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Natural Capital - why is it important?

Leading practitioners from across the country attended Greater Manchester’s Natural Capital Annual Conference on 1 February to discuss the benefits of natural capital and how to account for it.

Leading practitioners from across the country attended Greater Manchester’s Natural Capital Annual Conference on 1 February to discuss the benefits of natural capital and how to account for it.

‘Natural capital’ concerns the economic value of ecosystem services such as green space, clean air, waterways and biodiversity.

According to the Natural Capital Coalition, whose members include AkzoNobel, Kingfisher, M&S and Nestle, without accounting for natural capital on its balance sheet an organisation has no visibility of the resources that underpin its success and is therefore less able to identify risks to its business.

For example, regular access to green space has been shown to lower stress and have positive health impacts, which can improve productivity and reduce work absenteeism.

Expert views

To discuss what protecting natural capital can do for urban environments in Greater Manchester, more than 100 representatives from environment, health, planning, utilities and transport organisations came together in Salford on 1 February.

The conference included a number of workshop sessions led by sector experts to share ideas and work towards finding solutions to barriers by identifying what works, what does not work, what could be improved and how.

The solutions discussed covered issues such as sustainable urban water drainage systems (SuDS), the move towards ‘net gain’ thinking and natural capital accounting tools for organisations.

Keynote speakers at the event included Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency (pictured), and Andrew Holden from Defra. 

Government leadership

Commenting on how natural capital is incorporated into the government’s forthcoming 25-year environment plan, Andrew Holden said: “We have set up four Pioneer project areas to trial and test new ways of working for local environmental benefits. There is a rural landscape in North Devon, an urban setting in Greater Manchester, a network of river catchments in Cumbria and a project in the marine environments off the costs of Suffolk and North Devon.

“We want to design an effective approach to driving environmental improvement, tailored to the needs of our country that has a powerful and permanent impact - ensuing a healthy environment and strong economy.”

Greater Manchester

The conference was also an opportunity to introduce the EU Life Integrated Project, Natural Course, which through a collaboration of public, private and third sector organisations will protect and improve the North West water environment. 

Mark Turner, natural course GM team leader at Greater Manchester Combined Authorities, said: “It was great to see such a variation of sectors attending on the day who were looking to find opportunities to adopt a natural capital approach. 

“Through Natural Course, we are hoping to protect and improve Greater Manchester’s rivers, strengthening the city’s current natural capital.”