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The Value of Nature and the Nature of Value


Dr Helen Davies discusses the publication of ‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’.

Today marks the publication of ‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’.

Commissioned by the UK Government, the review reveals that by continuing to exploit and degrade the natural environment, we are putting human livelihoods and life itself at risk. But, as the review sets out, there are actions we can take now to get nature back on track. Firstly, we need to increase investment in nature-based solutions to environmental and social problems. Secondly, we need to include ‘natural capital’ in national accounting systems so that nature is treated like other assets. Thirdly, we need to embed the natural world in education and finance systems so that protecting and enhancing it becomes a force of habit. In other words, we must all learn to value nature.

‘Value’ is defined as “how useful or important something is”, whilst ‘values’ are “the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong and what is most important in life, that control their behaviour”. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important nature is to the majority of people. The benefits nature provides – particularly to our physical and mental health and wellbeing – have finally made it out of our sub-conscious and into the mainstream. But in what ways do we value nature, and how might this new found appreciation for nature change the way places are designed in future?

Most people view nature almost entirely through a human-centred lens, and this is reflected in many of the frameworks that have emerged over the past decade to describe nature’s value. For example, the ‘Total Economic Value’ framework, the ‘UK National Ecosystem Assessment’, and ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ all frame nature in terms of its value to people. This includes individuals using nature directly (e.g. berry picking), and indirect societal benefits (e.g. from the regulation of flood risk). In contrast, some people feel that nature should be valued for its own sake, irrespective of human benefit. More recently, a new perspective of value has emerged through the ‘Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’. This framework incorporates what people find meaningful about nature, along with preferences and principles about human-nature relationships. The ways in which people value nature – and even a specific green space – are numerous and varied; and all are valid.

The relationships between people and nature have really come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic. As people have been prevented from undertaking their normal work and leisure activities, increased use of green spaces, country parks, beaches and public rights of way has proved to be a lifeline. For those able to access it, this ‘green infrastructure’ has contributed greatly to people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, for example through reducing stress, facilitating active travel, and in many cases, fostering new connections with the natural world. Post-pandemic, it is important that this new found appreciation for nature is maintained to facilitate its recovery, and that the quantity, quality and accessibility of green infrastructure is enhanced to meet everybody’s needs – both through government policy and individual developments.

Enhancing nature for the benefit of all requires a more nuanced understanding of local people’s needs and values by a variety of decision-makers. No existing valuation method is able to capture the full spectrum of nature’s values, and so use of a combination of appropriate biophysical, socio-cultural and monetary methods is recommended. Underpinned by science, biophysical valuation methods are used to identify the capacity of different green infrastructure features to provide specific benefits to people. Socio-cultural valuation aims to identify nature’s contributions to human wellbeing, in particular which benefits are most preferred, by whom and under what circumstances; whilst monetary valuation does this in financial terms.

Logika Group specialises in innovative, science-based green infrastructure solutions to private and public sector clients. To find out more about understanding people’s varying needs for green infrastructure, and bringing together different types of values to enhance decision-making, please get in touch:

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