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Natural Asset Inventory and Natural Capital Accounts

Work Package 1.4 - Integrated and Sustainable management of natural assets

Research Deliverable 
1.4.1 Natural asset inventory and natural capital accounts
Leading Ideas 
Climate and the Environment
Land and Communities


Natural Asset Register and Natural Capital Accounts research considers how we can systematically account for ecosystem services in Scotland.  We are developing a publicly accessible register of Scotland’s natural assets, to improve our knowledge of how much of what is where, and which assets are at risk in particular places. The web page for the current version of this register can be viewed by clicking here. Datasets will be added to the register as they become available during the five years of the research programme. Bundled ecosystem services within specific habitats in the register can then be valued and act as a foundation for natural capital accounting. These data will be used in the rest of Work Package 1.4 looking at sustainable management of natural assets.

Research will explore how the stocks and condition of natural capital assets can be better linked to ecosystem service flows through the use of remote sensing data and the development of modelling approaches. The research will also inform the refinement of SNH’s Natural Capital Asset Index and better targeting of agri-environment measures in Scotland.

Natural capital accounting research will focus on applying accounting approaches across a range of spatial scales to meet the needs of different end users. This will rely on existing data supplemented where necessary with new valuation studies. A case study approach is used, with initial accounts developed for agriculture and forestry sectors with urban greenspace currently in development. Approaches to measuring non-monetary values are also being explored with particular reference to cultural services.

Aim of Research

Natural Asset Inventory and Natural Capital Accounts: the aim is to develop a spatially-referenced register of Scotland’s natural assets and contribute to a set of natural capital accounts for Scotland that can over time track the progress of Scotland's green growth aspirations.


2020 / 2021
2020 / 2021

We have continued to refine the Natural Asset Register Data Portal. Work on assessing natural capital condition (e.g. soil moisture) has included the development of approaches to derive spatial data layers from remote sensing platforms. A programme of analysis of biodiversity indicators linked to drivers of change in biodiversity and ecosystem services, identified by IPBES, has been developed with NatureScot. Analysis of targeting biodiversity and other ecosystem service objectives in agri-environment schemes has suggested that these objectives do not always coincide. This suggests that schemes may need to target different objectives in the absence of win-win outcomes.  Analysis of the benefits of urban greenspaces identified the importance of different greenspace features, People value larger, nearby and accessible greenspaces, with diverse features in terms of trees and plants, and facilities. Work has continued on natural capital accounts with the development of regional marine and coastal accounts.


  • SEFARI researchers have been working with farmers, allotment holders and gardeners to understand their perceptions and values in relation to biodiversity and how this interacts with their practices on their land. The work has identified the existence of three common discourses in terms of how humans, nature and the relationship between them are conceptualised, and how they connect to practices. The results also show many tensions in terms of conflicting goals and values and how to balance nature’s perceived needs and other human goals.
2019 / 2020
2019 / 2020

This Research Deliverable is developing methods to quantify Scotland's Natural Assets and Natural Capital Accounting (NCA). The Natural Asset Register, an online repository for natural asset data has been refined with input from stakeholders guiding improvements in usability. A growing number of data sets have been added to the register and are now available to examine online and to download. Progress has been made in developing methods to quantify a wide range of natural assets including estimation and mapping of Cultural Ecosystem Services based on the heritage and entertainment value and aesthetics of the landscape, for biodiversity-based targeting of Scotland’s Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme, and as indicators of environmental health. Valuation of urban greenspace as a natural asset has also been undertaken, applying the NCA approach based on an evaluation of the Scottish public’s experience and preferences for greenspace recreation. Assessing Scotland’s natural capital is now being pursued more widely still with development of NCA for coastal and marine environments underway.


