Natural capital refers to parts of the natural environment, such as forests, fisheries, rivers, biodiversity, land and minerals, that provide valuable goods and services to society. Much like human capital (labour, skills and experience), recent reviews recognise that natural capital should be seen as an economic asset that if managed effectively, can bring a whole range of benefits for society and environment.
In the ocean, the natural capital approach helps us consider the value of things like natural resources, fishing, recreation, coastal protection and/or offshore wind. It also helps us see the ocean as an interconnected system rather than individual parts. This helps address a key challenge where a lack of clear evidence and data results in markets and institutions not reflecting the true value of the goods and services that our oceans provides. With increasing pressure on our oceans for food and energy production, effective policy making requires considering a broad range of economic, social, and environmental data to make complex decisions and trade-offs.
Our understanding of the true benefits that our oceans provide is improving through the Marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (mNCEA) programme. Part of Defra’s flagship Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme and started in 2022, mNCEA is a 3-year programme which aims to deliver the evidence, tools and guidance needed to help policymakers integrate natural capital approaches into policy and decision making for marine and coastal environments. Taking into account the whole marine system, Cefas works alongside its partners the Environment Agency, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Marine Management Organisation, and Natural England to deliver these projects and outcomes.
Having completed its first year, we are pleased to announce the following outputs are now available as proof-of-concept:
- North Sea carbon, fishing, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and offshore wind farms trade-offs (Cefas) – This report demonstrates the use of the Spatially Managed Marine Area Tool (SMMART) to provide a flexible framework to evaluate trade-offs between sectoral and ecological objectives associated with different spatial management scenarios.
- Rapid review of marine natural capital asset classes and logic chains (Cefas) – A review of the application of the natural capital approach to the marine environment set out the definition of a common set of marine asset classes, and identified priority marine natural capital data and evidence gaps.
- Nearshore water quality and pelagic asset status (Cefas and Environment Agency) – This project sets out the importance of coastal water bodies as an important marine natural capital asset . Outputs include defining logic chains which connect attributes of nearshore water asset status to ecosystem service delivery, and a monitoring and indicator assessment review to identify information gaps that could be addressed by future data collection.
- Using the natural capital approach to review the value of English saltmarshes as nursery grounds for commercially important fish (Cefas and Environment Agency) – This study reviewed and summarised natural capital evidence and approaches to demonstrate the value of saltmarshes as nursery grounds for a commercially and recreationally important fish species, the sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in a case study.
- Opportunistic sampling for blue carbon to begin to address evidence gaps for carbon stocks and fluxes in UK continental shelf sediments (Cefas) – This study addressed gaps in the carbon evidence base (stock, sequestration, and condition) by collecting raw data on organic carbon stocks and burial in the North Sea shelf sediments and developing and testing a carbon analytical toolbox for carbon source and vulnerability
- A natural capital account for the industrial sandeel fishery (Natural England) – This report demonstrates the use of a natural capital and ecosystem-based approach as a tool to inform fisheries management decisions. A natural capital assessment of the North Sea industrial sandeel fishery in ICES Area IV was completed to explore how different management scenarios affect the overall value within the system.
Dr Michelle Devlin, Cefas Principal Investigator for Nearshore Water Quality said:
“The mNCEA programme is an exciting and innovative approach to valuing the many different aspects of our marine environment. We all intrinsically know there is value, but it means many different things to many different people, and the work under this programme will help provide increased clarity and understanding of those values, and how we can protect them”.
Dr Clement Garcia, Lead of the mNCEA Seascapes programme added:
“The first year of mNCEA has laid a the ground work for better understanding and assessing marine natural capital. From this baseline understanding, we are now working on year 2 and beyond projects, and look forward to delivering a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits provided by our marine environment.”
Please reach out to marineNCEA@defra.gov.uk with questions or if you would like to be put in touch with project leads.
We will continue to share outputs from our proof-of-concepts and first year of the programme as these become available. Follow the link to https://randd.defra.gov.uk/ to see all reports.