Valuing nature


When making decisions about the environment we often talk about the ‘value’ of the environment. That value is essentially a way of saying how the environment matters.

This can range from literally putting a monetary value, that is, a price on nature to talking about non-monetary values, that is, why nature means something more to you than a price. For instance, a lake might be valuable for people because it produces 1 tonne of fish every year which has a monetary value in the local market. However the lake may also be valuable for people who practice the ‘art’ of fishing, enjoy the peace and quiet, or even enjoy swimming in the cold water!

A way of explaining the various ways in which we value nature can be to talk about how the environment matters to us according to how we live from, live in, live as and live with the natural world. Examples are illustrated below.


The reason why we try to value nature is because the more we understand the value of nature, or in this case, our rivers, the better we can protect and promote these natural environments according to these various values. This may allow us to see how we can live with the natural world rather than purely extracting from and battling against it.

Our decisions about the environment take place in lots of different settings, right through from discussions along a river walk or on a volunteering project to sitting in the city council offices and putting forward bills in parliament.

However all of these decisions are based upon values; either personal values, such as ethics that guide our behaviour, or these values of nature, such as how important a part of the environment is. It is important therefore to understand what people think to inform these decisions in policy and practice.


There are lots of different ways of capturing this value of the environment. For example, there is a concept called the Ecosystem Service Framework that describes the environment, or ecosystems, as a set of ‘services’ that benefit us humans and that if we value these services then we will be better able to protect them.

This can be done through calculations, measuring the way in which an environment contributes to the economy, or it can be done through understanding the many different ways in which the environment contributes directly to human wellbeing. This way of understanding how nature matters to people, involves… asking people.

The environment or, in this instance, the rivers in York, might matter for a wide range of reasons according to different individuals, groups and communities. In this project we want to hear from you to understand these values but also to see whether they might change over time. Also a key part of this research is to explore how we might widen the community ‘to whom the natural world matters’ to include the more-than-human world too. This requires efforts to encourage thinking about different perspectives – what else might find the rivers to be important?

The Life framework of values – Taken from O’Connor, S., & Kenter, J. O. (2019). Making intrinsic values work; integrating intrinsic values of the more-than-human world through the Life Framework of Values. Sustainability Science, 1-19.