Most policy decisions are made with reference to their economic consequences – but what happens to the validity of the decision if the underlying economics are incomplete?
Across the UK our orchards are being grubbed-up at a steady rate to make way for other, seemingly more profitable, land uses. The most recent ordnance survey figures suggest that we’ve lost two-thirds of the orchard area we had in 1950, with some parts of the country experiencing losses of over 90%.
Orchards, as with other environmental resources, have values beyond their marketed price or profitability. These might include supporting wildlife and biodiversity, giving cultural identity to a community, or encouraging regional tourism. Our work with the Bulmer Foundation set out to explore some of the wider attributes of orchards and what they might be worth to society.
We found that the local stakeholder groups we worked with placed huge importance upon their local orchards, even where they had no general public access, and that their role in defining local identity and the ‘feel’ of the landscape were common themes.
When we tried to estimate the total economic value of orchards by valuing their key social, environmental and economic factors, we also found that basic economic profitability never accounted for more than 40% of the total economic value. In a number of cases, basic profitability was negligible – under conventional economic decision making these orchards would be at great risk, despite the huge values that they were giving to society.
We’re very pleased that Bulmers has used this research, along with other studies, to reconsider the basis of their decision-making around orchards’ profitability, and to engage government and key stakeholders on their wider value. Our hope now is that other land-use decision makers will also begin to question the validity of basic economic decisions, and look beyond the simplistic to embrace a wider appreciation of value.
Click here to download the full version of Windfall– putting a value on the social and environmental importance of orchards.