New study on the 'natural capital' of the AONB

ln March this year, the Cornwall AONB Unit began work with the Consultancy for Environment and Economic Policy and the UK Council for Sustainable Business on a project to assess the state of the 'natural capital' of the AONB. An interim report of the preliminary findings of the study is now available here. 

Put simply, natural capital is the stock of nature that provides a service to people. For example a wetland provides flood control and a woodland improves air quality. These services are often provided for free and they are often over-exploited through unsustainable practices, resulting in a degradation of the natural capital, a weakening of the services and knock on effects such as declines in habitat quality and loss of biodiversity.

The aim of this project is to create a shared understanding and vision for Natural Capital management in the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (CAONB) for the benefit of businesses, people and wildlife alike so that we can begin to better understand the value of our natural capital and begin to talk about long term investment in it. 

The objectives are: 

• To establish an indicative but evidence-based Natural Capital assessment and ecosystem service flow analysis for the CAONB: 

• To assess business risks and opportunities related to changing ecosystem services: 

• To establish a positive vision and set of key principles for Natural Capital management in the CAONB

• To introduce tools businesses can use to better assess, manage and adapt to changing Natural Capital and ecosystem services

The study developed six categories of natural capital for the purposes of assessment; Coast, Heathland, Wetland & Disturbed Ground, Open Water, Semi-Natural Grassland, Woodland, Scrub & Bracken and Arable Land & Improved Grassland. The study also mapped the Built Environment.

The preliminary results of the study have painted (rather surprisingly) a quite positive picture, indicating little change in the extent of our main natural capital areas between 1995 and 2005. However, this does not mean that everything is great and no further action is required. It is an indicative assessment of the past rather than an outlook into the future and whilst the data can tell us about extent, it cannot tell us about quality. Increasing future pressures and drivers of change for example from development, economic growth and climate change are all expected to have a significant effect on our 'natural capital', both in terms of extent and quality. We hope to undertake the survey again when a new datatset on Cornwall's Land Cover is available from the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS) in 2017.

The next steps in the study are to undertake opportunities mapping to map out where we could extend and link areas of natural capital and improve our resource. In addition we're going to undertake a survey of businesses to try to assess how much businesses consider their own impacts upon natural capital and how much businesses in Cornwall assess risk to their business of future declines in Natural Capital. If you are interested in partaking in either survey or have any comments on the interim results of the study, please get in touch with Cornwall AONB Partnership Manager, Colette Beckham on 01872322350.