There is increasing interest in natural capital risks and opportunities for sustainable investment and policy practices. Consequently, natural capital accounting approaches provide important metrics for the environment. Both private and public sectors have been exploring how natural capital accounting may offer new approaches to decision-making with focus on more sustainable outcomes for society and the environment. Those efforts yielded different natural assessment and accounting frameworks, notably the Natural Capital Protocol (the “Protocol” hereinafter). 

The Protocol was applied to evaluate the impacts and dependencies of traditional and diversified upland farm enterprises on natural capital. This application was conducted in Glensaugh farm, which belongs to the James Hutton Institute, and has a long legacy of research and data collection. Glensaugh, like other upland farms, has been traditionally used for extensive farming, primarily for sheep rearing in the hills, and sheep and beef-cattle in low-ground areas. This farm has undergone a diversification process through investments in woodland expansion, renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass), and rural tourism. Glensaugh’s enterprises all have a high dependency on natural capital and its ecosystem services. They can also have an impact on natural capital, directly or indirectly effecting the provision of ecosystem services. The analysis covered the period 2002-2018, and was primarily focussed on livestock farming and forestry, through it also covers grassland management and renewable energy. 

As a research farm, Glensaugh has been used to test new farming methods for demonstration purposes. More recently, a climate positive farming transformation plan was conceived for Glensaugh. This involves the adoption of land management techniques and carbon-neutral technologies, that once implemented would demonstrate a new way of farming towards net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Protocol application informed this initiative by including a prospective analysis of potential natural capital impacts from woodland expansion investment in Glensaugh.

Lessons learned from the Protocol application

The Glensaugh’s application of the Protocol has demonstrated that natural capital assessment can be useful to inform decision-making pertaining to land use and management strategies. For example, the results of the assessment suggest that diversified livestock enterprises can help to better balance environmental and economic outcomes and improve the farm financial resilience, by helping the farm enterprises to manage climatic and price fluctuations. Our assessment also showed that woodland expansion can create further opportunities to achieve the net zero carbon emissions target in Glensaugh over the next 20 years.

The proliferation of carbon auditing tools could assist the estimation of carbon balances at the whole farm or the land-based activity level. This could inadvertently put the emphasis of the natural capital assessment on carbon stocks and flows, overlooking other important natural capital and ecosystem services impact indicators, for which quantification can be challenging (e.g. biodiversity conservation). In this sense, it is critical to monitor a suite of natural capital impact indicators that are important to the farm business, or to wider society, to better balance multiple environmental goals.

Read the full report here.

The James Hutton Institute is a member of the Scottish Forum's Sustainable Land Management sub-group. To read about other applications of the Natural Capital Protocol by members of the group follow this link.