Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Natural Environment Research Council

I would like you to consider the evidence below in relation to the above mentioned inquiry. The evidence is submitted on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is a research centre of the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) reporting to government through BIS. CEH is the UK’s centre of excellence for integrated research on terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. CEH carries out its scientific research across three Science Programmes—Biodiversity, Water, and Biogeochemistry which integrate with a central data centre—the Environmental Informatics Data Centre.

CEH broadly welcomes the White Paper and welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to this second inquiry on this subject. Our views are submitted under the specific questions requested in the call for evidence.

What actions are required across Government Departments, from local government and by civil society to deliver the White Paper’s proposals to grow a green economy and reconnect people with nature?

1. CEH welcomes the initiatives towards growing a green economy in the White Paper, many of which are underway, for example the establishment of the Natural Capital Committee, the Defra call for a scoping study for a natural capital asset check, research on payments for ecosystem services, and the establishment of the Ecosystems Markets Task Force. It is clear, however, that business requires a clear approach to valuing nature in an arena where many drivers, methodologies and tools are starting to emerge. NERC’s Valuing Nature Network,1 in which CEH is involved, aims to make progress on the understanding of non-market ecosystem services and how these can be incorporated into decision-making.

2. CEH welcomes the further investment in the development of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) and the creation of a new fund for biodiversity recording in the voluntary sector. CEH has considerable experience in this area, eg through its Biological Records Centre and hosting of the NBN Gateway (holding > 15,000,000 records from 80 citizen recording schemes) as well as its involvement in other citizen science schemes monitoring pesticides, greenhouse gases and seabird populations.

3. Our large collations of volunteer-collected data demonstrate the potential of volunteer monitoring as a barometer of the health of the environment. However, provision of evidence from such monitoring programmes is not cost-free, but rather relies on long-term support in terms of volunteer liaison, data handling, quality assurance, publication and statistical support for measuring trends.2 Effective co-ordination representing the interests of the volunteers, the professionals and the end users, eg policymakers, is essential in order to ensure successful volunteer recording and monitoring, and this should be borne in mind for the development and implementation of a new fund in this area.

Will the institutional framework outlined for delivering the proposals (in particular Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships) be effective? Does the proposed Natural Capital Committee have sufficient powers?

No comment.

What further research and/or evidence is required to develop practical programmes sufficiently detailed to deliver the White Paper’s ambition to fully embed the value of nature into policy delivery?

4. Research is needed in the following areas to embed the value of nature into policy delivery:

(i)There is a need to draw on social science expertise to evaluate successful engagement with volunteers and environmental monitoring expertise to help achieve the optimal balance between professionals and volunteers for biological monitoring/recording schemes.

(ii)Development of monitoring, data and modelling at a national level to enhance our understanding of the state of ecosystem services. CEH produces Countryside Survey, a world leading study of change in the UK countryside. Countryside Survey was established in 1978 and has since been carried out at regular intervals in 1984, 1990, 1998 and most recently 2007. The project samples and studies the countryside using rigorous scientific methods, allowing comparison of recent results with those from previous surveys. In this way, the survey provides a unique means of detecting the gradual and subtle changes that occur in the UK’s countryside over time. Data of this type will be fundamental to the investigation of the impacts of land use change on ecosystem services, and increasingly the impacts of climate change on ecosystem services.

(iii)Establishment of a co-ordinated Soils Survey to monitor the stock, quality and vulnerability of UK soils from bedrock to surface. The NERC soil portal could disseminate this information and provide a gateway to discover, view and download large-scale soils datasets with the ultimate aim of helping create sustainable land management solutions to prevent degradation.

(iv)CEH is a partner in the Natural Capital Initiative (NCI), an independent forum for dialogue between the private, public and non-profit sectors on natural capital and ecosystem services and their benefits for society and the economy.3 CEH and NCI are also among the partners in Defra’s Ecosystems Knowledge Network (EKN), a new network with the aim of sharing experience from projects taking an ecosystems approach.4 The NCI and the EKN both aim to identify gaps in knowledge, policy and practice that will have practical benefits for the implementation of the White Paper.

What evidence is there from other countries that the approaches proposed in the White Paper can be successfully applied in practice?

No comment.

What resources will be needed to fully deliver the White Paper’s ambitions and how can these best be provided? How might the value of “services” provided by ecosystems to beneficiaries be translated into spending that will enhance the natural environment?

5. The resources needed to fully deliver the White Paper’s ambitions will not come from government alone and instead will be a partnership between government, the private sector, research organisations, the NGO sector and general public. The governments’ role is these regard is as a facilitator and enabler, as well providing financial resources.

Does the White Paper set out an accurate assessment of the barriers to public engagement with the natural environment and make the most effective proposals for re-engagement?

6. The assessment of the barriers to public engagement with the natural environment is not comprehensively set out in the White Paper, hence it is difficult to assess if they are accurate. The consultation for the White Paper highlights that the UK population wants to connect with nature and that they value it and want to protect it. This was also expressed by the strong public opposition to recent proposed changes to the public forest estate. However, the fact that just under half of the adult population do not visit the natural environment regularly should be a concern, as should the variance across socio-economic groups.

7. CEH believes the government could make more of organisations in the voluntary, research and public sector who have a wealth of experience in engaging with nature both the public in general, but also harder to reach groups specifically. Public engagement with nature that could draw on practical experience and share learning would be welcome.

2 February 2012

1 http://www.valuing-nature.net/

2 Mackechnie et al. (2011). The role of “Big Society” in monitoring the state of the natural environment. J. Environ. Monit., 13, 2687. http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2011/EM/c1em10615e

3 http://www.naturalcapitalinitiative.org.uk/

4 http://www.naturalcapitalinitiative.org.uk/ekn

Prepared 16th July 2012