Britain puts price on nature

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Britain has put a price on the benefits of parks, lakes and wildlife for the first time in a government-commissioned study released Thursday attempting to make the financial case for protecting nature.

It says the health benefits of simply living near to a green space are worth up to £300 ($500, 340 euros) per person per year.

The assessment showed that until now, the focus has been solely on the market value of resources that can be exploited and sold, such as timber and food crops, while caring for the environment was seen as a cost.

This has meant some habitats and resources have been allowed to decline and degrade.

The National Ecosystem Assessment will be used to determine planning policy.

By highlighting the value of services such as views of urban parks and green spaces, it is hoped that developers will allow for more natural areas when planning housing developments.

Environment minister Caroline Spelman said: "The UK National Ecosystem Assessment is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us."

However, Stephen Tapper, president of the Planning Officers Society, warned that quantifying the value of nature was "a slippery slope".

"Local spaces have an intrinsic value, they are cherished by their local communities and it's very difficult to put any financial value to that," he told BBC radio.

The study puts a precise value on some aspects of nature, while others are harder to define.

Inland wetlands are considered to be worth £1.5 billion for their benefits to water quality while bees and other insects which pollinate fruit and crops have a value of £430 million a year to British agriculture.

The study shows that a third of the services that nature provides to Britain, from fish stocks to the pollination of plants on farmland, are being damaged.

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at the environment ministry and co-chairman of the project, said: "Roughly 30 percent of all ecosystem services are still declining or degrading. We are going in the right direction but there's still a long way to go."

He said one of the big challenges was to balance the production of food and resources with sustaining the other 'services' nature provides.

Professor Ian Bateman, of the University of East Anglia and one of the study's lead authors, said the point of putting economic values on environmental goods and services was "to ensure their incorporation on equal footing with the market-priced goods which currently dominate decision-making.

"Without such representation we will get a persistence of the situation where we have these services being used as if they were free and had no value."

© 2011 AFP

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