Understanding the value of nature to people
The UK government’s 25-year environment plan included a proposal to take nature’s value into account when making decisions. The Marine Pioneer is one project from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) set up to test ways to deliver this vision.
Since 2017, the Marine Pioneer has been gathering information about marine ecosystem benefits, their value to nature and people (mostly non-monetary) and the risks to nature. The complexity of the interactions among people in nature, and between people and nature mean a multi-method and inclusive approach is required. The work is being done by people who believe that while you can use technical methods to monetise benefits, nature is priceless.
The Calouste Gulben-kian Foundation, MCS and the Marine Pioneer have started a discussion with social scientists from academia, government and non-government organisations on ocean values. We have explored a number of threads related to values but are compelled by four: getting the language right, making wider benefits count, understanding the power relationships and reflecting on the past to inform the present.
We are exploring these ideas and drawing inspiration from the Community Voice Project and powerful MCS film, ‘Our Blue Heart’. Capturing the value of the sea to people, communities and organisations seems crucial to making a difference for the environment because it provides a depth to perspectives, motivations and understanding that is significant to decision making.
The Marine Pioneer has used participatory workshops to both map benefits and explore risks with local people. Marine managers have also been asked what supporting tools they need to consider the range of nature’s value in their decision making.
They concluded that existing tools such as Sustainability Appraisal and Impact Assessments can be used provided there is a good understanding of the benefits, value and risks. Traditionally, environmental management has used ecological understanding and, in some cases, economic information and methods. However, a promising development is the inclusion of social science methods and knowledge as we realise that understanding people and society is at the heart of enhancing the environment.
In North Devon, the UNESCO Biosphere Marine Working Group (MWG) comprises a range of people who live, work and take an interest in the area. They have used their collective knowledge to create a vision for the area, contribute to the natural capital asset and risk registers and highlight what is valuable to them.
The MWG continue to contribute by informing and shaping a local delivery framework for the 25-year plan. The framework aims to link local, national, land and sea-based nature enhancement through co-design and co-delivery.
The potential return from this investment is healthier people and environment, more resilient coasts and communities, and a more sustainable food production industry.
The Marine Pioneer will continue to explore the inclusion of a variety of values in decision making, and share lessons throughout the coming year.