Environmental economics – valuing nature’s benefits

A seismic shift in our shared understanding of our connection with the natural world, and the benefits it brings to us, is shaping new information and data needs for our clients. Driven by net-zero and biodiversity net gain commitments, our clients are seeking to identify where they can most effectively invest in nature-based solutions to meet public-facing commitments but also to adopt a ‘climate-ready’ business model and to de-risk their assets and services against the shared and connected challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Our valuations inform robust business cases, evidencing the need to invest in nature-based solutions. Our spatial tools map and model natural processes to identify where best to provide nature-based solutions and by what means. Our innovative digital tools make it easier to explore this information and share it with stakeholders and the wider public. Our technology can assess the condition and extent of nature’s assets and monitor progress towards their restoration. We can visualise what the landscape looks like if viewed in terms of the benefits it provides to us (whether that be storing carbon, cleaning water, cleaning air, holding back floods or providing health and well-being) and identify where restoration is needed, who will benefit and by how much.

In our 2018 Landscape Institute Awards, Local Landscape Planning category award-winning Burton Washlands project, we quantified the benefits of a 630-ha habitat creation scheme in Burton upon Trent. The aim was to unlock the location’s environmental, economic and social potential, and promote resilience to the area’s ongoing challenges, including flood risk, health deprivation and water quality, as well as climate change. Our approach incorporated public and stakeholder engagement workshops exploring what benefits could be designed in, where and how. We monetised the scheme’s benefits in terms of nature restoration at £2.66 million (present value of benefits, 40 y) which attracted £2.5 million in investment.

Our project Transforming the Trent Valley has used 10-m-resolution satellite data to precisely map habitat extent across the study area. We used this data to map the distribution of nature’s benefits across the area and provide quantification and valuation metrics. Each year, natural capital across the area is providing at least £20 million in benefits including carbon storage, air and water quality, water storage, health and well-being. We also mapped nature restoration projects and quantified the value of these in terms of carbon and biodiversity offsetting opportunities.

In the further example of the Chester Wetlands and Green Link project, we identified a 76-ha nature restoration site in Chester that included 37 ha of woodland, 27 ha of semi-natural grassland and 12 ha of wetland. The project was instigated by local residents and councillors who saw the area’s potential, as a ‘green lung’ of Chester, providing multiple benefits such as water quality, biodiversity and carbon storage. We developed the design, linking it into the strategic ambitions of the Mersey Forest and the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. We valued the project’s benefits at £5 million (present value of benefits, 100 y), evidencing the project’s potential to store 6690 t of carbon. This evidence has been used to support a funding application for the project’s next development stages.

Binnies is part of the RSK Group of companies

RSK Group is a leading integrated environmental, engineering and technical services business offering bespoke end-to-end solutions to a variety of sectors. Headquartered in the UK but with an established presence throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, RSK helps organisations around the world achieve their business aspirations in a sustainable and efficient manner.