Assessing the state of our natural assets and their benefits to people.

Bee Photo: Heather LowtherHumans are dependent on goods and services provided by the natural environment, including soils, insect pollinators and water. We use the term natural capital to recognise the importance of nature’s assets and the benefits that flow from them. This gives natural capital equal status in decision-making alongside: manufactured capital (e.g. buildings), human capital (e.g. knowledge), financial capital (e.g. loans) and social capital (e.g. relationships). It is often the combination of natural and other capital that delivers society’s needs.

Our research 

Natural Capital Science Area Summary front cover

CEH has unrivalled expertise and experience in the science of the natural environment that underpins natural capital. The Natural Capital Science Area brings this together, such that the new whole is more than a sum of the existing and future parts of CEH. We will use surveys, experiments, analysis and modelling to produce detailed knowledge of water, soils, plants, animals and atmosphere provided by the UK environment. We will assess the amount and character of living and non-living resources, how they relate to each other and how they produce goods and services for us. With this knowledge we will work with other experts in economics, health and sociology to evaluate the benefits of natural capital to human well-being, how to balance exploitation with protection and where management and restoration efforts should be targeted.

Research activity in the UK and overseas, in rural and in urban areas, will include:

  • interpretation of our UK-wide surveys and monitoring datasets, including soil, water, air, plants and animals, in terms of stocks and change in natural capital.
  • identification of key indicators for natural capital that inform stocks and change.
  • production of tools for measurement, assessment, mapping and accounting of natural capital.
  • detection of past and projection of likely future changes in natural capital under external drivers and pressures.
  • definition of levels of sustainable utilisation of natural capital and identification of irreversible thresholds.
  • identification of natural capital at risk.
  • delivery of strategies for sound natural capital restoration and management.

Future research objectives

Defining the status of (UK) natural capital

By 2019, we will:

  • establish a knowledge base and hub on natural capital.
  • report on the inventory, value and trends in soil carbon stocks in UK Coastal Margin habitats.
  • develop metrics and accounting units to measure extent and
  • condition of natural capital.
  • produce an inventory of natural capital quantity and quality and how this influences the provision of ecosystem services.

Guiding management and restoration of natural capital

By 2019, we will:

  • review evidence and identify options for restoration of specific ecosystems.
  • produce a framework for assessing trade-offs in ecosystem services for management options.
  • evaluate the role of off-setting to mitigate loss of natural capital.
  • produce guidance on the size and configuration requirements for key elements of our natural capital.

Recording how natural capital is changing and identifying causes of change

By 2019, we will:

  • quantify short and long-term trends and natural variations and how these vary at local and national scales.
  • explain the causes of observed variations and trends and the sensitivity of natural capital to different drivers.
  • produce a framework for projecting future trends.

Defining sustainable levels of natural capital exploitation

By 2019, we will:

  • review the evidence for thresholds of change or tipping points.
  • examine the links between resource exploitation targets and sustainable management.
  • produce a framework for assessing sustainable exploitation.
  • develop a register of natural capital at risk.

Links to other CEH Science Areas

Natural Capital embraces much of the research that CEH undertakes, thus strong links with the other CEH Science Areas are crucial, including data from Monitoring & Observation Systems and Soils and environmental processes understanding from Water Resources, Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions and Ecosystem Processes & Resilience.

CEH’s Environmental Informatics programme will develop tools to link data, analysis and dissemination to support the CEH and wider research community. A prime example is a web-based semantic catalogue to translate information on available datasets to natural capital language, thus enabling discovery of suitable data.


CEH has a unique capability in the UK, integrating science in terrestrial and freshwater environments that underpins the UK’s ability to report on stocks and change in the components of natural capital. We will work collaboratively with other organisations particularly with expertise in economic and social aspects of natural capital to deliver knowledge of the flow of benefits from natural capital to people.

Examples of our existing collaborations are:

Contact us

For general enquiries, please see our Contacts page.

Science Area Lead

Business Development Manager

Science Coordinator

Professor Mike Acreman

Mike Acreman

Dr David Fraser

Dr David Fraser of CEH

Dr Nick Jackson

Nick Jackson

Tel: +44 (0)1491 838800
Tel: +44 (0)1491 838800
Tel: +44 (0)1491 838800


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