The best things in life are free. Like a walk on a beautiful beach, and the sight of a 300+ seal colony I had the privilege of sighting at Tentsmuir Point yesterday. I didn’t have to pay anyone to see that! But free things don’t necessarily have no value. Fresh air and clean water don’t have an economic value for Scotland Plc. The visit to a most beautiful beach, coupled with a mind-blowing experience of seeing seals play in the sun thanks to the ecology of Tentsmuir nature reserve was not paid for. However, putting a financial value on the environment may be one of the most important things we could do to save the natural beauty that tourists in Scotland want to experience. What’s the value of our landscape to our tourism? The truth is, we don’t know. Its value is hidden. If we did, then the government would allocate money to protecting it so that it could bring benefit. If the beach was seen as an important part of the marine ecosystem that kept Scottish fishermen in business, then we would start to see its value included in bottom-line budget accounting.
Emily Cooper of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think-tank, put some figures on the value of tourism, recreation, fisheries and shoreline protection in Belize. It was an impressive $395m to $559m. The entire economy was worth about $1.3 billion in 2007. These figures, she thinks, have allowed environmentalists to protect Belize’s threatened mangrove forests better – they secure the coastline by helping prevent erosion. Our government should identify the contributions that marine ecosystems and natural capital make to the country’s GNP, tourism income, and foreign-exchange earnings. That way, the conservation that Tentsmuir is entitled to via the Forestry Commission may be more widely applied: to other natural Scottish beauty spots, to protect – yes the income generation potential (tourism, fishing), but most importantly the natural resource which supports the eco-logy of the eco-nomy. Dr. Carl Safina, American scientist reminds us:
“Conservation is not a trade off between the economy and the environment. Its a trade off between the short and long term.”