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The University of Southampton

UOSM2035 Valuing Nature

Module Overview

We are currently entering an epoch of unprecedented global environmental change. Given the importance to human wellbeing of nature in its broadest sense, this period of global change is exacerbating a disconnect between people and the natural world. It is often actions at the local scale that add up to cause these global effects. The combination of local cause and global effect leads us to ask what we understand by nature and how we value it. This module will provide you with the tools to describe our local natural environment, leading to an appreciation of its role in global environmental change. We will consider both non-monetary and monetary values of nature, in terms of inherent qualities and natural capital. You will develop skills to quantify inherent values of local nature and values of natural capital, and to track the value chain through to human wellbeing. The UK Government’s 2011 Natural Environment White Paper (listed below under “Resources”) recognised that the development of the UK’s natural infrastructure is essential for the delivery of sustainable economic growth. Nature is of value to all of us; it provides essential commodities, supports society’s infrastructure and influences how we feel and our wellbeing. How we value nature is therefore a complex, interdisciplinary topic that needs to be better embedded in the pubic conscience. The underlying relevance of the subject matter means that this module will be of interest and importance to students across all disciplines. Students will benefit from working with peers, and learning from researchers, from a diversity of Honours programmes, including those concerned with human capital and financial capital, in order to explore fully the multi-disciplinary approaches to appreciating nature.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • What we understand by ‘nature’
  • How humans value nature and how values change through time
  • The difference between valuing nature and putting a price tag on nature
  • The importance of valuing nature for a sustainable future
  • Potentially conflicting values for nature


This module is structured to allow the students to incrementally increase their appreciation of how they value nature, and their knowledge of how nature is valued by others. The students will be required throughout to reflect on the lectures and field trips, to consider their effect on how they value nature. The module will start with an interactive discussion on the diverse meanings of nature, and a reflection on personal values of nature. A reflective Twitter log by each student will use modern technology to follow in the footsteps of Gilbert White, whose contemplative letters to his peers were published in 1789 as The Natural History of Selborne. Students will use their log throughout the module to develop their appreciation of nature and its values. This deconstruction of how we value nature will begin with an investigation of the consequences of using the term ‘nature’, rather than ‘environment’ to reflect the alignment of nature with morality (SB). The module will examine how humans have traditionally valued nature for its inherent properties, coined as Biophilia by E.O. Wilson to mean an innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes (contributions by JS). We will take a trip to Gilbert White’s house in the Hampshire village of Selborne, to consider the importance of White’s reflections on local nature, at the time of writing and through to the present (JL). The module will then begin to construct a framework for valuing nature, first through a consideration of what gives us a sense of place (TBC). Next, there is an investigation of our use of plants and animals, both for food and for non-food purposes (MC). It will then consider monetary values of nature as natural capital. A practical session based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma will illustrate the problems associated with incentivising public action to protect natural capital (CPD). We will then look more specifically at the ecosystem functions that flow from natural capital, which provide services that influence human wellbeing (KP). The module will then consider the monetary and non-monetary values of nature (MS). The module will finish with an interactive reflection on the newly evolving concept of natural ‘assets’ in terms of potentially conflicting economic, political and social values.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Lectures • Discussions • Practical • Day trip to Gilbert White’s house

Completion of assessment task55
Wider reading or practice30
Follow-up work20
Preparation for scheduled sessions20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES) website.

Edward O. Wilson. Biophilia. 

Natural Environment White Paper.

Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (University of Oxford), Natural capital seminar series website.

Gilbert White. The natural history of Selborne. 

State of Natural Capital report.

and subsequent implementation updates.


Assessment Strategy

Group Assessment (70%): We will capitalise on the UOSM status of this module by running group projects that benefit from an interdisciplinary team structure of five students. External stakeholders will provide a brief for a project that involves reconnecting people with nature or encouraging an increase in the value of nature by members of the public. Instead of allocating projects to groups, groups will bid competitively for two pre-assigned projects of ten (10%). The bid will comprise a ten minute presentation by all members of the group, accompanied by visual aids. A discussion among stakeholders and academic staff will then decide which group carries out which project. The project will be written-up as a group report (4000 words of text), with identified contributions from each student, in the style of a journal article, with potential for eventual submission to a journal, such as Environmental Communication (50%). The final projects will also be presented to representatives from the external stakeholder groups and university academics (10%). Individual Assessment (30%): As an update on Gilbert White’s letter correspondence, students will use Twitter to produce a reflective log throughout the module, to allow them to record how their own evolving appreciation of the values of nature. Each student will produce a lead tweet once a week with the hashtag made up of the course code and the first 5 characters of their university username. They can comment on this lead tweet but a separate lead tweet must be written each week for the duration of the module. The lead tweet could contain hyperlinks or pictures. Other Twitter users will be able to reply or retweet, as they would other tweets. At the end of the module, students will be required to use Storify to collate all their tweets into a final story, the link to which will be tweeted to a hashtag of the module’s name and therefore available to the course delivery team. Referral assessment (100%): Literature review (1500-2000 words) based on a new brief from an external stakeholder (90%) and short presentation (15 minutes) on the brief (10%).


MethodPercentage contribution
Group project  (4000 words) 50%
Group project 10%
Group project  (10 minutes) 10%
Reflective log 30%


MethodPercentage contribution
Literature review 90%
Presentation 10%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal

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