More to a forest than money

Angus Middleton argues that putting a price on natural capital is not the pinnacle of achievement, but simply a step in the right direction

The financial valuation of nature seems to have been something of a holy grail over the past few years. Vast effort has been expended to put a figure on the ecosystem services that habitats provide, from which a capital value can be entered on an accounting balance sheet. I applaud this as it has brought the ecosystem approach into boardroom consciousness. It is helping shape good policy. But the time has come to move beyond this and onto the next incarnation of valuation, one that will flow naturally into management planning tools.

The root of the current problem is with the high degree of approximations, assumptions and omissions required to put a financial value on ecosystem services. Take recreation as an example. There are many ways to value how people use a forest, for instance, but common examples are through the cost of getting there or simply asking them. This does not capture how many alternative recreational options the people have, the potential of the forest to reduce deprivation outcomes (perhaps by improving access), how the forest affects other ...

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