The economies of nature

You’ll read and see a lot of stuff about why we should look after our natural world – how we rely on it for food, shelter, fuel, flood reduction, carbon capture (and storage), water purification and recycling, coastal protection … I could go on. If all of these weren’t enough – nature adds billions of dollars to the global economy every single year. Let’s explore some of the ways how.

Tourism

Let’s start with the obvious. Beaches, mountains, national parks and woodlands are enjoyed by millions of people every year across the globe and are the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry. Ok so you may have been in lockdown for the past few weeks/months – but chances are as soon as those restrictions were lifted you visited a natural space. Here in the UK the front pages were plastered with images of people flocking to the beaches we have around the coastline. They may be located in a town – but they’re still part of nature. In ordinary times – these trips, whether for just a day, a weekend or longer, are adding to the local economies through the sales of ice creams, drinks, food, accommodation … and then there’s the gear that you buy to fully experience the great outdoors … mountain bikes, hiking gear, trail shoes, camping equipment. It all adds up.

Wildlife Tourism

We can narrow the tourism sector down further to those who travel to see specific species. Where there is an area that has a species of wildlife that is perhaps in decline or one that people want to see, the local communities are waking up to the value that this species has to their local economy. For example it has been shown that each macaw visiting South East Peru is worth around US$165k in tourist receipts over its lifetime, the Ecuadorian Government receive around US$100million a year from tourist receipts to the Galapagos Islands and each lion in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya is thought to be worth US$515k over its lifetime. Statistics from the World Trade Organisation estimated that in 2019 Wildlife Tourism was worth around US$33.05billion and attracted a global footfall of 97.1million. 

Pollination

As we’ve already explored in our Bee Kind post – we rely on the bees and other pollinators (wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and some birds) for our food. Globally – $1trillion of annual sales come about as a result of animal pollination. It’s around two thirds of crops that are reliant on pollination from animals. The service these pollinators provide to the farming industry amounts to around $190billion a year. 

Crop Security

Whilst it’s not uncommon to see scarecrows out in a field trying to protect crops from birds – there are instances where birds actually protect crops, plants and trees from predators. In North America wood production can be severely impacted from the damage caused by the western spruce budworm. In the right conditions, these caterpillars can increase in numbers to something akin to a plague, eating the foliage as they go. Thankfully there are a number of birds who like to feast on them, including the evening grosbeak finch. A study was carried out on the impact these birds have on the numbers of budworm caterpillars – based on a study area of 11 hectares, it was believed that a flock of these finches would have consumed around 9 million budworms in a month. It’s been estimated that the annual value per hectare of natural pest control by birds in a timber producing forest is $1,500. When you consider that there are millions of hectares of timber producing forests around the world – that adds up to a lot!

Each year – during breeding season parent birds will be constantly feeding their young broods, possibly somewhere around 500 times a day. In many cases – it’s caterpillars that are being fed to them. If you consider that from hatching through to fledging it can be around 3 weeks – that’s potentially around 10,000 caterpillars taken away from eating plants and crops per nest. If you’re a keen gardener – making sure you put up a nest box in your garden could help with natural pest control.

Natural Defenses

Just as wildlife can protect our crops – so too can nature protect our lands. Simple things like the planting of trees up river can prevent flooding downstream. Beavers, who were once widespread across the United Kingdom until the end of the 16th century, are being reintroduced into parts of the country in part to help with flood prevention. The dams that they build help divert waterways. A report published by the Environment Agency in January 2018 estimated that the cost of the 2015/16 winter flooding in the United Kingdom cost somewhere in the region of £1.6billion. In the United States, the cost per inland flooding event is thought to be around $3.4billion. 

A natural health service

It has long been proven that time spent outside in nature has a beneficial effect on your health (you can read more about it in our blog about Green Space). In some parts of the world – time outdoors is being prescribed by doctors to treat mental health, diabetes, stress and heart diseases (as a supplement to other treatments). In 2007 the cost to the NHS and other services in England on mental health was said to be £22.5billion (a cost that rises year on year) whereas the cost to maintain parks and green spaces in the UK comes in at £630million.

So that’s taken you through just a fraction of how we benefit economically from the natural world. If you’re keen to understand more about all the good that nature does for us – we recommend you read What has nature ever done for us? by Tony Juniper (it’s available on Amazon – don’t forget to select us as your Amazon Smile charity of choice!).

Please support our work

The Global Wildlife Rescue Project is a registered charity in England & Wales. Registered charity number 1188557.

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