1 February 2013
What if the services we get from the environment had to be paid for?
We think of what nature gives us - clean water, fresh air, fertile soil to grow food - as free. But these things have a value to us all, both financially and in ways that are harder to measure, like the value of our enjoyment of nature and our health.
What would happen if governments and businesses had to take these values into account when they made decisions? How might it affect the cost of the food in our shops, our access to recreation, or the quality of the natural environment?
These aren't just hypothetical questions. The services our environment provides are under threat as our demand for food and consumer goods grows. Businesses, policy-makers and regulators alike need to find ways to understand the full implications of the decisions they take, and make those decisions truly sustainable.
Recently, researchers have started to work out better ways of valuing the natural environment. NERC set up the Valuing Nature Network to bring the public and private sectors together with researchers to investigate complex questions around how to take account of the value of the natural environment.
A few examples of activities so far are shown below, but you can find out more about the progress of the Network's wide-ranging projects on its website.
The plan is that valuing nature's services will lead to better decisions and ultimately to real environmental improvements. The network is already showing how the value of the environment can be used by government in their decisions, whilst helping business find ways to improve both their environment and financial sustainability.
What kind of work is the Network doing?
- Uniting natural and social scientists to investigate how valuation can help avoid overexploitation and collapse of ecosystems.
- Working with businesses, including major international companies involved in crop production, to put a value on the social and environmental impacts of their operations.
- Helping farmers, tourism operators and local authorities to understand the full value of farmland, so it can be managed to support crop production, habitats for wildlife and recreation for the public.
Dr Ruth Welters is communications manager for the Valuing Nature Network. Email: email@example.com
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