Capital idea to put nature and the environment in heart of UK economy


This is how to put a price on nature. If landowners and developers want to build houses in beautiful, open countryside, they must compensate for the loss of habitat and wildlife by providing a piece of land of equal or greater size nearby, then pay to manage and enhance it so it becomes as ecologically valuable as the land that was lost.

That’s what should happen (and in some places is already happening) at local level, according to Prof Dieter Helm, who spoke at the Hay Festival in May 2015 to outline the concept of natural capital.

For a national example of this proposed new way of valuing and protecting our environment, consider the HS2 project. The high-speed rail link will cost around £50 billion. It will do a lot of damage to precious habitat, including irreplaceable ancient woodland. There should be, built into the cost, compensation of around £1 billion, says Helm, paid out to create habitat to balance what will be destroyed.

Helm, who is Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, gave these two examples to the audience at Hay, where he was promoting his new book Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet. But providing “significant” areas of land to make up for the inevitable damage to wildlife and habitat that is bound to come as we seek to accommodate a growing population is only part of a much bigger vision, proposed by Helm in his book.

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