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Integrating natural capital thinking into land-based decision-making

Integrating natural capital thinking into land-based decision-making
Glensaugh research farm (© Paola Ovando, 2019)







Natural capital (NC) accounting is now widely used as a descriptor of activities all seeking to construct better metrics of nature for policy. Natural capital risks and opportunities are becoming increasingly visible, and gaining interest for sustainable investment and policy discourse and practice. Today, it is widely accepted that NC with enhanced resilience has a higher ability to adapt in the face of change, and to provide ecosystem services (ES) in many beneficial ways.  The Scottish Economic Strategy placed NC conservation and improvement at the heart of economic prosperity. For land-based business a NC approach is critical, due to their marked dependency and impacts on natural assets (e.g., land, soil, water) and biodiversity, and the ES flowing from these assets.


Natural Capital approaches involve understanding, measuring and assigning values to the contribution of natural capital to economic activity and ultimately to human well-being, as a way of integrating nature into decision-making. Both private and public sectors have been exploring how natural capital assessment may offer new approaches to decision-making towards more sustainable outcomes in socio-economic and environmental terms. Today we can find two distinct branches of natural capital assessment frameworks, one related to business; and the other to national accounting. The branch of national accounting has yielded an internationally adopted framework, the System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), while the business brand lead to different natural assessment and accounting frameworks, notably the Natural Capital Protocol (The "Protocol").

This work is supported by the Macaulay Development Trust through a Fellowhip in Natural Capital. This fellowship aims to contribute to natural capital accounting and valuation approaches to inform land-based decision and policy making. This research is underpinned in three main lines of work:


Testing the aplication of the Natural Capital Protocol in upland farms


Testing the microlevel (farm) application of natural capital assessment approaches such as the Protocol to evaluate impacts and dependencies of land-based activities on natural capital to guide sustainable decision-making in Scottish farms. The executive summary and full report are available here: The Glensaugh case study

The conceptual basis for natural capital valuation and accounting can be found here: Report on Natural capital accounting approaches for land-based activities.


Distributional issues in natural capital accounting


Accounting for ecosystems is increasingly central to natural capital accounting. What is missing from this is an answer to questions about how natural capital is distributed: that is, who consumes ecosystem services and who owns the underlying assets. We explore how  ecosystem assets (which is a form of natural capital) are distributed – among institutional owners across space- in Scotland from the perspective of two ecosystem services: carbon sequestration and air pollution removal. An executive Summary and full paper are avalable here: NCA distribution


Opportunities to invest on natural capital


Over the last few years we have observed an increased interest from business and financial sectors in sustainable investment opportunities. One of the investment opportunities that is receiving more attention is woodland expansion as a way to contribute to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.


The project Value beyond carbon: an analysis of Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) forest expansion in Scotland  aims to improve our understanding of the motivations, objectives and preferences of different stakeholders involved in the WCC scheme, and their implication in terms of enhancing natural capital and ecosystem services.


For any inquiries, please contact Paola Ovando Pol.

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.