  • Monitoring Land Use Systems: development of the Natural Asset Register: A stakeholder Steering Group has been established for the Natural Asset Register-Data Portal (NAR-DP) and has held its first two meetings. The Steering Group comprises representatives from Scottish Government, SEPA, SNH, and SEFARI, and will promote continual improvement of the NAR-DP’s sharing of relevant spatial data arising from the SRP. We are also working to add more datasets, and to improve user experience of the NAR and linkages with other online data-information-knowledge resources e.g. In parallel, researchers have developed indicators enabling inclusion of Cultural Ecosystem Services, such as Cultural Heritage and Entertainment, in the Scottish Natural Assets Register.
  • Measuring Scotland’s Natural Capital Assets: SEFARI researchers have been working closely with SNH to develop Scotland’s Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI): an account of Scotland’s natural capital stock and how it’s potential to contribute to wellbeing changes on an annual basis. A recent joint paper has highlighted the NCAI as a robust, credible and useful tool for policy making. An introduction to environmental indicators is given in a SEFARI Gateway Case Study.
  • Natural capital accounts: We have completed a survey of Scottish residents’ use of greenspace to inform the urban greenspace accounts for Scotland. SEFARI researchers were invited to present our work on natural capital accounts to two delegations from the People’s Republic of China. These included the staff from National Forestry and Grassland Administration, and the Guizhou Provincial Bureau of Statistics.
2018 / 2019
2018 / 2019

Progress has continued in developing the Natural Asset Register (NAR). This has included working with SEFARI colleagues and stakeholders in Scottish Government and agencies to develop the data portal. Expected outputs from Theme 1, the Natural Assets theme of the Strategic Research Programme, have been audited to identify future data for inclusion in the NAR.

There has been continued engagement with SNH to develop and improve the Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI), including submission of a peer reviewed journal paper on the NCAI. Work has also continued to develop methods to assess ecosystem services flows from a range of data sources.

Work on agri-environment targeting demonstrated that results are sensitive to the analytic method used. One implication is that optimum method selection is dependent on whether the objective of schemes is to target a wide range of species or rare species. The results of this work have been published in Global Ecology and Conservation.

Natural capital accounts have been produced for the agriculture and forest sectors; these focused on the scaleability of available biophysical and valuation data across different spatial scales of interest to different users. Work to better account for the spatial aspects of natural capital valuation has also continued and will inform the next accounting case study which will focus on urban ecosystem services.


  • Natural Asset Register: the NAR data portal now has 29 datasets including outputs from the agri-environment and climate scheme targeting research. Further data have been added on water quality and quantity monitoring research undertaken in the Strategic Research Programme.
  • Natural Capital Asset Index: SNH has continued to develop the NCAI with inputs from the SRP. This is gaining traction as a key performance indicator for Scotland.
  •  Natural capital accounts: reports for the agriculture and forest sectors have demonstrated the variation in the ecosystem service benefits provided by these land used across Scotland. These variations reflect both the condition of the natural capital assets and the differences in benefiting populations.
2017 / 2018
2017 / 2018

The Natural Asset Register (NAR) is now publicly available as a Data Portal and its population with datasets is ongoing. Science to support the development and content of the NAR has progressed, including remote sensing and modelling of peat and the participatory mapping of cultural ecosystem services, and collaboration with SNH continues to improve the Natural Capital Asset Index and targeting of AECS payments. Analysis of the primary valuation data to inform farmland and forest natural capital accounts has continued and draft accounts for these sectors are planned to be available by Autumn 2018.


  • Targeting Agri-Environment Schemes for Biodiversity: Analysis of alternative methods of targeting agri-environment payments shows that the current method based on species richness of targeted species per 10 km square can be improved upon. However, different methods had different merits: when assessed using the co-occurrence of areas where species occur with areas targeted through the relevant agri-environment option, one performed well when coverage was assessed as the average coverage of target species in areas eligible for payment, whilst another performed better when allocating resources to areas where rare targeted species are found.
  • Ecosystem Service Maps for decision making: Mapped indicators of ecosystem services are now available to help support decision-making across land use policy priorities (such as a low carbon economy, sustainable food production and water management) by allowing spatially explicit visioning of the Ecosystem Services trade-offs. Some results, based on earlier versions of this work, have been published although most have subsequently been expanded or refined and these new data are available online.
  • Natural Asset Register:  The Natural Asset Register (NAR) has been made publicly available allowing access to datasets describing the distribution of various natural assets including those related to soil, water, and biodiversity. As further datasets become available, the register will provide an inventory of Scotland’s natural assets that will be used in Work Package 1.4 as the basis to explore their sustainable management. Publicising the value of the NAR to all those interested in understanding Scotland’s natural assets has begun, with involvement in several workshops.
  • Cultural Ecosystem Services indicators: Studies exploring new approaches to measuring and mapping cultural ecosystem services (CES) have been completed. One study found the use of touch table technology to be a valuable way of gathering map-based data on CES. A second study, conducted at the Royal Highland Show 2017 involving over 130 participants, used picture-word matching to explore cultural associations with historical landscape elements. These studies have identified approaches that offer promise for rolling out on the larger scale necessary for capturing CES data at the national level.
2016 / 2017
2016 / 2017

