Accounting for ecosystem services: A Natural Capital assessment of Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

Accounting for ecosystem services: A Natural Capital assessment of Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

Eycott Hill Nature Reserve © Nichola Jackson 

Eycott Hill Nature Reserve has received a natural capital assessment, commissioned by Cumbria Wildlife Trust and delivered by Natural Capital Solutions.

At 216 hectares, Eycott Hill Nature Reserve consists of upland habitats, with approximately half of the site forming the Eycott Hill Site of Special Scientific Interest. The report compares two time periods, pre- and post- Cumbria Wildlife Trust management: 2011, when the site was managed as an upland livestock farm, and 2017, after the site had undergone extensive restoration work and management as a nature reserve for four years.

A natural capital assessment is an emerging field of study that identifies the assets of a site, for example woodland, wetland and upland shrub heath, and then determines the benefits that come from them, such as carbon storage, water quality; and, recreation and physical health benefits. These benefits are also known as ecosystem services. These services are then given a monetary value which, when the costs of managing the site are also considered, gives the net capital value of Eycott Hill. This method was applied for time periods 2011 and 2017, to show how changes in site management can have a positive effect on the provision of public benefits.

The state of biodiversity at Eycott Hill was also compared across the two time periods. Some areas, such as natural flood management, pollination services and social benefits cannot yet be quantified using the natural capital framework, although they still contribute to wider ecosystem services that benefit the public through slowing the flow of water, supporting pollinating insects; and improving health and well-being.

The natural capital assessment showed that the natural capital assets in 2017 are 6.5 times higher than they were in 2011, with biodiversity producing an increase of 51 units. This increase was due to a number of key factors which include: the transition from improved grasslands to species-rich habitat; planting of trees and hedges; and an increase in public access for recreation, education and physical activity. Alongside these factors, there were significant changes in management and land use between 2011 and 2017 which comprised of; restoration of wildlife habitats including woodland, upland shrub-heath and species rich grasslands; reduction in livestock levels; increased public access; and natural flood management interventions.

As a result of these changes, there has been an increased provision of public benefits with dramatic increases in value being demonstrated across all ecosystem services; physical health (£44,741p.a) and recreation (£34,789p.a) had the greatest value in 2017 following these changes. Agricultural production delivered less of a deficit from 2011 (-£15,344p.a) to 2017 (-£7,907p.a) once subsidies were removed.

After all of the values were calculated over a 50-year period the net natural capital assets of Eycott Hill Nature Reserve in 2017 were valued at £3.13 million. This is without considering water flow and quality regulation, pollination, and mental health benefits of access to nature, which would likely show the natural capital value to be even higher.

The natural capital assessment for Eycott Hill Nature Reserve has successfully shown how changes in site management can have a positive effect on the provision of public benefits and that public money can be used to enhance these benefits. We hope that this study can be used to demonstrate best practice to roll out a natural capital approach more widely, and to showcase and communicate the added value of nature reserve management and a move to low intensity agriculture.

Imogen Rutter, Eycott Hill Reserve & Training Officer, said; "We are very pleased with the findings of this Natural Capital report, which helps to quantify a lot of the progress we are already observing on Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. This really highlights the wide-ranging benefits of nature-focused land management and how it can benefit not just wildlife, but the surrounding communities as well." 

Read the full report by Natural Capital Solutions here

Work at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund who awarded £1.6 million towards the purchase price and an ongoing five year programme of conservation and activities to benefit wildlife and people. Located between Keswick and Penrith, near to the village of Mungrisdale, Eycott Hill is 216 hectares of exceptionally rich wildlife habitat and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the plants in the swamps and mires and its geology. Car parking and entry to the nature reserve is free of charge. 

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Work at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve is possible thanks to National Lottery Players, and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.