An online mapping tool for measuring natural assets has been launched by NatCap Research, targeted at water companies.

The NatCap Map provides a report to show the benefits natural assets provide in terms of carbon storage, CO2 sequestration, flood risk reduction, recreation, biodiversity and social wellbeing. It calculates the carbon storage in topsoil, forests, woodland, hedgerows and wetlands.

Nature-based solutions have been tipped to be a central tenet of the next price review from 2024, which Ofwat will release its framework for in the coming months. The designers of the NatCap Map used modelling and data techniques to enable users to map their natural capital assets in any area.

“This tool provides a simple straightforward platform for utility companies to get a comprehensive and robust understanding of what is there. The baseline is the foundational piece for taking a natural capital view of what is there, what’s its extent and quality, then what services are provided by it,” Abigail Barker, chief operating officer said. “A tool like this that allows comparison across areas in the UK and to monitor over time to verify the impacts of different activities.”

The company was created by Dieter Helm, former chair of the Natural Capital Committee, and Kathy Willis, a fellow professor of Helm at the University of Oxford. They established the company to set the bar on how natural capital “should be done properly” through an asset-based approach.

Barker said the company believes the NatCap Map could inform discussions in the build up to PR24 on what Ofwat is going to assess: “Natural capital is a relatively new science so we are hoping the simplicity and accessibility of this tool means people can quickly and easily get robust evidence for their decision-making process and to inform the discussion around the next price review.

“We feel doing natural capital properly and applying it in the right way has the potential to massively improve the environment by providing good evidence to inform those discussions. Good quality evidence is what those discussions and that debate require, not another spreadsheet of metrics.”

Beccy Wilebore, head of research, added: “Understanding the baseline of what assets they have is the first step of a journey for companies. Enhancement is the next step, and the tool can show what could be achieved with different interventions done – for example plant trees or restore habitats.”

Wilebore explained the tool uses more than 35 data sets for England, Wales and Scotland, including a map of individual trees, to provide information on land cover, soils, topography, water, trees, hedgerows and recreational spaces.