Family walking on the beach during mud dipping event, Ribble Estuary, August 2012

Natural Capital and ecosystem services

Nature and ecosystems offer a myriad of services that affect human wellbeing, underpin the economy and are essential for our way of life. They provide us with food, water, clean air, a stable climate, medicines and building materials.

The value of nature

The RSPB has long understood that nature is deeply important to people and is also crucial for our long-term economic success. However, biodiversity remains in decline. This is because economic markets tend to focus on one service, overlooking the wide array of services and benefits that nature provides over time. 

For example, an area of forest provides benefits that completely eclipse the financial value placed on them by prices in logging markets. This “Natural Capital” can store and sequester carbon, filter air pollution and provide flood defence, while also enhancing recreation, tourism, education and the appearance of the landscape. 

A Natural Capital approach provides an opportunity to help address society’s long-term failure to account for the full impacts of natural resource decisions and the costs of maintaining nature. This approach must complement existing approaches to nature conservation and requires supporting public policy.

An integrated approach

Our report - Naturally, at your service - provides a detailed introduction to ecosystem services and the economic approach to valuing their contribution to wellbeing. It also provides an assessment of the interaction of ecosystem services with biodiversity and poverty, and features a number of case studies performed by the RSPB valuing certain services.

RSPB Natural Capital account for England

We have developed a Natural Capital Account for our nature reserves in England as a contribution to the debate on how best to reflect the value of nature in decision-making. 

Our reserves are special places for wildlife as well as people. Our Natural Capital Account is our first attempt to quantify the value they provide to the public. Even its partial assessment reports that the benefits provided by our reserves are more than twice that of the costs of delivery. But these benefits are overwhelmingly invisible in standard financial accounts. The account also demonstrates the importance of the public benefit provided by nature reserves and the need for public policy support to ensure that nature is managed in a way that is better for people and nature. 

The report also demonstrates the steps that are needed to ensure that Natural Capital Accounts, a rapidly evolving tool, reflect the importance of biodiversity. We argue that biodiversity targets are an essential first step in making Natural Capital Accounts work. We hope this pilot will advance understanding of the importance and practicality of undertaking Natural Capital assessments.

Corrimony RSPB reserve, commercial forestry plantation of pine and larch


Why it pays to invest in nature. PDF, 1.6Mb.

Naturally, at your service

This manual provides a practical guide to identifying, assessing, and communicating the value of ecosystem services at terrestrial Natura 2000 sites. PDF, 4.0Mb.

A guidance manual for assessing ecosystem services at Natura 2000 Sites

A Natural Capital Account of the RSPB’s estate in England. PDF, 1.5Mb.

Accounting for nature

A Natural Capital Account for the RSPB’s estate in England. PDF, 754Kb

Annexes to Accounting for Nature