“If the UK’s ecosystems are properly cared for, they could add an extra £30bn a year to the UK’s economy; if they are neglected, the economic cost would be more than £20bn a year… Inland wetlands, for instance, are worth £1.5bn a year in improving water quality alone, and pollinators such as bees are worth at least £430m a year to agriculture.”
The key systemic issue, surely, is that if things are allowed to degrade then someone somewhere will make a profit from the £20bn annual cost of fixing things. Whereas we have not yet worked out a way to provide financial incentives for “properly caring for” the UK’s inland wetlands, for example.
There is some good news in the UK national Ecosystem Assessment, just published by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). We are learning how to use government to collectively incentivise landowners to do what is best for the whole:
“Recent incentive schemes (e.g. CAP pillar 2) have successfully contributed to the conservation of biodiversity. Agri-environmental schemes, especially the Higher Level Stewardship schemes, have generally led to the maintenance and restoration of existing habitats, with associated biodiversity benefits.”
This seems to be the key lever for change, although the way forward is described as being through “an appropriate mixture of regulations, technology, financial investment and education, as well as changes in individual and societal behaviour and adoption of a more integrated, rather than conventional sectoral, approach to ecosystem management.”
We have become a one-dimensional culture: we cannot see value in anything unless we express it in financial terms.
But we are beginning to learn the value of integrated, holistic approach.
Around one-third of the UK’s remaining natural assets are currently in danger of being lost to development or degraded through neglect. (These include rivers, wetlands, important wildlife habitats and city green spaces.) “Many others are in a reduced or degraded state, including marine fisheries, wild species diversity and some of the services provided by soils.”
Only 10% of the UK’s allotments remain. Between 1979 and 1997 10,000 playing fields were sold off .
The health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth an estimated £300 per person per year. Living close to rivers, coasts and wetlands also benefits residents by around about £1.3bn a year.
“This is the first time the benefits that the UK gains from its natural ecosystems have been quantified and a monetary value put on them.”