The conceptual and practical options of governing natural capital under a ‘system operator’

The conceptual and practical options of governing natural capital under a ‘system operator’

The ultimate ambition of a natural capital approach is for nature to be managed in a way that delivers the best outcome for society. This remains a challenge because existing governance arrangements do not take a ‘systems view’, fail to take account of nature’s multiple stakeholders; long-run considerations; and the public good characteristics of many of nature’s benefits. This drives nature’s continued decline. 

This project will examine the conceptual underpinnings and practical options of the ambition in the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan to move towards a ‘system operator’ responsible for strategic management of natural capital locally.

Project Aims

This project aims to explore the conceptual and practical implications that would result from a shift towards a ‘system operator’ approach to managing and financing natural capital maintenance and restoration. There are potentially significant risks and opportunities for nature, which have not been explored—a gap that urgently needs addressing. This project aims to explore these potential impacts for nature and influence policy development of a ‘systems’ approach to governing natural capital from local to national level.

Key Activities

  • Scope the practical considerations and implications of different governance designs of a ‘system operator’ taking account of the experience with partnerships in local environmental governance and the balance between private and public sector roles.
  • Interviews with expert stakeholders and experts to interrogate practical implications of different options
  • Consider the potential impacts on nature conservation and other ecosystem services of different design options
  • Disseminate the results to a wider audience for further discussion

Conservation Impact

Policy relating to natural capital is evolving rapidly and presents a range of significant risks and opportunities for nature conservation. The political backdrop means that changes may occur rapidly and there is an urgent need to ensure that thoughtful research and considerations for nature conservation lead any developments. 


  • Draft concept paper
  • Workshop to further refine issues raised within the concept paper
  • Policy brief
  • Engagement with public policy debate

CCI partners Involved


Thumbnail and banner image: Asim Bharwani via Flickr creative commons