What has nature ever done for you? This may seem like an obvious question (thinking about the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat, and the clean water we drink is a good starting point), but the more you think about it, the more questions arise. So how do we go about identifying, quantifying, and valuing nature?
Over a number of years, ‘natural capital’ approaches have helped to find some of the answers to this, as it’s defined as the stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water, and all living things. From this, people derive a wide range of services called ‘ecosystem services’.
The Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan (2018) seeks to leave the environment in a demonstrably better condition, achieving an ‘Environmental Net Gain’ based on improvements in natural capital. To achieve this, the Environment Act (2021) introduced legally binding targets on specific environmental indicators (biodiversity, water, waste, air quality, marine and woodland cover). However, these can only partly help as they are broad brushed and don’t consider the complexity and interplay of ecosystem services
To try and address this, Natural England has developed the Environmental Benefits from Nature Tool to a beta level. Temple has been delighted to support them since 2021 by testing two of our clients’ development schemes as pilot studies.
The tool works similarly to the DEFRA Biodiversity Metric, used for quantifying Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), by entering baseline habitats data gathered by Temple’s qualified ecologists, along with habitats proposed within the design proposals. This leads to a set of time-based outcomes, showing how landscaping interventions can lead to changes in 18 different ecosystem services, as shown in the extract below.
Temple’s experts have engaged with our clients and their design teams to test the tool on a range of project sizes and types, and undertaken staged evaluations with Natural England and their representatives to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the tool. We’ve also added value by considering the different spatial levels the tool can be effective at for better decision making (e.g. managing trade-offs and local priorities), how it can integrate with wider data context, and be used to quantify Environmental Net Gain for future regulatory compliance, alongside evidence for green investment and robust ESG offsets.