Nature Assessment Tool for Urban and Rural Environments (NATURE)

Enabling a green recovery in the built environment sector

The home of the NATURE Tool is now

-Launch of the NATURE Tool-
In coordination with the NATURE Tool's release (July 2021) a programme of launch events was procuded. These launch events were recorded and can now be found here.

See recordings of the free introductory webinars recorded in December 2020.

Background to this tool

The tool was originally called the Net Gain Planning Tool (NGPT); this was a temporary name until a more suitable title was devised. We are pleased to announce the official name of the tool is - Nature Assessment Tool for Urban and Rural Environments (NATURE).

There are growing ambitions to secure net gains for the natural environment from new built development. Natural features are seen increasingly as an asset that leads to benefits for health, wellbeing, and prosperity.

As recognised by the Government throughout the UK, the built environment is central to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future sustainable growth. A key challenge for those involved in built environment that is yet to be resolved is how net gains for the environment can be objectively measured and implemented.

Aims for this tool

The aim of this research and development project lead by WSP and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network, in partnership with Northumbria University, is to co-develop a new tool to support the delivery of net gains for the environment in new infrastructure projects and developments. This will enable built environment professionals to objectively assess and measure to what extent new plans or developments achieve net gains. The project is co-funded by Innovate UK. We are establishing a strong cross-disciplinary partnership to develop NATURE tool. The aim is that it becomes a widely accepted UK industry standard; a game-changer for the built environment sector. NATURE tool will be made available publicly and will be free to use. 

Users of NATURE tool will need to enter a range of simple indicators such as land-use and greenspace accessibility before and after development. On that basis, the tool will calculate the impact of the land-use change on up to 20 ecosystem services (nature's contributions to people), on physical and mental health, and on biodiversity, and assess to what extent net gains for the environment would be/have been achieved. The biodiversity assessment will only apply outside England (there is already a tool to assess biodiversity net-gain in England). 

Some tools to assess the impact of land-use changes on environmental services are already available and provide a springboard for the development of NATURE tool. However, none of these tools answers the crucial question of whether a net gain has been achieved.

NATURE tool will advance existing tools by combining the best features of existing tools, adding value by achieving the following: assessing physical and mental health benefits; being evidence-based and yet easy to use; providing outcomes that are easy to interpret; answering the critical question of whether a plan or development achieves net gain based on national and local policies; allowing local planning authorities to pre-define what is expected from new development in terms of net gain which will also enhance planning security for developers; setting incentives for going above and beyond minimum net-gain requirements; and becoming a widely accepted industry standard co-developed with the sector. 

NATURE tool will not only help to make future land-use more sustainable, but also to enable those involved in shaping the built environment to play a more positive role by becoming a net-contributor to tackling environmental issues. This is a potential game-changer for the sector as well as people and wildlife in the UK and beyond.