Humans are dependent on goods and services provided by the natural environment, including assets such as soils, trees, water, air and insect pollinators. We use the term 'natural capital' to recognise the importance of nature’s assets and the benefits that flow from them. In order to provide better information on natural capital to support policy and research needs, data, models and scientific knowledge need to be brought together.
The NCMet project will integrate CEH and external data, models and science on natural capital assets, ecosystem services and human well-being. We envisage that this science will underpin policy implementation, such as natural flood management, ecosystem accounts and the Defra 25 year plan for natural capital restoration.
CEH has unrivalled expertise and experience in the science of the natural environment that underpins natural capital. We collect and collate data through programmes such as the Countryside Survey, Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Project, the Environmental Change Network (ECN), the Biological Records Centre and the National River Flow Archive. Such environmental datasets can be used to define measures of natural capital that relate to human benefit. However, this often requires datasets to be translated or combined in complex ways because of multifaceted interactions and the multiple benefits that arise. For example, the existence of woodland, its location in a catchment, the interaction of the trees with soil all combine to determine carbon storage, flood management, recreation and biodiversity.
CEH has developed in-house statistical models, such as Ecomaps, and uses external models, such as InVEST, LUCI and ARIES, to explore such interactions and understand how decisions on management or restoration of environmental assets will deliver different levels of natural capital.
The NCMet project will:
- Define a conceptual framework for linking natural capital asset datasets to human well-being, identifying and providing an evidence base for any intervening steps in the chain, such as intermediate or final ecosystem services
- Produce inventories of available asset datasets that contribute to knowledge of natural capital
- Identify and make available best knowledge of the processes and functions that define the interactions among natural capital assets, and how such interactions underpin the delivery of ecosystem services (e.g. through reviews)
- Develop and apply tools and models that use this best available knowledge and recent data processing capabilities (such as cloud computing) to combine natural capital datasets and produce outputs that are, or can be transformed (e.g. by economists) into, measures of ecosystem services and human well-being
- Develop knowledge exchange and communication tools, such as portals on the CEH website, to provide access to datasets and project outputs, and to enable exploration of the chain of evidence linking natural capital to ecosystem services and human well-being.
The NCMet workplan integrates conceptual and methodological innovation with empirical analysis from a range of case studies covering natural capital assets in land, water and air systems (Figure 1). It is based on three organising principles:
- WP1 Coordination and conceptual framework: provides the overall coordination and management for the project, and develops the conceptual framework for integration of project components.
- WPs 2 to 4 Datasets, evidence chain and models/tools: identifies CEH and external datasets that provide information on natural capital assets, and evaluates the chain of evidence concerning how these assets can be translated into different ecosystem services and benefits, including the development or advancement of any models, tools, methods and/or algorithms that are needed for this translation. Research in the first year focuses on selected case studies from land, water and air systems:
- Land: Pollination linked to food provision;
- Air: Air quality regulation linked to clean air;
- Water: Water quality regulation linked to clean water; Flood mitigation; Recreational fisheries.
- WP5 Natural capital portal and knowledge exchange: supports the dissemination of the project outcomes through the development of a natural capital portal and other knowledge exchange activities.