Heritage, natural capital and ecosystem services: Historic buildings and boundaries

Peter Gaskell is undertaking this work for Historic England together with John Powell, Paul Courtney, Rob Berry, Jeremy Lake and Ken Smith over 8 months in 2018.

This collaborative project will demonstrate how buildings and boundaries enclosing spaces associated with their historic use can be better integrated into decision making processes based on an ecosystem services approach. It will use a range of natural and historic environment data curated by the National Trust’s Conservation Information Team and develop methodologies with its Land and Nature and Curation and Experience Teams.

It will address a major gap in our understanding of the natural and historic environment, namely the lack of any holistic consideration of the ecosystem services provided by buildings, boundaries and their related spaces. The aims of this project are to demonstrate how the monetary and non-monetary values of historic buildings and their associated boundaries, which are a critical part of their historic settings, can be incorporated into the concept of Natural Capital and the four categories of ecosystem services.

The project will:

  • Identify the heritage alongside the natural capital associated with the environmental context of buildings and their associated boundaries.
  • Set out in the language of ecosystem services what public and environmental goods and services the heritage assets provide.
  • Identify other values that fall outside the ecosystem services framework that can be ascribed to the heritage assets.
  • In doing the above develop a methodology that can be used to ensure that heritage can be reflected in a way that is compatible with natural capital and ecosystem services approaches.
  • Provide the heritage and natural environment sectors with case study examples of how this might work for different environmental contexts.


To achieve these aims the project has 5 objectives each linked to key stages and tasks:

Stage 1 (Understanding the context): Desk-based research and a workshop will summarise available literature, practice and research on this topic and explore the range of actual and potential benefits that different types of buildings and their associated boundaries and construction offer to natural capital and the full range of ecosystem services. The methodology will build on and extend the approach being utilised in applying an ecosystems services approach to drystone walls in the Peak District National Park – Developing an ecosystems approach – dry stone walls in the Peak District (HE Project No: 7687). This shall inform the next stage of the project.

Stage 2 (Apply the Methodology: service flows and ‘stock’ assessment) will then explore the natural capital and ecosystem services associated with buildings and their associated boundaries, the extent to which these may vary with type and area, and the potential of the GIS data to assess the ‘stock’ of natural capital and ecosystem service flows, of particular importance if this methodology is to be applied nationally.

Stage 3 (Apply the Methodology: valuation) will identify and explore the monetary and non-monetary values associated with natural capital and ecosystem service flows for each of the case study areas.

Stage 4 (Review Methodology) will offer a critique of the method and its applicability at a national level.

Stage 5 (Reporting and Dissemination) will clearly communicate the results of this project to stakeholders, setting out opportunities and challenges for future application