The UK’s natural environment and the benefits it provides are in trouble, says the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. The situation will continue to deteriorate unless policymaking includes the value of ecosystem services. A comprehensive stocktake of the nation’s natural environment and the services provided to society has been published by a partnership of over 500 experts led by Professor Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser to the environment department (DEFRA).
The UK National Ecosystem Assessment fills over 1,000 pages and is the first of its kind at country level. It sets out the case for including the value of ecosystem services in decision-making and is expected to be reflected in the natural environment white paper due on 7 June.
The assessment measures 16 types of service provided by the natural environment, including crop production, fisheries, recreational value, climate regulation, pollination and flood protection.
The total value of these benefits to society is measured in billions of pounds per year, the report says – for instance woodland carbon sequestration alone is worth £600m each year.
But the trends in ecosystem service provision from the UK’s eight broad habitat types are not good. Since 1990, 36 of the 106 habitat-ecosystem service combinations have deteriorated. Only 19 of the 106 services checked had improved.
The assessment highlights soil quality as cause for particular concern. Soil quality has not improved in any UK habitat over the past 20 years. And it has declined in semi-natural grasslands, enclosed farmlands, wetlands, floodplains, urban areas and coastal margins the report found.
The report also shows how the UK is living beyond its environmental means, degrading the environment at home and impacting other parts of the world. One third of the biomass in food and timber consumed here comes from overseas, while two thirds of UK water demand is met through water embedded in imports, the report says.
"It would not be sensible to attempt to put a total price on the nation’s nature and the services it provides. “Without the environment, we’re all dead – so the total value is infinite,” University of East Anglia economist Professor Ian Bateman told BBC News.
The assessment compares plausible future scenarios for the next 50 years where different policy approaches and societal choices are weighed against their impacts on economic prosperity, well-being and ecosystem
The six scenarios are: business as usual; ‘world markets’ dominated by liberalised trade and economic growth; ‘national security’ where food and energy needs are met largely at home; ‘local stewardship’ with devolved government and a focus on sustainability of the immediate surroundings; ‘nature at work’ where the ecosystem approach is widely accepted; and ‘green and pleasant land’ which focuses on protectionism and imports to satisfy increased consumption.
Download the report from Defra http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/documents/UKNEA_SynthesisReport.pdf
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