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Pressures on the UK’s natural environment have been managed for over 150 years using nature conservation, an approach centred on the need to protect wildlife, natural habitats and ecosystems from the most damaging effects of human activity. While it has had some notable successes, it has not reversed the long term trends of ecosystem decline and habitat and species loss.

Over the past decade, new thinking has emerged based on the idea of natural capital. This suggests an economic rationale for investing in the maintenance and improvement of natural systems, by assigning a value to natural assets and the benefits they supply to society.

These two approaches are often set in opposition to one another. Natural capital thinking has attracted strong criticism relating to the morality and efficacy of valuing nature. There is also concern that viewing solutions solely through a business lens would lead to a retreat in state involvement and the neglect of issues where there is no clear business case. In turn, natural capital advocates have been dismissive of nature conservation.

In this report, we argue that both approaches have something to offer, but that neither is enough on its own. A strategic combination of both would be a more effective route to managing environmental challenges.

Download the report here.