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What can natural capital do for our urban environments?

With the publication of the State of Nature report 2016 and in the run up to the consultation on proposals for Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, there have been a number of events held here in Manchester, as well as in Preston and London, focussing on the role of Natural Capital and valuing nature.

The events featured presentations from leading practitioners and academics asking a range of important questions such as:

“Is green infrastructure fit for purpose for now and the future and how do we make a more effective case for restoring the natural capital of our cities?"

With each of the events full to the brim with interesting presentations and publications, the following review highlights some of the key ‘Natural Capital’ messages I took away, with accompanying links to the relevent online resources.

Place Making and Prosperous Cities

On 22nd September City of Trees hosted a free seminar at the Manchester Football Academy to analyse the importance of urban greening. 

The event featured a keynote talk by Dr Kathleen Wolf from the University of Washington, a leading world authority on how green infrastructure can make our towns and cities more profitable.

The talk highlighted, “the positive economic impacts of trees and nearby nature in communities and cities which include higher property prices, appealing shopping destinations and places that support community health and wellness.”

Dr Wolf’s presentation focussed on key findings from a range of studies carried out across the world which are available online here.

You can watch a video of the event and download the presentations here.

In the run up to the event, the BBC featured an article on the importance of green space to our health and wellbeing and published findings from the Journal of Preventative Medicine  which found that, “green spaces are worth £2.2bn to public health in England.”

It is hoped that the results will highlight the importance of encouraging more people to use parks in order to help reverse the trend of rising obesity levels across the UK.

Building Prosperous Cities

The Building Prosperous Cities Conference at London's City Hall on 27th September 2016 assessed the role of green infrastructure and natural capital in the success of our cities. 

For anyone new to this area, ‘Natural Capital’ and ‘Green Infrastructure’ are terms you may have heard before, but perhaps find it difficult to understand how they all fit together.

Ian Dickie from Eftec provided an excellent description of what the terms mean and stressed that both definitions are the same, but are used in reference to different groups.

Natural Capital is:

“…elements of natural environment provide valuable goods and services to people”

Green Infrastructure is:

“…a network of multi-functional green space … integral to the health and quality of life of sustainable communities”

A particular highlight from the key issues session was a presentation on revealing the true value of greenspace in cities: Sheffield's natural capital account. 

“For every pound spent currently by Sheffield City Council, on average £34 of services are supplied.”

As part of the presentation, a two page briefing note has been produced which summarises the key findings, which include:

All the conference resources are available online here and an article about the event has also been published in ‘The Planner’.

What's Nexit - The Future for Wildlife

What’s Nexit was an important and timely conference by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, held on 7th October at Brockholes Nature Reserve in Preston, which explored the future for people and wildlife in Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside, and the UK as a whole, following the EU referendum. 

"We are at a really important point with huge opportunities and threats ahea", said Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trust's director of England.

"We are facing the decline of our natural environment and species, but it's not all doom and gloom. The Wildlife Trusts can make a difference.

"We need to invest in bigger, better, more joined up nature conservation. Where we do invest our efforts in nature it works. We can create a much better landscape for the 21st century."

"Nature provides 40% of our global GDP, a hugely powerful illustration of the value of our natural world," said professor David Hill CBE from the Environment Bank."There's a real opportunity here to increase funding in the uplands for farming in an environmentally friendly way."

Key resources from the presentation can be accessed here, as can a helpful summary of potential impacts and an insightful report by WSP and Parsons Brinkerhoff: ‘Biodiversity Net Gain – A new role for infrastructure and development in improving Britain’s wildlife.

Valuing Nature

The Valuing Nature Network held their Annual Conference in Manchester on 18th October at Manchester Town Hall, which brought together researchers and people who make decisions that affect nature in business, policy-making and in practice.

The conference included presentations, interactive sessions, posters and networking opportunities and showcased a very simple and free valuation tool which is being developed by Exeter University and Defra, that looks at the recreational value of open space. It gives the user an annual estimated value based on approximated visits and variety of recreational uses. 

Visit the Valuing Nature website for further outputs from the conference.

Concluding thoughts

There are a number of exciting opportunities for Greater Manchester to consider Natural Capital as part of future growth ambitions, including the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, Defra’s Urban Pioneer and the Life IP funded Natural Course projects.

The Greater Manchester Natural Capital Group are looking to hold an important conference in early 2017 which will explore these issues in more detail and how we can encourage and support growth of the natural capital agenda across Greater Manchester. Further details will be published in due course.

 

Main image courtesy of City of Trees.

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