Land is More Valuable When Left to Nature

Landmark new study shows the economic benefits of conserving or restoring natural sites now “outweigh” the profit potential of using the same areas for farming or timber.

The study, led by Cambridge University and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), is the largest ever to compare the value of protecting nature at particular locations with that of exploiting it. Dozens of sites across six continents, from Kenya to Fiji and China to the UK, were analysed.


The bottom-line is that researchers found that the economic benefits of protecting nature-rich sites outweighs the profit potential the same sites could make by extracting its resources. It suggests that even if making money – and not nature – is the priority, conserving these habitats still makes financial sense.


The researchers calculated the monetary worth of each site’s “ecosystem services”, such as carbon storage and flood protection, as well as likely dividends from converting it for production of goods such as crops and timber. Of 24 sites analysed, over 70 percent provided more economic value to humanity in their natural state, including all forest sites examined.


One of the major economic benefits natural habitats have is from their regulation of the greenhouse gases driving climate change, including the sequestration of carbon, the researchers said.


Lead author, Dr Richard Bradbury from the RSPB, and honorary fellow at Cambridge University, said: “Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing. We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”


“Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them. It also means accounting fully for the impact of our interactions with nature. Covid-19 has shown us what can happen when we don’t do this.”

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