Natural capital refers to the elements of nature that produce value (directly and indirectly) to people, such as the stock of forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans. The stocks of renewable and non-renewable natural capital (known as natural capital assets) include soils, freshwater, farmland, forests, atmosphere, oceans, ecological processes and the natural processes that underpin them. The flows of ecosystem services and benefits they provide can be very obvious such as food, fuel, clean air, clean water, and opportunities for recreation.

Others are much less visible, such as climate regulation, flood defences provided by natural vegetation, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands and other habitats and the pollination of crops by insects3 . Often the pathways linking assets to goods and services that benefit humans are complex4. These services and benefits all have a value to people, society and the economy. Some of these values can be easily quantified and reflected in the economy (such as the value of timber or food produced from farmland), whereas many others cannot and are thus hidden or missing from decision-making and economic valuation. The boxes below illustrate the concept of natural capital and highlight some of the important elements that need to be understood when applying it in practice. Taking a natural capital approach focuses on this ‘cascade’ from natural capital stocks.

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Heathland © South Downs National Park


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