Natural Capitalism



Natural Capital accounting is based on what biodiversity does for us. It is a keystone tenet of the forthcoming Environment Bill.

"Self - serving nonsense cooked up by governments and their advisors, such as "natural capital accounting and biodiversity net gain," treat one habitat or feature as exchangeable for another. Don't lament the twisted old oak we are felling, we'll plant 10 more in plastic tubes and call it a net gain", writes George Monbiot in Noble Rot (August, 21).

Biodiversity net gain

As the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) metric meets its third iteration, it's time for greater public scrutiny and the  Community Planning Alliance which has 500 member groups, hosted a webinar last week. Among the speakers were Sophus zu Ermgassen from Kent University, and Max Heaver from DEFRA, who is on the BNG design team. Their YouTube channel with the talk is here: CPA Webinars

Sophus expounded the research undertaken by Kent University and concluded that as designed, it will not deliver net gain. It has not delivered net gain in the study that Sophus carried out as research for his PhD, which explored the ecological outcomes of mandatory biodiversity net gain using evidence from 6 early-adopter jurisdictions in England.  

 In fact, there has been a 34% loss of open land - with a significant loss of greenspace - although developers did appear to be redirecting development to land with a lower biodiversity value. You can see the talk on the above link and the related survey BNG survey results and this is what others have found: British Ecological Society fail   BNG Save Lea Marshes experience

Max Heaver, of DEFRA's Net Gain Policy and Legislation, Land Use Division, spoke about his work and the issues that were yet to be resolved.

Enter stage right: a slew of pseudo - green economic consultancies, such as Vivid Economics who have written reports on generating income from nature and parks and 'levelling up'. Levelling up seems to correlate with 'income generating theme parks and city 'wild belt' offsetting developments'.

Also see Ecological confidence trick by Nick Dodds 

 Nature as financial investment then, a natural capitalism.

A report on Natural Capital (produced for the Defra Group 'OxCam Arc, Local Natural Capital Plan' team, Natural Cambridgeshire, and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CA) highlighted by Wendy Blythe, a member of 'Friends of the Cam' Steering Group & FeCRA Chair. @greenarteries It indicates how Natural Capital can be exploited for financial gain:- (full report C. Bowden for Natural Cambs).

Report advice: 'Recommend starting with sustainable nature activities where sites are able to pay their way, through stewardship and/or visitor-driven income. So would initially focus efforts, in Cambridge, on the chalk and clay landscapes' (references to rivers & chalk streams given throughout the report). 'This will need a marketing proposal to draw visitors to the sites attracted by habitat and ‘spirit of place’ and to pay, or spend money, there – so, ideally these sites will be close to conurbation'.  

Start thinking Tolworth Court Farm, Hogsmill river......

‘Be aware that, especially in the OxCam arc, funding from net gain is directly related to development, i.e. no development/housing = no section 106 funded net gain.’

How do our NGO's stand with this, are they in a rush to join forces with the Natural Capitalists for fear of being cut out of the process? The above report indicates that the RSPB, National Trust and WWT are all considering utilising net gain credits. The latter exploring a range of options, including:

  • examining brokerage systems to use net gain credits to develop wetlands
  • offering consultancy services to design appropriate net gain wetlands 
  • running their own schemes to provide biodiversity improvements on theirs, or others land.

To quote Feargal Sharkey, 'Curious why so many of the national NGOs seem so incapable of dealing with all of this, why is it left to local groups to do all the heavy lifting?

Services for Natural Capital Investors

Did you spot the NGO chiefs at the launch of the 'Real Wild Estates' along with Ben Goldsmith and Stanley Johnson (see cover photo)? 

‘Real Wild Estates’ describes itself as a full service estate management agency for natural capital investors providing search, land acquisition and land management services, offering sustainable financial returns.  Investors are scrambling to buy land to profit from developers who will need to off-set their ‘unavoidable’ biodiversity losses - to meet the Environment Bill’s requirement that new housing estates lead to a net gain in biodiversity. Likewise such land will be used to off-set ‘unavoidable’ carbon costs for businesses


For more of nature as commercial asset, see the ‘Landscape Enterprise Networks or LENs Approach’, developed in partnership by BITC, Nestlé and 3Keel: Healthy eco-systems .


How will this translate for us in Kingston? If we can remove the blinkered - vision arising from the Tyranny of Positivity, which seems to engulf certain quarters, it might be possible to analyse what has been occurring:-

  • The move away from stewardship that has been happening for some time, as evidenced by the complete breakdown of management for nature on our Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation; see  SINC review Kingston
  • Harming our SINCs for infrastructure*, renaming and repurposing them; see here New Malden Pipe Track
  • The use of the Kingston Cemetery SINC as a public recreation area to get a planning application approval; Areas of Deficiency
  • Failure to defend and enforce law breaking activity on Local Nature Reserves and SINCs: such as the massive nets errected at Coombe wood golf course; the shooting platforms erected in the green belt: and of course the activities at Seething Wells Filter Beds. see more here Public Space Protection Orders 

  and now how that translates to the populist theme park order:-

  • The decision by WWT to have theme park Christmas light show on its Site of Special Scientific Interest Illuminature light trail
  • Chessington World of Adventures, 'Amazon Land' on 1ha of previously un-developed green belt land; see here Amazon Land and many other planning applications including green belt, MoL and ancient woodland
  • *Kingston council intending to use the Hogsmill river to heat a massive new leisure & community centre and  high-rise residential blocks on the Cattle market with no ecology assessment - after years of volunteer and NGO efforts to naturalise the channel and put in eel passes
  • Self-serving corporate entities, with fingers in large development pies, such as the 'OxCamb Arc' will, or are now becoming responsible for our open spaces (e.g., 'Happy Spaces’, in Kingston town centre, includes the consecrated Memorial Gardens). An expectation for these spaces to ‘pay their way’ 
  • Community groups in danger of being used to enable development and offsetting, see  article below (by C. Mellish) on the rebranding of Tolworth Court Farm).                 

