The UK’s parks, lakes, forests and wildlife are worth billions of pounds to the economy, says a major report.
The health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year, it concludes.
The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) says that for decades, the emphasis has been on producing more food and other goods – but this has harmed other parts of nature that generate hidden wealth.
Ministers who commissioned the NEA will use it to re-shape planning policy.
“The natural world is vital to our existence, providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air – but also cultural and health benefits not always fully appreciated because we get them for free,” said Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.
“The UK NEA is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us.”
The economic benefits of nature are seen most clearly in food production, which depends on organisms such as soil microbes, earthworms and pollinating insects.
If their health declines – as is currently happening in the UK with bees – either farmers produce less food, or have to spend more to produce the same amount.
Either way there is an economic impact; and on average, the costs are growing over time.