Natural capital and the poor in England: Towards an environmental justice analysis of ecosystem services in a high income country

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Abstract

Poorer communities tend to be located within lower quality natural environments, experiencing greater environmental burdens and fewer environmental amenities. To date, analysis of environmental inequalities has focussed on pollution, with less attention given to natural environment benefits that support human wellbeing. Here, the ecosystem service concept which identifies these benefits, and the natural capital (NC) which provides them, is applied within environmental inequality assessment. For England, 325 local authority districts were classified based on 14 indicators of NC, and the level of deprivation of districts within each class compared. Districts with extensive woodland or agriculture are the least deprived. The most deprived districts tend to be urban areas with lower extent and quality of NC, coastal districts, and rural uplands with extensive coverage of various higher quality NC. These findings demonstrate that the distribution of NC varies by social deprivation, with implications for social inequities and sustainable management of NC. However, whilst higher deprivation is often associated with a lower extent and quality of NC, this pattern is not consistent for all NC types or places. Given the lack of a consistent pattern of inequality nationally, this implies that equitable management of ecosystems should be driven at a local level. To achieve this, the relationship between environmental benefits and deprivation should be assessed at this level and analysis should move beyond NC to address the ecosystem services that flow from it.

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Mullin, K., Mitchell, G., Nawaz, N. R., & Waters, R. D. (2018). Natural capital and the poor in England: Towards an environmental justice analysis of ecosystem services in a high income country. Landscape and Urban Planning, 176, 10–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.03.022

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