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Galvanising Change via Natural Capital

This research explores if and how the concept of 'Natural Capital' can influence decision-making in support of sustainability and a Just Transition.

Across many sectors, decision-making and planning processes have typically not prioritised or consider nature as important. As a result, nature continues to be degraded.  One response to this challenge is the concept of 'Natural Capital' - the stocks and flows of services arising from nature. Many hope that by highlighting the ecosystem services provided by nature (such as carbon sequestration, pollination, flood risk management) and the quality of underlying stocks or assets (such as soil), nature will be better appreciated and protected in future plans and decisions.  It may be especially important and influential for actors who hitherto have not seen themselves as having a role to play in conserving the environment.  Accordingly, the Scottish Government currently cites Natural Capital as relevant to managing climate change, biodiversity, and post-COVID economic recovery

It is important to understand more about the potential approaches and consequences of working with Natural Capital concepts and framings, to understand when and how it influences decision-making.  This project, which started in April 2022 and runs until March 2027, therefore aims to provide insights as to if and how Natural Capital data and approaches can help enable and embed transitions to sustainability. A one-page summary of this project's work and methods is available here.

Our work balances attention across the following:

  • Reviewing international examples of the use of Natural Capital in policy-making.
  • Transdiciplinary work with policy peers to analyse how Natural Capital is or could be used in Scottish policy processes.
  • Evaluating opportunities and consequences of markets and blended finance for natural, economic, human and social capital.
  • Building understanding of how private sector actors may be motivated or enabled to support nature-based solutions via Natural Capital.
  • Sharing and discussing insights with academic and non-academic stakeholders within and beyond Scotland.

Outputs from this research

Project reports and deliverables

  • In summer 2022 we carried out a stakeholder analysis to help inform this project's plans - this is the first milestone from our project, available here.
  • In September 2022 we established our protocols for our searches of examples of natural capital being used in policies and in finance (these protocols are respectively milestone 1.1 and milestone 1.2 from our project). Click on the hyperlinks to the Milestone names for more information about these search plans. We expect our search approaches to evolve as we work and in future will publish significant updates here.

Conference presentations and sessions

  • In July 2022, Kerry Waylen presented some early reflections on the challenges of researching and seeking to achieve change with Natural Capital at EASST 2022, the conference of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology, Madrid, July 6-9th. Click here to download the slides.
  • In August 2022, Kerry Waylen and Chris Short (CCRI) convened a two-part session "Getting to Grips with Natural Capital: Trap or Tool for Transformations to Sustainability?" at the annual international conference of RGS-IBG (Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers). Project member Hannah Rudman also presented within this session.  A 4-page summary of key themes discussed is available here.

Staff involved and key contacts

The project is a collaborative effort between the James Hutton Institute (JHI) and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).  The Project PI is Kerry Waylen  Other Hutton staff involved are Esther Carmen, Simone Martino, Antonio Ballesteros, Stanislav Martinat and Ishaan Patil.  The SRUC staff involved are Alistair McVittie, Mark Reed and Hannah Rudman, Co-directors of SRUC’s Thriving Natural Capital Challenge Centre.

This project is funded by the Scottish Government RESAS Strategic Research Programme (SRP) 2022-27. It is project 'JHI-D5-3' within the Natural resources Theme.

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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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.