Natural Capital : Quantifying Existing Stocks and Future Potential using a Geospatial Approach

Burke, Thomas and Whyatt, Duncan and Blackburn, George and Rowland, Clare S. and Abbatt, Jonathan (2022) Natural Capital : Quantifying Existing Stocks and Future Potential using a Geospatial Approach. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Geospatial techniques for quantifying, modelling, and mapping natural capital and ecosystem services have the potential to improve our understanding of the benefits provided by natural assets and identify changes in land use that could increase these benefits. However, questions remain around how such an approach could be implemented in practice. In this thesis, analyses are undertaken across multiple scales to explore how geospatial techniques can be applied to help solve current challenges in land management and planning. At the local scale, a land cover and benefit transfer methodology is developed and applied for the first time to value current natural capital assets within individual farms in the UK. This work highlights how the land cover product used in the methodology can have a substantial impact on valuations, with differences of up to 58% found at the five farms studied. The magnitude of these differences varies according to the landscape structure of the farm, with higher resolution land cover products incorporating larger amounts of woodland, primarily through inclusion of smaller patches, leading to overall higher valuations. At the national scale, the creation of new natural capital assets is explored by investigating proposed large-scale afforestation targets in the UK. In the initial part of the study, the feasibility of meeting these targets is investigated in the first national assessment of land available for afforestation, considering a range of physical, environmental, and policy constraints in three hypothetical planting scenarios. This found that while there is sufficient space to meet the afforestation targets in all three scenarios, this would require planting on a large proportion of unconstrained land, which could limit opportunities for spatially targeting woodland creation. The implications of this transformational change in British land cover, and policies that would be required to support this transition, are highlighted. In the second part of the study, the potential to deliver ecosystem services from afforestation is investigated. Models and spatial analysis are used to quantify the provision of carbon sequestration, recreation, and flood mitigation from potential new woodland across England, identifying targeted locations where new planting could maximise the provision of these three services. The impact of planning afforestation at different spatial scales is explored by identifying priority locations nationally and within smaller planning units such as local authorities. This shows that while spatial targeting within larger spatial units results in the greatest provision of ecosystem services, targeting even within smaller units provides substantially greater benefits than random, untargeted afforestation. Overall, the thesis develops and applies new geospatial tools for quantifying, modelling and mapping natural capital and ecosystem services. In doing so, it highlights the sensitivity of the techniques to the quality of the input data and the scale of the analysis. The outputs generate detailed insights into the distribution and potential changes in natural capital that can result from land use decisions which provides valuable evidence for directing future policy and practice.

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05 May 2022 15:55
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22 May 2024 01:13