An ecosystem services approach to valuing river restoration

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While the South West of England has some of the UK’s most iconic and beautiful rivers, many are experiencing pressures, both current and historic, that limit their ability to function naturally and which cause them to become ecologically degraded.

In 2012, responding to these problems, the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) secured Catchment Restoration Fund (CRF) funding to deliver over £4 million of river restoration and catchment management work over three years on river catchments across the South West. These river and catchment restoration projects have been delivered on the rivers of the South Hams, the Axe and Exe, the Dart and Teign, the Rivers of South Cornwall and the Taw. These river improvement projects were specifically developed using an evidence-led, partnership approach to mitigate the pressure acting on these rivers and improve the health of these precious and vital river ecosystems.

Cost-benefit analysis

WRT commissioned NEF Consulting to undertake a cost-benefit evaluation of the CRF projects. This research used extended Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) to estimate the socio-economic and environmental returns generated by the projects. The research estimated:

  • The potential environmental (ecological) impacts of respective projects.
  • The potential societal benefits supported by those ecological impacts.
  • The value of those benefits, expressed in monetary terms.
  • The benefit-cost ratios, i.e. the comparison between the investments put in the projects and the wider benefits generated.

The research shows that by improving the water quality and ecological conditions in the catchments there are substantial social benefits generated as well as support for a variety of ecosystem services.
The Net Present Value (representing the total benefits, net of costs) is positive for all projects, showing that investing in river improvement projects is economically efficient and effective for everyone.

Read the full report here.