Developing a Natural Capital Investment Strategy for North Devon

1st July 2020

Eunomia was commissioned by Natural England to support a ‘Pioneer Project’ in the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere by developing investment cases for initiatives to maintain and enhance the economic and social value of the natural environment. Eunomia used existing research on natural capital priorities and a day-long workshop, to engage local stakeholders and identify large scale ‘investable projects’ to protect and improve the natural capital of North Devon that would also be attractive to investors.

Challenge

Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets (geology, soil, air, water and all living things) that provide services, often called ecosystem services, essential to the wellbeing of people and wildlife. Without investment in natural capital, we cannot rely on these services being available in the future. The aim of this project was to trigger more and better investment in natural capital in North Devon to protect and improve the key habitats that provide essential services. Eunomia’s challenge was to reach beyond the traditional public sector sources to attract investment from the private sector by developing business cases which linked actions, outcomes, and measurable benefits to identify potential revenue streams that could provide investors with a return.

Approach

To deliver the project, we combined traditional ecosystem service-led approaches to valuations with a more-investor led analysis. We focussed on the priority habitats and priority services for North Devon, which included culm grassland and coastal margins, flood risk management and tourism and recreation. We then identified the beneficiaries for each priority, organisations such as water companies who benefit from improved water quality or developers benefitting from enhanced biodiversity and tourism opportunities. Potential beneficiaries were invited to a one-day workshop to talk about natural capital, the benefits provided, and to develop suggestions for projects that could deliver natural capital improvements alongside additional benefits to multiple parties. The most promising suggestions were developed into detailed investment cases outlining routes to realisation, the benefits and beneficiaries, and potential revenue streams.

Outcome

Four business cases were developed as opportunities to demonstrate the economic and social value of improved natural capital to a broad range of potential investors. The case-studies addressed:

  • Developing and marketing local food networks that promote sales of produce from farms that maintain and improve natural capital;
  • Creating a new carbon offsetting standard for priority North Devon carbon storage habitats;
  • Creating a woodland management support hub; and
  • Developing an ecotourism standard to promote habitat restoration on the river Torridge.

These business cases provide material to support the North Devon Biosphere as they seek investment to protect and improve North Devon’s natural capital working with local stakeholders.

Project manager Yvonne Rees

“This was a fascinating project which tackled the challenge of how to identify ‘investable projects’. Investable projects are desirable because they address priorities for natural capital, viable from a practical viewpoint and, importantly, also attractive to investors. This meant engaging a broad range of stakeholders early on, reaching outside the normal environmental sphere, and using their language to identify who would benefit from the projects proposed. Once we could map the beneficiaries, we could understand how revenue streams could be generated. The project bought together stakeholders, many for the first time, to begin to understand their different relationships with natural capital.”

Tim Sunderland of Natural England

“It’s essential that we get more investment in to Natural Capital and private sector investment is part of this picture.  Building a business case which improves natural capital and provides a return to private investors is difficult.  In this project Eunomia have brought together their environmental knowledge and business savvy to highlight some future possibilities.  This report makes a useful contribution to this emerging area.”