Problem Addressed

This solution was sourced in response to UKGBC’s Innovation Challenge: “How can communities and local authorities implement, maintain, and assess the impact of nature-based solutions to enhance climate resilience?”

The need for new homes and infrastructure is putting additional pressure on natural resources. To ensure a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and to tackle the climate and ecological crises, we need to design spaces so that they benefit the economy, people and nature.

To inform the best design and transform planning, objective measurement is required to determine how nature is working, because what gets measured, gets managed. There needs to be a shift from minimising the negative impacts of development to demonstrating net benefits for the environment.

The main purpose of the NATURE Tool is to quantitatively assess and manage the impact and benefits of natural capital and Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) on people’s wellbeing. By quantifying the benefits nature and NBS provide in terms of ecosystem services, it helps to reveal trade-offs and enables the tool user to clearly and objectively demonstrate net gains for the environment from a project.

Solution Overview

The Nature Assessment Tool for Urban and Rural Environments (NATURE Tool) was developed by WSP and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network in collaboration with Northumbria University and over 30 partner organisations. The stakeholder engagement during development has been Highly Commended at the 2022 CIEEM awards.

The user-friendly Excel tool assesses the benefits of natural capital (interventions) at the project scale. The natural capital impact is assessed across 17 ecosystem services including flood risk regulation, air quality regulation, carbon storage, recreation, and educational benefits.

However, the NATURE Tool is not just an assessment, but also a management tool. By systematically assessing the expected impact of projects on natural capital at an early planning/design stage, the tool helps to highlight the benefits of different options and designs; in particular, the impact of NBS. This process encourages the implementation and wider use of NBS because their expected benefits and value added are transparently revealed from the outset; hence informing good planning and design (or highlighting deficits early on when they can still be addressed).

The tool is designed for industry to enable ecologists, environmental managers, and planners alike to assess, manage and deliver net gains for the environment. It is evidence-based, free to use and applicable across the UK. The quantitative nature of the tool also helps to define what success for nature looks like from the outset. Planning and environmental professionals had not been equipped with tools to objectively assess natural capital impact before. The NATURE Tool aims to improve natural capital design alongside the whole planning and development process to get the best out for biodiversity and people alike.

The nature tool is purposefully designed to be applied quickly with minimum data requirements. Depending on assessment scope, project scale and complexity, most NATURE Tool assessments can be completed within 1-5 days which means that time requirements are also marginal in the context of most projects.

The NATURE Tool is free to use and therefore does not require financial investment. Returns to businesses and society include, for example, reduced flood risk through the implementation of NBS or the ability to quantify carbon storage impacts.

Update: With the update to NATURE Tool v1.1 (released in September 2022), the tool can now also assess the carbon impact of photovoltaic (solar electricity) installations and carbon storage expressed in tonnes of CO2e and in monetary terms following HM Treasure Green Book guidance, amongst many other improvements.

Case Study

The tool has had 30+ applications, 400+ downloads by individuals and 250+ NATURE Tool newsletter subscriptions at time of writing.

Project types that NATURE Tool has been applied to to date include: housing developments, a school, an urban greening project, a new greenway, a natural flood management project, access improvements at nature reserves, planned new sewage treatment works, electricity transmission schemes, wind farms, photovoltaic installations, reservoirs and prisons which demonstrates its wide range of applications.

The Ministry of Justice used the NATURE Tool to assess the natural capital impact of greenspace improvement interventions on inmates and wider society. WSP worked together with the Ministry of Justice to develop a tool version specifically tailored for the prison environment. This also highlights the adaptability of the tool to suit specific circumstances.

WSP are also working with a water company in the South of England where the NATURE Tool is being tested to assess existing assets and planned projects. The water company intends to use the lessons learnt from these assessments to inform future planning and design to achieve its commitment to leave nature in a better state than when they found it.

Two case studies for NATURE Tool applications in Sweden and Finland are available via Further case studies will be added in the future.

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