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Safeguarding Natural Capital

Photograph of a red squirrel
Protecting the air, water, soil, land and the living organisms which underpin the life support systems of our planet.

Safeguarding Natural Capital Theme Leader: Alison Hester

Natural capital is the stock of physical, chemical and biological resources of the globe: air, water, soil, land and the biodiversity (including humans) which is supported by those elements.

Natural capital provides fundamental life-support functions and its destruction is often irreversible or may have effects lasting for many generations. The challenge of sustainably managing and using all important natural resources is growing. Food security, the availability of clean water, the generation of renewable energy and the mitigation of carbon emissions are all examples of important concerns. We need robust, underpinning information to progress understanding and guide decision-making.

Global population increases and climate change will further increase pressures on natural capital and the services it provides and it is critical to incorporate strong predictive analyses of the likely implications of these changes.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Natural capital, through the functions and services which it provides, is critical for human wellbeing – it underpins 'headline' global requirements, such as food, water, energy, carbon capture and storage.

Theme focus

The research within the Safeguarding Natural Capital Theme aims to provide robust, underpinning, evidence-based solutions to progress understanding and guide decision-making in the following critically important areas, where inadequate scientific understanding is hampering the safeguarding of natural capital across the globe.

  • Understanding the relationships between natural capital, ecosystem functions and services required for human health and wellbeing – this allows definition of ‘critical natural capital’, which is essential for prioritisation of policy and management action.
  • Valuation, governance and management to safeguard natural capital – we need to improve and integrate approaches to valuation to ensure appropriate representation of the importance of natural capital and the services which it provides. Successful implementation is also critically dependent on designing and implementing appropriate governance and management decision-making.

These areas require iterative research at multiple levels – one of our Institute’s strengths – from systems modelling through to more focused, in-depth research to target specific gaps.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Two main areas of critical global importance for the safeguarding of natural capital, where inadequate scientific understanding is hampering progress – both are mutually dependent, as indicated in the diagram.

Our research


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.