Natural Capital Assessment


Natural Capital is a term used to describe the earth’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. From this natural capital humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

Increasing demand on this natural capital, coupled with a failure to integrate its true value into policy making processes, has led to environmental degradation and dwindling resources, which diminishes the earth’s capacity to support human well-being and sustainable development.

A natural capital, or ecosystem services, approach recognises that humans are a key component of the ecosystem and therefore any management measures to protect biodiversity must focus on human use and interaction with the resource. It allows decision makers to take a broader, cross-sectoral view and better manage trade-offs and enables longer-term planning of resources. In 2011 the UK Government committed to incorporate natural capital into the UK Environmental Accounts by 2020, so that the benefits of nature would be better recognised.

Through the FCO managed Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, the UK Government is supporting a suite of natural capital projects across the UK’s South Atlantic and Caribbean Overseas Territories. This work is designed to improve economic stability in the Territories through enhanced environmental resilience as part of a programme led by the UK’s Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).  The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the implementing body and SAERI has been tasked by them to deliver the project in the South Atlantic Overseas Territories. This project began in the region in February 2017 and will be completed by March 2019.

The aim in the South Atlantic is to develop a framework to assess the value – both monetary and non-monetary – of priority ecosystem services, and to integrate this information into marine and terrestrial spatial planning, economic planning and environmental protection.

The project will assist the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories to assess and map natural capital, value priority assets and deploy decision support tools to secure long-term economic benefits from the sustainable management of their natural assets. This support will be provided through the development and collation of spatial evidence, and a Territory to Territory partnership for technical exchange and capacity building within the UK’s Overseas Territories in the region.


Spatial data on the distribution of selected natural capital assets, both marine and terrestrial, derived from satellite imagery and other existing resources, as relevant to each Territory;
Valuation of priority natural capital assets (value mapping integrated into national GIS) and the assessment of economic and societal benefits arising from them;
Application of analytical tools that will support decision making in the context of environmental management and economic development;
Methods for monitoring changes to priority natural capital over time using appropriate attributes (develop metrics).


The NCA framework will be applied across all of the South Atlantic Overseas Territories, with the Falkland Islands and South Georgia being the main focus in year one, followed by Ascension Island, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha in the second year. There are three Groups set up to support the project (Figure 1) with a Territory Advisory Group in each Overseas Territory acting as an important conduit between other stakeholders, the project team, and the wider region.
Figure 1: Governance structure of the South Atlantic Overseas Territories Natural Capital Assessment Project

Project Manager


Ness holds a Biology degree from the University of York and an MSc in Tropical Coastal Management from Newcastle University. She has a broad range of experience in both tropical and temperate marine scientific research and management, with an emphasis on the study of complex socio-ecological systems. Working alongside Defra and the Marine Management Organisation, Ness helped to pioneer new methods in marine spatial planning (MSP), including the integration of strategic assessment into the planning process, as well as the development of new national seascape character assessment guidelines. Ness has helped to develop courses and lectured on MSP to students and professionals at a number of UK institutions. Her interest in the ecosystem services approach developed as a result of her MSP experience, and she went on to manage a large interdisciplinary European project which developed a framework to value marine ecosystem services. The project explored how these values could be applied to MSP and management through scenario development. More recently, Ness has worked with governments and intergovernmental organisations to address the high seas governance reforms needed to reduce the global impact of IUU fishing. 

More information on the Natural Capital Assessments in the South Atlantic and Caribbean regions can be found on the JNCC website.

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