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What is natural capital and how can it benefit farmers?

Alex Robinson recently gave a talk about natural capital at our Rural Conference.

Alex Robinson recently gave a talk about natural capital at our Rural Conference, where he discussed Zulu Forest Sciences’ approach to harnessing natural capital opportunities.

Image of Alex Robinson presenting to a room full of people

Natural capital refers to natural assets that are found on a farm, including soil, water, air, and biodiversity, which can (and should) be viewed as valuable sources that enable people to survive and flourish by providing different ecosystem services. Natural capital, therefore, frames the environment in the context of these assets, which are then used to inform economic decision-making.

For example, Zulu Forest Sciences have already seized opportunities available from carbon removal and storage, in order to enhance woodland creation, regenerate lost woods, and restore peatland. They are also currently working on other projects that will utilise different natural capital sources, including water regulation, which can help mitigate flood risks.

Methodology and data

In terms of the methodology they have adopted to help optimise natural capital’s potential, Zulu Forest Sciences began by collating, cleaning, and standardising large amounts of relevant data. They then created, optimised, and implemented various models, which were customised to meet specific solutions. Finally, insights are gained by designing and building intuitive visuals that are easily digestible and widely accessible. These insights are presented in various forms, including pictures, key statistics, and dashboards.

The big picture

Alex explained that establishing when significant change is happening within the farming landscape, and adapting to such changes accordingly, will be crucial for all farmers looking to continue their farming activities on a long-term basis.

The natural capital approach involves examining assets through different lenses, so these natural sources offer more versatile benefits. For example, you can consider soil types, water quality, and the impact of such natural sources on habitat needs.

It is also necessary to think about the big picture by focusing on long-term benefits when it comes to such assets. For example, carbon storage can take decades to increase considerably and offer maximum removal potential, due to how long it takes for planted trees to grow.

When it comes to the sequestration of carbon, this can offer financial benefits to farmers. However, measuring, reporting, and accurately verifying carbon levels is vital if you are looking to sell the carbon you are storing to private investors. A strong understanding of cost vs revenues is necessary to determine how profitable this type of venture could be.

The key message

One key message that Alex shared was the importance of farmers working together in farmer clusters. He mentioned that it can be much harder for farmers and landowners to scale individually. So, working with your neighbours and each other offers greater opportunities for connectivity. This in turn enables you to have a greater impact and gain further benefit from harnessing sources of natural capital.

To learn more about Zulu Forest Sciences’ mission, visit their webpage.

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