© Tom Marshall
Valuing Nature - The importance of wildlife and a healthy natural environment.
We are fortunate in that, compared with many others, our county remains relatively rich in natural habitats
There is increasing recognition that there is overwhelming economic as well as social value delivered by a healthy natural environment – a value which until recently has been largely overlooked.
Our aim is to advance the understanding of the value of nature. We work in partnership to ensure that the true costs – and benefits – of natural services are taken into account, and that as a result, business and economic decisions support a healthy natural environment.
A healthy natural environment is vital in providing all of us with our basic needs for existence: food, shelter, clean water and air. Nature also provides for our physical and mental well-being through access to areas for relaxation, culture and sport. Our survival and well-being as individuals, and our function as a society, depend on the continued delivery of these and other natural benefits or ‘Ecosystem Services’.
However, often we do not fully value the services that nature provides. For example, creating a natural floodplain grazing meadow to absorb excess water can conserve wildlife, as well as protecting built-up areas from flooding – often at a lower cost than building hard defences.
Recent work is steadily increasing the recognition that robust economic decisions can only be made if the value of the services provided by nature is taken into account. However, much research remains to be done to continue to build practical metrics and convincing examples.
The Value of Natural Services
In response to this need, one of Surrey Wildlife Trust’s key areas of strategic activity for the next 5 years is to develop and understand more effectively the value of natural services to Surrey and its residents and visitors. This is particularly important because the county’s position as the largest sub-regional economy in the South East is inextricably linked with the benefits provided by a healthy natural environment.
Unfortunately, the health of our natural environment is still under threat. Despite the best efforts of conservation work, the decline of wildlife species and the deterioration of their habitats have continued. Population pressure, management neglect, and atmospheric or waterborne pollution have all played a part.
Future climate change may have the biggest impact of all, and Surrey is already witnessing some resulting natural phenomena. Changes in the timing of seasonal events are worrying. Impacts such as increasingly frequent extreme weather events causing flooding and drought are likely to have further profound and largely negative effects, and some species will inevitably struggle to survive.
Making Space for Nature
We are fortunate in that, compared with many others, our county remains relatively rich in natural habitats, especially in heathland and woodland, much of which is protected within well-managed sites.
‘Making Space for Nature’, the important DEFRA Report of 2010 led by distinguished Professor Sir John Lawton, highlighted the need to manage and protect these and other high quality sites in the UK, as well as create improved and effective connections to form ecological networks that provide sufficient space and resilience for wildlife to thrive and move.
These networks can be envisaged as inter-relating collections of key habitats together with well-managed local sites acting as ‘stepping stones’ and wildlife corridors. It is the in-built resiliance created by ecological networks that will allow Surrey’s natural ecosystem services to remain effective.