Policy Option 09 - Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services


  • Earlier policy options considered the merits of establishing a Nature Recovery Network (NRN) for Oxfordshire and for setting relatively high targets for biodiversity net gain, in order to increase space for nature and to increase the resilience of the natural environment to climate change and other pressures.


  1. The emphasis of the NRN and biodiversity net gain are very much on building resilience in nature and supporting wildlife conservation, but investment in the natural environment to deliver wider environmental net gains can deliver economic and social benefits too.


  1. Maintaining stocks of natural capital in good condition both in terms of quality and quantity will ensure a sustainable flow of ecosystems services underpinning human health and wellbeing.


  1. A focus on natural capital and the ecosystem services that habitats provide gives a more holistic way of considering our relationship with the natural environment and how the protection and enhancement can deliver multiple economic, social and environmental benefits.


  1. Natural Capital is the elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land minerals and air, as well as natural processes and functions.


  1. The core elements of natural capital that are important in terms of the ecosystems services they provide are biodiversity (plants and animals), geodiversity (soil, rock), water and the air we breathe.


  1. These stocks of natural capital provide a wide range of ecosystem services which can broadly be grouped into three categories:

Provisioning Services
Cultural Services
Regulating Services
Food crops
Livestock
Wood
Fish
Fresh water supply
Recreation
Aesthetic value
Education and knowledge
Interaction with nature
Sense of place
Flood control
Erosion control
Water quality
Carbon storage
Air quality
Cooling and shading
Noise regulation
Pollination
Pest control

  1. The protection and enhancement of biodiversity and geodiversity is fundamental to protecting stocks of natural capital and the flows of ecosystem services that underpin human health and wellbeing.


  1. The approach to biodiversity protection and enhancement outlined in previous sections through the Nature Recovery Network and targets for biodiversity net gain will ensure that enhancements are delivered closest to where impacts arise or where they can deliver the most positive impacts.


  1. Detailed work has been undertaken in Oxfordshire to provide a baseline understanding of the supply of natural capital across the county and the ability of habitats to provide ecosystem services. The baseline assessment covers 18 types of ecosystem services illustrated in the table above. 


  1. A robust methodology for natural capital assessment has been developed by Oxford University which has been influential in steering assessments and approaches in neighbouring counties and throughout the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.


  1. The Oxfordshire Natural Capital mapping project provides a spatial overview of parts of the county that perform well in terms of the provision of ecosystem services. A summary of some of the key ecosystem services is illustrated in the map which follows. 


  1. Darker green colours on the map indicate habitats that perform well in in terms of regulating and cultural services (as listed in the table above) and lighter green areas are those that perform less well. Many of the dark green areas represent areas of woodland such as the Chilterns in South Oxfordshire and the Wychwood Forest in West Oxfordshire. Areas of woodland score particularly well in terms of regulating services such as carbon sequestration, flood risk mitigation, shading and cooling and are valuable in terms of cultural services such as creating a sense of place and for recreation. It is important to note that the mapping makes no assessment of the quality of natural capital assets which may vary across the county.


  1. Darker green areas are areas that should be protected and enhanced in order to preserve the beneficial ecosystem services they provide.


  1. Lighter green areas on the summary map represent habitats that potentially perform less well in terms of the ecosystem services that they provide, although this doesn't distinguish between those habitats that provide multiple services and those that only provide one service. These areas may present opportunity areas to deliver environmental net gains, particularly where they relate to existing and future development, where demand for certain ecosystem services may be greatest. It is important to note that almost all of the land in Oxfordshire provide ecosystem benefits to people in one form or another.


  1. As a predominantly rural county, dominated by agricultural land, most of the land coverage in Oxfordshire scores well in terms of provisioning services such as food production and water supply. In order to differentiate between the best areas for food production and those that are potentially less productive, the orange colours on the summary map indicate areas of best and most versatile agricultural land. This is land which is most flexible, productive and efficient and can best deliver future crops for both food and non-food.


  1. An understanding of the supply of natural capital and ecosystem services for Oxfordshire is regarded as important, not only in terms of protecting what we have, but also in terms of increasing the supply, particularly where demand for services arises such as in new development locations.

  1. This understanding of the supply of natural capital assets and ecosystem services can have multiple benefits in plan-making not just in terms of guiding the spatial distribution of development, but also in terms of guiding green infrastructure investment and environmental enhancements such as increased woodland coverage, accessible natural greenspace and natural flood risk mitigation and the application of Environmental Land Use Management Schemes (ELMS).


  1. There is a strong case for investment in green infrastructure for the multiple social, environmental and economic benefits that a well-connected green infrastructure network can bring. Planning for, and enhancing, Oxfordshire’s Green Infrastructure is an essential part of realising the county's long-term ambitions and economic aspirations. 


  1. Analysis has been undertaken to highlight a number of areas that present barriers to economic growth, with a significant economic cost to Oxfordshire each year.

  1. Green infrastructure is a key part of natural capital, though natural capital also includes intensive farmland, which is not usually considered as green infrastructure.


  1. The natural capital maps developed to support the Oxfordshire Plan can be used to identify high value natural capital assets, and these can then be used to help identify strategic networks of green and blue infrastructure, and options for strengthening these networks.


  1. An understanding of the supply and demand for ecosystem services coupled with investment in green infrastructure will enable the delivery of nature-based solutions to address the sustainability challenges identified in Oxfordshire. Investment in green infrastructure is most effective where it is spatially targeted and designed to deliver multiple benefits in the same location. It is for this reason that our understanding of natural capital and ecosystem services provision should be central to plan-making and environmental investment in Oxfordshire.


  1. Applying natural capital approaches will help integrate the value of nature in all decision-making and develop a better understanding of impacts and dependencies on nature. Natural capital and planning for green infrastructure has an important role to play in improving health and reducing the costs of poor health.

A recently compiled business case for green infrastructure investment in Oxfordshire identified a number of headline benefits.

A 1% increase in the amount of greenspace in a ward generates a 1% increase in the value of a residential property in England. Vegetation may reduce noise by as much as 50%.

A noise reduction of just 1 decibel for every property in the county would be worth £8m p.a. to the Oxfordshire economy.

Investment in cycling infrastructure could take one car off the road for as little as 80 pence per day.

Reducing speed limits in residential areas could reduce traffic accidents by half.

People with good access to green space are 24% more likely to be physically active.

A 10% increase in physical activity in adults would be worth over £6m to the Oxfordshire Economy. Oxfordshire's woodlands remove 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year from the atmosphere with an estimated value of £6 million each year.

Green roof energy savings are 30 kwh/m2 or 14 kg CO2/m2 or £5-6 m2 per year for heating and air conditioning. River woodland is worth £6,000 per year per hectare for its flood regulation benefits.

Sustainable drainage systems (SUDS) are half the cost of traditional drainage over a 60-year life span.

During an extreme rainfall event green roofs can retain up to 90% of rainfall. One square metre of green roof can offset the annual particulate matter emissions of one car.

Planting of vegetation in streets can reduce street-level pollution concentrations by up to 60%.

Oxfordshire's rural woodlands remove 400 tonnes of air pollutants and thereby save £6.5 million in healthcare cost per year.

Converting intensive agriculture to a mixture of woodland and pasture near cities can generate benefits of £1,300 per hectare per year.

Source – Making the case for investment in Green Infrastructure – Brillianto - Oxfordshire County Council

  1. Taking a natural capital approach with ambitious targets will enable the Oxfordshire Plan to deliver sustainable development that secures investment in nature across Oxfordshire.


Policy Options


  1. One discounted option has been to include natural capital considerations within place-shaping principles rather than defining an Oxfordshire-wide approach to the assessment of supply and demand for ecosystem services.


  1. This is not the preferred option as it would represent a more traditional approach to green infrastructure delivery established in adopted local plans and would not capitalise on the detailed evidence available to shape the Oxfordshire Plan.


Preferred Policy Option


  1. The preferred option is to identify the parts of the county that are important and valuable for natural capital and ecosystems services and to use this mapped resource to shape the policies, define the spatial strategy and determine the spatial distribution of development in the Oxfordshire Plan. 


  1. Utilising the Natural Capital mapping to shape the Oxfordshire Plan would ensure that future development and environmental enhancements are directed to locations where they can minimise harm and deliver multiple benefits for the environment and communities as well as building resilience in communities and ecosystems.

Policy Option 09: Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services

The proposal is that the Oxfordshire Plan will utilise the Natural Capital baseline mapping for Oxfordshire so that it can be used to guide strategic planning for development and green infrastructure investment at the strategic and site scale including the Oxfordshire Plan spatial strategy.

The Oxfordshire Plan would establish a Natural Capital Approach to planning in Oxfordshire, placing natural capital considerations at the heart of planning for development, infrastructure, and environmental enhancements including nature-based solutions.

A natural capital approach will recognise the importance of healthy and thriving ecosystems in supporting the health and wellbeing of communities, supporting climate change resilience and provision of ecosystems services.

The Oxfordshire Plan would require an assessment of natural capital and ecosystem services impact for major developments, policies, plans or programmes including the identification of strategic environmental opportunity areas and green infrastructure.

The use of an eco-metric may better enable the quantification of environmental value in order to establish the type and scale of investments to secure net gains.

Local plans should be guided by the baseline assessment of natural capital assets and ecosystem services developed for Oxfordshire to influence the spatial distribution of development and investment in green infrastructure and nature-based solutions.

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