Exploring tools to support the integration of nature into landscape planning decisions

Work carried out to map, compare and appraise landscape planning tools that use a ‘natural capital’ approach.

CSFL, in collaboration with researchers at Heriot-Watt University and the James Hutton Institute, and with support from UKRI’s Landscape Decisions Programme, have recently been carrying out work to map, compare and appraise landscape planning tools that use a ‘natural capital’ approach. Insights are captured in this CSFL policy brief.

Natural capital has become popular framing to integrate nature into decision-making, by quantifying (and sometimes placing a monetary value) on natural assets such as soils and freshwater. It now underpins much government policy, including England’s 25-year Environment Plan and Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation. And the rise of the approach has led to a plethora of assessment tools for quantifying natural capital and supporting decisions, resulting in a complex landscape that is often difficult for decision makers to navigate.

Our work tried to cut through some of the noise in the natural capital space to better understand how these tools are used and can be improved. We’ve been looking at how tools work, the assumptions they make, and some of the key challenges they face in supporting sound decisions. These range from difficulties in quantifying the quality as well as the quantity of natural assets (e.g. not just how much land supports a certain type of woodland but the condition of that woodland), to how tools account for future pressures on natural assets.

We discussed our insights in a recent workshop with around thirty tool developers, scientists, NGOs, and policy makers from central and local government. In facilitated discussions we reflected on how tools could be improved to support end user needs, how well they represent natural processes (and therefore how much we should trust their results), and how to enable oversight of the diverse landscape of assessment tools that exist. The conversation between tool developers, funders, users and researchers was valued by all participants and there was shared appetite for better information sharing. An overarching observation was the considerable confusion about what tools can be useful and where and for whom.

With funding from the Landscapes Decisions Programme and the E4 DTP we are conducting further research on this topic going forward, looking in more detail at tools and their application to specific sectoral challenges, for example in the water sector and land management.

Leo Peskett (Herriot Watt), Marc Metzger (CSFL) & Kerry Waylen (James Hutton Institute)