Towards a risk register for natural capital.

Published online
10 Jun 2015
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Mace, G. M. & Hails, R. S. & Cryle, P. & Harlow, J. & Clarke, S. J.
Contact email(s)

Publication language


Natural capital is essential for goods and services on which people depend. Yet pressures on the environment mean that natural capital assets are continuing to decline and degrade, putting such benefits at risk. Systematic monitoring of natural assets is a major challenge that could be both unaffordable and unmanageable without a way to focus efforts. Here we introduce a simple approach, based on the commonly used management tool of a risk register, to highlight natural assets whose condition places benefits at risk. We undertake a preliminary assessment using a risk register for natural capital assets in the UK based solely on existing information. The status and trends of natural capital assets are assessed using asset-benefit relationships for ten kinds of benefits (food, fibre (timber), energy, aesthetics, freshwater (quality), recreation, clean air, wildlife, hazard protection and equable climate) across eight broad habitat types in the UK based on three dimensions of natural capital within each of the habitat types (quality, quantity and spatial configuration). We estimate the status and trends of benefits relative to societal targets using existing regulatory limits and policy commitments, and allocate scores of high, medium or low risk to asset-benefit relationships that are both subject to management and of concern. The risk register approach reveals substantial gaps in knowledge about asset-benefit relationships which limit the scope and rigour of the assessment (especially for marine and urban habitats). Nevertheless, we find strong indications that certain assets (in freshwater, mountain, moors and heathland habitats) are at high risk in relation to their ability to sustain certain benefits (especially freshwater, wildlife and climate regulation). Synthesis and applications. With directed data gathering, especially to monitor trends, improve metrics related to asset-benefit relationships, and improve understanding of nonlinearities and thresholds, the natural capital risk register could provide a useful tool. If updated regularly, it could direct monitoring efforts, focus research and protect and manage those natural assets where benefits are at highest risk.

Key words