New noticeboard at Tolworth Court Farm pictured. Great to have more information for people visiting but....

  • People won't recognise, or will be very confused by the reference to "John Jefferies the noted writer and naturalist" as he's known universally as Richard Jefferies. (He only ever used his first name during childhood.)
  • [just a personal opinion] I struggled to guess what some of the symbols meant. IMHO it would have been nice to have representations that were more immediately identifiable, at least somewhere on the board. If it had to be minimalist and a key was considered off-putting, couldn't smaller duplicates of the animals or plants have appeared alongside the relevant text to break up longer parts and help ID?
  • Does anyone know why such symbolic representations of animals and plants were used? Are they supposed to be art deco in reference to the architecture of Tolworth Station or something? It seems rather tenuous branding; TCF's heritage isn't connected to the 1930s.
  • The diagram of the fields also seems to reference the 1930s (Beck's tube map design) but really isn't useful when faced with negotiating a real landscape, like anyone looking at the board's diagram is about to. A tube map is for connectivity, when distance and direction have no meaning, and is useless for walking. The paths on the noticeboard follow railway curves to such an extent that the routes bear little resemblance to reality. As such, the diagram is confusing and could cause real problems if used for guidance. It should have a clear disclaimer.
Key routes/connections are missing, or in error. For example, in Great Meadow the paths actually all meet at the bridge across the Bonesgate, near the confluence with the Hogsmill. In the diagram the paths don't all intersect and the nodes are wrongly shown lying alongside the Hogsmill (and not near the confluence). The bridge is missing altogether.  If taken at face value, someone daft might attempt to wade across the river. Some key spatial references are needed (like the bridge) and paths should be configured correctly to them, even if it's just diagrammatic. Otherwise a clear disclaimer needs to be added.
  • The board says, "We hope to further enhance the ecological richness of the reserve by increasing the site's ability to support a range of species and habitats". This raises a couple of questions and some concerns.

Firstly, who is "We"? The board has a number of logos but I don't recognise some of them and Kingston Council (the owner) is missing. It should be there if it endorses the board and the content.

Secondly, I really appreciate that this is well-intentioned but if a Borough nature reserve is to have species and habitats and ecosystems altered, it needs to be clear who is behind it and in what capacity (backers, funders, policy setters). There has to be democratic oversight of the vision, and with the Council and statutory bodies in control. I hope that any impact assessments would be carried out by independent ecologists.

I'm concerned that changes to enhance should be restorative - respecting existing species and habitats connected to the site's farming history and character - not adding in habitats and animals to make it into some sort of theme park. Otherwise good intentions could end up enmeshed in, and indistinguishable from, a development MIPIM vision - Tolworth Court Farm as the remaining green space for a vast Tolworth Opportunity Area. Offsetting/mitigating development harm in Tolworth will be seen by developers as an easy ratio between funding to 'enhance' Tolworth Ct Farm fields and the number of towers they can get away with building around it. Rewilding, a replica medieval farm, a visitor centre, a restaurant and permanent routeways: you name it, money would flow, but it would be from facilitating mass development. I hope that whoever produced this noticeboard honours the spirit of Richard Jefferies, and doesn't get lured by a development model for funding. A Faustian pact is the last thing Tolworth Court Farm needs - it would compromise its very integrity and functional existence.

Tolworth Court Farm is a special place, please be careful not to sell its soul.


So, who undertakes the monitoring or arbitrates, when the trees that Monbiot wrote of in the opening quote, keep dying; when the maintenance and mitigation'falls away', or is unsupervised , and we drown in greenwash, with no council scruitiny panel for this sequestering of natural and semi-natural spaces?

There is no democratic accountability here:  you can't run to the council when it all goes pear - shaped.  Anyway, the council could be up to their elbows felling the hundred  60 - year - old trees on the Cambridge Road estate; gerrymandering backwards and forwards the slow worm translocations at Kingsmeadow ; and building massive heating - delivery infrastructure along the Hogsmill.

A 21st Century round of Enclosure  


Professor Edward Milner writes 'Concentration on individual poster species such as particular butterflies or, in the tropics, large carnivores, due to an apparent misunderstanding of the idea of biodiversity. Such focus on the charismatic tends to produce what might be termed the ‘zooification’ of nature, namely the creation of isolated, remnant natural ‘exhibits’ more as a PR exercise than an actual contribution to protecting natural biodiversity. 
This is fine for publicity posters or spectacular postage stamps, but often results in realities that are not for celebration – the soya field with the single brazil-nut tree too far from the nearest forest for pollinating bees ever to reach it; the fragments of woodland left too small for populations of small mammals or woodland birds to survive; the attempts to create new habitats by transporting loads of topsoil to a new site with different drainage. Rather less publicity is thus accorded to the damage done – the canopy destroyed, ancient trees lost, biodiverse meadows damaged, local watercourses polluted, public opinion ignored'. 
see more here


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