maintaining concrete defences), carbon storage, areas for wildlife and the provision of nursery grounds for important commercial fish stocks.
Urban greenspaces which can provide enormous recreation values, benefiting millions of people in our towns and cities. They also offer significant potential for improvements in physical and mental health which in turn will reduce health expenditures and improve labour productivity. Reduced health treatment costs alone of £2.1 billion have been estimated;
Urban air quality is the top environmental risk factor for premature deaths in Europe. It causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year and reduces productivity, which together costs the economy at least £20 billion per annum. It also has a significant negative impact on life prospects for children (e.g. by lowering educational achievement);
Improving the environmental performance of farming. Farming is an important sector of the economy but its impacts on natural capital are substantial. Addressing these impacts would deliver significant benefits for society. Channelling subsidies towards environmental schemes that demonstrate good economic returns would be very worthwhile. Also, investing in measures to connect wildlife areas across farming landscapes, as set out in the Lawton Review, will significantly increase net benefits to wildlife from these areas.
If you know of other potential investments in natural capital that similarly offer strong economic returns and have evidence of those, the Committee would like to hear about them – please email [email protected]
The Committee, working with a Consortium of eftec, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), ABPmer and Regeneris, has reviewed economic evidence on the costs and benefits of protecting and improving natural capital. Carefully planned investments in natural capital, targeted at the best locations, will deliver significant value for money and generate large economic returns. These are competitive with the returns generated by more traditional infrastructure investments. To illustrate this, we have reviewed a suite of cases in England which could form the basis of a natural capital investment programme. We have found a strong economic case for: