‘Natural capital’ and What it Means to Society

Aarti Chamba

In February, I attended an enlightening talk on natural capital presented by Nick Grayson at WSP. Nick demonstrated the impact small changes in our environment can have and the capacity at which they can negatively affect the earth’s ecosystem. The term refers to the earth’s ‘natural’ assets such as soil, air, water and plants. It concerns all aspects that we as humans depend and survive upon and is measured through looking at a city’s gross ecosystem product (GEP), therefore, it is important that we start to recognise and mitigate such changes. This is monitored through measuring the total value of ecological goods and services used per annum (Ouyang, 2017).

Conus geographus, also known as cone shells, live across the Great Barrier Reef. When approached by small fish, or other organisms such as worms and molluscs, they release a toxic venom which paralyses its victim within seconds, which they then consume. Research has revealed that the different peptides this tiny species releases have medicinal uses. These include potential anaesthetics, drugs for Parkinson’s disease and as pain relievers to name a few. As you may already be aware, the coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to global warming. It is estimated that if global warming continues and increases by 1.5C by 2031, then we could lose 60% of the coral reefs and, as a result, ground-breaking drugs! Especially, as each species secretes 100 different peptides and there are 140 different species of cone shells alone.

Nick presented this as a key and very interesting example that signifies the interconnectedness of unsustainable actions that can amalgamate to affect other parts of the world which could eventually affect and lead back to us in ways we are not aware of.

(Mann, 2019)

Birmingham has recognised this and is the first city in the UK to become a ‘natural capital city’, measure its GEP and reduce emissions by 60% by 2027. An issue Birmingham and its planners are currently facing, is the issue of space for housing. To address this, Nick highlighted a shift is taking place in planning practises. Rather than compartmentalising sectors of society, we need a more integrated approach which in turn will improve the quality of space. The integration of natural capital into planning practises alongside housing, community, education, leisure and businesses so that spaces within a city are all connected by green space rather it being in single designated places. The integration of green space will not only increase interconnectedness within a city but also improve mobility, air quality, reduced traffic and noise pollution. In the long term it is more economically, socially and culturally viable to develop an integrated space which balances all needs and sectors of society.

The notion of natural capital and the emphasis placed upon the value of green space plays a vital part in ESP’s approach towards restoration plans and rural planning processes. This ensures that we are producing good quality landscapes post mineral extraction.


  1. Mann, G. R. (2019). Cone Snail. Retrieved from “Ocean Treasures” Memorial Library: https://otlibrary.com/conus-snail/
  2. Ouyang, Z. (2017). Gross Ecosystem Product and Ecological Asset Accounting for Eco-Compensation: Methodology and Pilots in Qinghai, Yunnan, and Guizhou Provinces. Retrieved from ADB Knowledge Event Repositary: https://k-learn.adb.org/materials/20171208/gross-ecosystem-product-and-ecological-asset-accounting-eco-compensation


Leave a Reply