Ground-breaking report puts a price tag on Norfolk’s nature

Tourism chiefs and conservationists last night welcomed a ground-breaking report that for the first time puts a value on the economic, health and social benefits provided by the natural world including East Anglia's wetlands and woodlands.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) of the country's natural environment, published yesterday, concluded that nature is worth billions of pounds a year to the UK economy. Its findings add weight to the argument that ecosystems need to be enhanced and protected, not abandoned or destroyed.

The report does not put a price tag on the likes of the Norfolk Broads or Thetford Forest in order for them to be sold. Rather it makes the financial case for protecting what is often taken for granted.

It shows that the focus has often been on the market value of resources that can be exploited and sold, such as timber and food crops, while caring for the environment was seen as a cost - and as a result some habitats and resources have been allowed to decline and degrade.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman has said the findings would play a big part in shaping the government's forthcoming Natural Environment white paper and policies for years to come.

Across Norfolk campaigners hope it will secure a better future for local woodlands, wetlands, coasts and wildlife.

The Norfolk Broads, the UK's largest inland wetland, brings in an estimated �414million a year in visitor revenue Now the new report reveals that the benefit inland wetlands, such as the broads, bring to UK water quality is worth another �1.5million a year.

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Andrea Kelly, senior ecologist for the Broads Authority, the report provided tangible proof of nature's value.

She said: 'It gives us a reason to invest - particular at a time when a whole raft of priorities are hard to meet, when there is pressure on health services and education.

'Nature is not something you can easily put a price on. But this makes you realise that taking care of nature and protecting our natural landscapes is what we need to invest in.

'An economic assessment provides another reason, alongside the moral and scientific reasons, for the Broads and the nation to invest in this special place. A small investment will pay enormous dividends for future generations.'

Brendan Joyce, director of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: 'It is something we've long called for. It's confirmation that nature conservation isn't just something nice to do with your spare time but is essential to us and part of our lifeline.

'This is hard-nosed stuff. If there are no bees, there is no pollination and there is no food for us.'

The University of East Anglia (UEA) played an important role in compiling the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) 2,200-page report and Professor Ian Bateman, an economist from its school of environmental sciences, led a team of 12 who began analysing the value of Norfolk's ecosystems in 2009.

'Just about every group has responded positively,' said Mr Bateman. 'The aim was to identify how much the natural environment contributed to our economy. We looked at the value of a broad range of aspects from the obvious, such as food, farming, fisheries and timber, to what we called 'non market' aspects such as the value of recreation, health impacts, social benefits and tried to put a monetary value on them.'

The report says the health benefits of living with a view of green space are worth up to �300 per person per year while the amenity benefits of living close to rivers, lakes and the coast are worth up to �1.3 billion annually to the UK.

The total value of woodlands in taking in carbon is put at �680m a year, while bees and other insects which pollinate fruit and crops are worth �430million a year to British agriculture.

IThe report comes just a few months after the government's controversial plans to sell thousands of acres of state-owned woodland were put on hold.

The proposal to sell off Thetford Forest has been shelved for now, but serves as a reminder that some have already tried to put a price on Norfolk's nature.

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