A new landmark study has revealed that the economic benefits of conserving or restoring natural sites now exceed the potential of using the same areas for farming or timber harvest.

Restoring or conserving natural sites such as wetlands or woodlands is more valuable than using the same sites for timber harvesting or farming, according to this new major study.

In a win for environmental conservationists everywhere, the studies researchers found that the economic benefits of protecting these nature-rich sites outweigh the protentional profits of extracting these same sites resources. This shows that even if money – and not nature – is your goal, conservation is still the best approach.

The study, led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) University of Cambridge, is the largest ever to compare the value of protecting nature at particular locations with that of exploiting its resources.

Dozens of sites across six continents, locally in the UK, and abroad in countries like Kenya, Fiji and China, were analysed.

The research team calculated the monetary worth of each site’s “ecosystem services”, such as carbon storage and flood protection, as well as likely dividends from extraction at the site production of goods such as crops and timber.

Of 24 sites analysed, over 70 per cent provided more economic value to humanity in their natural state, including all forest sites examined.

One of the major economic benefits natural habitats have is from their regulation of the greenhouse gases driving climate change, including the storage of carbon, the researchers said.

Lead author, Dr Richard Bradbury from the RSPB, and honorary fellow at the University of Cambridge, said: “Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing.

“We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

The scientists found that Hesketh Out Marsh – a saltmarsh near Preston, UK – is worth almost £1,500 per hectare annually in emissions mitigation alone, far outstripping any value that could otherwise be gainedfrom crops or grazing.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, comes just weeks after a Sir Partha Dasgupta, a Cambridge professor, called for the value of biodiversity to be placed at the heart of global economics.

In the review, which was commissioned by the UK Treasury, Dasgupta wrote: “Nature is our home. Good economics demands we manage it better.”

Nature is our home. Good economics demands we manage it better

“Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them. It also means accounting fully for the impact of our interactions with nature. Covid-19 has shown us what can happen when we don’t do this.”

Main image: Nick Palmer


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