Progress has been made on all three objectives of this Research Deliverable. A prototype of the Natural Asset Register has been developed and is being adapted to keep pace with fast changing technologies. A review of existing natural capital accounting approaches has identified gaps, and the first set of case studies are being implemented around delivery of services and benefits from forestry and agriculture.  Supporting science to improve the quality of data and the resolution of ecosystem service modelling will enable the Natural asset registers (NAR) and Natural capital accounts (NCA) to be more comprehensive.


  • Review of existing natural asset registers completed, illustrating the need for a trusted knowledge base linking ecosystem function to service to benefit. Confirmed access (as one of only 100 invited users across the world) to GoogleEarth data which will significantly improve our understanding of natural asset trends and condition.
  • Presently developing a preliminary map of different ecosystem services clusters across Scotland, to identify hot-spots and cold-spots of ecosystem service delivery.
  • Organised an Ecosystem Services Community Scotland (ESCom) panel event on “What has the concept of Ecosystem Services done for us? Taking Stock and Looking Forward” involving international academics Robert Costanza and Ida Kubiskewski as well as Scottish Wildlife Trust, SEPA and Scotch Whisky Association (attended by +100 participants).
  • An invited presentation on understanding implementation of the Ecosystem Approach was given at the Science for Biodiversity Forum, which informed the deliberations of the 13th Conference of Parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • A review was completed of existing approaches to Natural Capital Accounting, which (along with the review of Natural Asset Registers), was requested by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) global assessment, Natural England, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to inform their work.
  • Our research contributed to further development of SNH’s Natural Capital Asset Index and Framework for Cultural Ecosystem Services.

Future Activities

During year 6 work will focus on informing the green recovery and achieving impact from work undertaken during previous years of the programme.

Green recovery activities include evaluating proposals in ‘A Nature Recovery Plan’ including identifying baselines and trends, and applying valuation and assessing the cost-effectiveness of proposals.

Species trends will be analysed to inform NatureScot’s Natural Capital Asset Index.

Bioregionalism views people and nature as integrated rather distinct, bioregional mapping will be applied in Tayside and Kintyre to better integrate social and environmental data.

Work on impact will cover an expansion of models linking land management and ecosystem service provision.  

Cultural ecosystem services will focus on aesthetic and intangible services. Experiences and benefits of cultural services will also be explored through a series of podcasts.

Work will continue to populate the Natural Asset Register Data Portal with outputs from the Programme.     

Selected Outputs





  • Improving access to spatial data from Scottish Government funded research, blog post.
  • Natural Asset Register Data Portal. Available here.  
  • Report: Predicting the quality status of biological elements (Water Framework Directive) for surface water in Scotland using the output of InVEST models, available on request from
  • McKenna, T., Blaney, R., Brooker, R.W., Ewing, D.A., Pakeman, R.J., Watkinson, P. & O'Brien, D. (2019) Scotland's natural capital asset index: tracking nature's contribution to national wellbeing. Ecological Indicators 107: 105645.
  • Mapping intangible cultural ecosystem services. Summary report available upon request from K. Irvine (
  • What has Duthie Park ever done for us? Roberts, M.; Glenk, K.; McVittie, A. Presentation to public at 'Pint of Science' Event, Exodus, Aberdeen, 21 May 2019.
  • Roberts, M., McVittie, A., Glenk, K. & Irvine. (2020) Natural Capital Accounts for Scotland: Urban greenspace accounts. Joint SRUC and JHI report.. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.35491.07205/1
  • McVittie, A. (2020) Natural Capital Accounts for Scotland: Marine and coastal scoping report, SRUC (RD1.4.1 ciiD7). DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.36823.09122