Alice Lord, Natural Capital and Ecosystem Approach Specialist at Natural England, tells us about the newly-launched ‘National Natural Capital Atlas’.
The atlas maps out our natural capital assets and describes the benefits that they provide for people.
Nature provides people with a wide variety of benefits, for example, clean water, clean air, protection from hazards and beautiful views. Using a natural capital lens can help us understand and explain these benefits.
Our natural capital assets (for example, woodlands, beaches and grasslands) provide ecosystem services (for example trees absorb pollutants) and from these we realise benefits (we get cleaner air). If we want to ensure that we continue to receive these benefits in future, then it is critical to understand the health of our natural environment. The National Natural Capital Atlas uses Natural England’s Natural Capital Indicators and the best available, nationally consistent, datasets to report on the health of England’s natural capital. Where possible, it shows how much, how good and where our natural assets are, and what they are doing for people.
Launching the report, Tim Hill, Natural England’s Chief Scientist said:
“This innovative work adds to our understanding of what England’s nature is doing for people, and makes that widely available.
“By displaying the quantity, quality, and location of our natural assets across England, linked to the provision of ecosystem services, these maps show us which areas need continued support and protection, and where there are opportunities for enhancement. This sort of information is essential to help ensure nature-based solutions are located in the optimal place.”
The move builds on Defra’s recently launched ‘Enabling a Natural Capital Approach’ project, an ambitious new online resource which aims to help ensure better environmental decision-making by valuing our ‘natural capital’.
Where has the Atlas been used already?
The Atlas provides a method which can be repeated and applied at a range of scales. This method has already been used in the Ox-Cam growth arc to kick off their Local Natural Capital Plan.
Ceri Lewis, from the Ox-Cam Local Natural Capital Plan Pilot said:
"Our atlas created a visual and starting point for collaboration and has helped us engaged effectively with a range of stakeholders.
"It has provided us with a fantastic base for explaining the inter-relationships between natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide, as well as which datasets were available to use."
What else can the Atlas be used for?
The Atlas provides a baseline assessment of our natural capital in England, which means it can be a starting point from which to measure change. The atlas provides nationally consistent evidence which will be useful in designing a coherent nature recovery network across the country.
It could also be used to identify strategic areas to locate nature-based solutions to help combat the climate and biodiversity crisis. For example, the woodland maps show areas which could be extended or joined-up, while also highlighting where to avoid impacts from tree planting on other important habitats. Bringing all this together in one place means that the atlases can act as starting point for mapping opportunities for new woodland, providing multiple benefits to wildlife and people.
A series of natural capital atlases at county and city scale, with a resolution of 5 km2 are being produced which will provide a more detailed picture of the state of natural capital. We also aim to make the county and city scale maps downloadable, so that you can explore them further. These are expected to be available later in the year.