Natural Capital Investment Blog January 2018

Creating social value from land


Mark Walton of Shared Assets puts forward examples of community owned and managed sites that are raising capital and revenue to sustain themselves into the long term.​


Across the UK we are seeing changes to the way land is managed. Scotland has passed significant land reform and community empowerment legislation in recent years, enabling community buy-outs of large swathes of land, in particular in the Highlands and islands and where it was not being well stewarded. In Wales consideration is being given to the impacts of land use on future generations, and in England the ongoing housing crisis raises multiple arguments about urban gentrification, land banking, and rural development. Everywhere cash-strapped local authorities are looking to sell off, or find new ways of managing, public assets.  


Common good land use

There are an increasing number of communities managing woodlands, parks and farmland in enterprising ways that deliver multiple local benefits.

At Shared Assets we call this approach “common good land use”, which we define as land management that:

●      creates livelihoods for individuals

●      enriches the environment

●      produces the things people need

●      creates shared social and economic benefits

●      has a high degree of community control and engagement, and

●      places land at the centre of a wider process of system change.

Whilst these new models contribute positively to the development of resilient local economies, their business models are often marginal and do not provide the financial return of housing, infrastructure or industrial development. So how can they raise capital, and generate sufficient revenues, to create sustainable livelihoods, improve the quality of the environment and create shared social value?

Shared ownership

The community benefit society is a legal structure that enables shared ownership models to raise capital finance in the form of community shares. Examples include:

Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) buys agricultural land and secures planning permission for new residential smallholdings. The smallholdings are then leased to new entrant farmers at below market rates. Issuing community shares enables ELC to raise the money they need to purchase land. Investors can receive up to 3% annual interest on share capital.

Stockwood Community Benefit Society issued community shares to purchase Rush Farm and Stockwood Business Park near Worcester, securing their long term future. The combination of the farm production and lease income from business units creates a sustainable business model with a forecast financial return for shareholders of 5%.

In both of these cases shareholders have the potential to secure individual financial returns whilst helping the organisation meet its social and environmental mission, and securing assets for long term community benefit. Services such as Ethex are supporting this ethical investment market by connecting ‘positive investors’ with social businesses seeking investment.

Natural capital accounting

Cuts to local authority budgets are also driving the transfer of ownership and management of parks and open spaces to new charitable and community led models.

Whilst this prevents the loss of these important public assets, generating the revenue income to maintain a free-to-access space like a park is a challenge. Income is increasingly generated from cafes, sports pitches and other commercial activities, but can the other value these spaces generate, such as health, well-being and climate change mitigation, contribute to creating sustainable financial models?

Natural capital accounting provides a methodology for attributing a financial value to some of these benefits. Recently natural capital accounts have been created for the parks and open spaces in Sheffield and London, and at a more local level by the London Borough of Barnet.

Many new models of managing parks, woods and farmland are already providing education, health and wellbeing services that are paid for directly through social prescribing, training or personal care budgets. Attributing financial value to the wider benefits created by parks has the potential to drive longer term investment decisions and create new revenue streams.

The Natural Capital Account for Sheffield calculated that parks services could offer attractive investment returns to health service providers. Money invested in an endowment with a 3.5% return would generate an income which, if invested in parks, could generate health improvements, the value of which would be equivalent to an 18% return in real terms.

Meeting the challenge

Community and collective models of ownership and management of land are on the rise, and not just in Scotland. The types of land use and the models of ownership and management are varied. What connects them is they see land as a local asset that can be managed to bring people together and provide shared benefits for communities. Natural capital investment has a role to play in ensuring their business models are sustainable in the long term.


Mark Walton established Shared Assets in 2012.  He has over 20 years experience of working with communities on environmental issues and contributes his expertise across the full range of Shared Assets work, including our policy, research, advocacy, and advice and support services.

He has acted as an advisor to Defra, DCLG, and the Canal and River Trust, on issues such as working with civil society, asset transfer, and community engagement. Mark has a BSc in Biological Sciences from Birmingham University, a Diploma in Public Administration from Warwick Business School and is a 2012 Clore Social Fellow.

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