Natural Environment Valuation Online tool (NEVO)

1 May 2017 - 31 January 2018

Awarded to: Dr Amy Binner
Co-investigators: Professor Ian J. BatemanProfessor Brett Day
Funding awarded to Exeter: £70,088
Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

The LEEP Team, from the University of Exeter, will be working with Defra to produce an easy to use online system for supporting and improving decisions regarding the use of, and investments, in the natural environment.

Project plan

Acting on advice from their Natural Capital Committee, Defra’s new 25 Year Environment Plan will address the urgent need to stem the ongoing decline in the country’s natural capital. It aims to reverse natural capital decline, improve resource resilience and increase economic prosperity and wellbeing.

NEVO will be created by extending existing models developed by the University of Exeter, that recognise the characteristics of the environment, and how alternative uses cause multiple benefits, effects and trade-offs. It will work across multiple land uses such as agriculture, livestock, woodlands and urban areas, and consider hypothetical changes in a wide range of natural capital services (eg food production, water quality and quantity, greenhouse gas storage, recreation, biodiversity). NEVO will be developed and tested using a number of case studies in the South West

Ultimately NEVO will support informed, transparent and efficient environmental decision making for a broad range of sectors, including valuing existing and new land use options, helping prioritise environmental interventions and investments and signposting those options that provide the greatest net benefits and value for money for the taxpayer.

About the project

While many businesses and public sector organisations understand that natural capital is an important direct and indirect source of socio-economic prosperity, quality of life, and well-being, they frequently lack the capacity to quantify those benefits in either physical or economic terms. Such capacity exists in the often sophisticated models developed by natural and economic scientists, but the power of such models to estimate the benefits of maintaining or enhancing natural capital stocks has generally been unavailable outside the academic community. Since evidence of the size of such benefits may be fundamental for informing decision making and shaping policy design, developing tools that support better accounting and valuation of natural capital has been identified as a key requirement in bringing the environment into to the heart of public and private sector decision making. The central objective of this proposal is to create such tools. In particular, we will develop a web-based application that allows government, businesses, and the public to access the power of NERC-funded natural capital models through an easy-to-use map-based interface. This interface, the Natural Environment Valuation Online tool (NEVO), will allow users to explore and visualise the consequences of changes in natural capital management on flows of ecosystem services in the UK. In the first instance, NEVO will focus on quantifying and valuing carbon stored and absorbed by the natural environment and recreational uses associated with natural and semi-natural environments. Most importantly, NEVO will allow users to query the underpinning natural capital models in order to answer questions of their own design. To better understand the exact nature of those questions and so inform the development of NEVO, we will work closely with a number of partner organisations each of whom is engaged in the management and promotion of natural capital:

  1. The Environment Analysis Unit at Defra, whose core interests include the development of tools to support the emerging 25 Year Plan for the Environment.
  2. The Forestry Commission (FC), responsible for forestry in the UK, including administration of the Woodland Carbon Code, a voluntary code providing consistency, clarity and transparency in the accounting of woodland carbon projects.
  3. Moor Trees, a charitable organisation dedicated to re-foresting Dartmoor with native trees and enabling people to reengage with trees and natural environments.
  4. Treeconomics, a social enterprise specialising in measuring and valuing the benefits of urban trees. Their mission is to raise awareness of the value of trees and woodlands as natural assets through engaging local people, businesses and public bodies in their projects.
  5. GeoSmart Information Ltd, a data and services company that supports sustainable development together with a range of data products and innovative subscription services in areas of groundwater flood risk and sustainable drainage systems. NEVO will be co-developed with this set of project partners ensuring their direct input in deciding upon the nature of the user interface, which variables users have control over in querying the model and how the outputs are visualised and recorded.

The project builds upon sophisticated models from NERC-funded natural and economic science including the National Ecosystem Assessment Follow On (NEA-FO) project and a Valuing Nature Network placement grant scoping user needs for natural capital tools. Moreover the project will build on the research team's experience delivering the Defra-funded proto-type Outdoor Recreation Valuation tool which has proved the feasibility of creating map-based web applications for natural capital valuation which are accessible to a broad audience

Keywords: natural environment, valuation, carbon, recreation, tool, mapping, web-based.