The right tool at the right time: applying natural capital and ecosystem services valuation for decision-making purposes – experiences from Birmingham

Hölzinger, Oliver (2021). The right tool at the right time: applying natural capital and ecosystem services valuation for decision-making purposes – experiences from Birmingham. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Natural capital (geology, soil, air, water and all living things) and the ecosystem services it provides such as recreational opportunities, aesthetics and air, water and climate regulation are of critical importance for human wellbeing and economic prosperity. Despite acknowledgement of their importance, natural capital is often degraded and in continuing decline; both, in the UK and worldwide. Because the unregulated market is failing to lead itself to the sustainable use and management of these valuable natural capital assets, it is the duty of Government organisations to step in and set regulations and incentives to better protect and enhance natural capital.

To enable decision-makers to make informed decisions with respect to environmental policies and interventions, it is of great importance to reveal the so often hidden values of natural capital. Such valuation evidence is not only needed at the global and national scale, but also at the local scale where most land-use decisions take place; such as in Birmingham, UK, which has been chosen as a case study for this thesis.
Holistic natural capital and ecosystem services valuation is challenging and imperfect. In the past, academics were not particularly successful in working together with decision-makers to produce the valuation evidence the latter require to inform their decisions; despite remarkable progress in valuation research. The aim of this investigation was to bridge this ‘implementation gap’ between valuation evidence generated by academia and evidence demanded by local decision makers.

Four different valuation tools have been applied in the local policy context of Birmingham. This required the adaptation of three existing valuation tools to be suitable for the local context; namely ecosystem services mapping, Ecosystem Assessment, and Natural Capital Accounting. The last valuation tool, the Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT), needed to be developed from scratch because a comparable tool to assess the impact of planning decisions on ecosystem services did not exist. The created evidence and tools have for example informed Birmingham’s green infrastructure strategy and the design of a large-scale development on Birmingham’s green belt. It has also revealed that Birmingham’s parks and greenspaces services are good value for money as the benefits significantly outweigh the costs.

A demand-driven approach has been chosen when developing, adapting and applying these valuation tools to ensure that they meet the requirements and everyday circumstances of the decision makers. The research has shown that the ‘implementation gap’ can be narrowed by developing fit-for-purpose natural capital and ecosystem services valuation evidence and tools as long as they are developed in close collaboration with local decision makers and stakeholders.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences


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