Andrew Balmford on the economic value of protected areas

07:18 Wednesday 25th February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: When you go out for a walk, maybe to Ferry Meadows, maybe to the Gog Magogs, maybe along the river just outside Ely, you’re probably enjoying the fresh air. You’re probably enjoying the views, probably enjoying spotting the odd bunny rabbit or butterfly. Have you ever stopped to think how much money nature-based tourism brings to the economy, both county-wide and across the world? Well research from Cambridge University out today has for the first time tried to work this out. The study found that globally it’s hundreds of billions of pounds that nature-based tourism brings to the economy. As a result, they’re calling for more investment in conservation. Even small nature reserves like the RSPB’s at Fowlmere in South Cambridgeshire receives 23,000 visits a year. Ferry Meadows in Peterborough gets 1.1 million. .. We can talk now to Andrew Balmford. Andrew is from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology, and is the lead author of this report that’s out today. Andrew, my mind is boggling at how you even go about measuring the value of nature-based tourism, as it’s been called. How did you do it?

ANDREW BALMFORD: We were interested in trying to work out what it might be worth to global scale, so what we did was put together all the data we could find for nature reserves, national parks and so on, any variation in those places we did know about. And then we could apply that model to all protected areas around the world.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Have there been any kind of estimates of the value of these places before?
ANDREW BALMFORD: Not in a global scale. So there have been for other parts of how important they are. They’re not just important in terms of visitors. Obviously they’re very important in terms of stabilising our climate, regulating floods, all sorts of things. This is just one piece of the picture. But there hasn’t been a global estimate. No.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And $600 billion being the estimate for how much they bring to the economy globally. It just sounds like a very very big number. Are you able to put that in some kind of context for us?
ANDREW BALMFORD: Well yes, we can a little bit. So that’s a rough estimate of their value, and these numbers are rough. But it’s tied to an estimate of the number of visits they get, which we reckon is around 8 billion visits a year, in total, around the world. And that again sounds like a huge number, but put in context, roughly speaking on average that’s about one visit for each person on the planet each year. So then you put it in that context, it doesn’t seem quite so crazy. And then we know when people go to places, sometimes it may be the nature reserve around the corner from them and they don’t spend anything going to them. But oftentimes they’ll travel quite a long way, they might stay there for a few days, spend money on accommodation and so on. So you can see that the numbers quickly add up. So in some cases they may be spending very little, but in some cases they may be spending hundreds of pounds on those visits.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So this is where the value comes from. It comes from people visiting say the Lake District, and spending money. Spending money on car parking, on the tea shop, on the hotel.
ANDREW BALMFORD: Absolutely. Yes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So what are you suggesting? What are you now calling for?
ANDREW BALMFORD: So what we’re saying is that these numbers are clearly very large, and they far outstrip what we’re spending on protecting these areas, not just in this country, globally. And we also know that despite having some fantastic nature reserves and protected areas, we know that nevertheless our wildlife is in decline, in this country and around the world. And when we talk to protected area managers, and when we look at what’s happening on the ground, one of the reasons for that, not the only one, is that very often these places are underfunded, and that more money would go a long way to addressing that situation. So what we’re calling for is setting alongside these estimates of how much these places are worth, with the great shortfall in their investment. It seems as though we’re missing out a great deal on investing, not just in wildlife, but in our own future.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Andrew, thank you for your time this morning. Andrew Balmford there from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology.