We are the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy

Natural Resources

Farmer tractor on fieldHuman development and wellbeing is dependent on the health of our natural environment. We use natural resources to power our economic and social development and rely on numerous 'ecosystem services' to ensure a continuously healthy planet - from a clean supply of air, water, food and raw materials, to disease regulation and space for recreation. But we only have one planet, which is not just here for our benefit, and we are already living beyond our means, using natural resources at a level that cannot be maintained over time. The way in which we are exploiting these resources is also causing long-term irreversible damage – the critical services they provide are being affected, and the consequences of this are unknown. We therefore must take seriously our stewardship role, for the sake of the natural environment itself, and for the wellbeing of future generations.

In order to fulfil this role we must make decisions that recognise and keep us within our 'environmental limits', one of the five principles of sustainable development. The SDC's working definition of an environmental limit is:

The critical point(s) at which pressure on a natural resource or system creates unreasonable or irreversible change to the resource or system itself, to the detriment of the humans and other organisms to which it provides a service.

In the UK there is a finite amount of land and many competing demands on how it should be used. Land is needed for agriculture to supply our food; for space to build our houses, villages, towns and cities; for energy production and biodiversity; and for industry and tourism, to name but a few. The challenge for sustainable development is to manage land so as to integrate and maximise its economic, environmental and social value. The SDC’s work in this area has therefore cut across many themes, and included work on food production, environmental protection and biodiversity, the planning system and infrastructure, and energy production.


In Wales, the Commission's work in this area included responding to the Welsh Assembly Government’s consultation on a new Natural Environment Framework and providing secretariat support for the Land Use and Climate Change Group, set up by the Rural Affairs Minister. 

Key Publications

» Know your environmental limits: A local leaders’ guide

» Equal Value: Can a major Severn Tidal Power scheme be compatible with enhancing the Natura 2000 Biodiversity Network?

» Severn Tidal Power Equal Value Investigation

» National Infrastructure - Embedding sustainable development in decision making

» Vision for a Sustainable Food Chain - Workshop Report

» Food Security and Sustainability: The perfect fit

» SDC response to the Defra discussion paper, Ensuring the UK’s Food Security in a Changing World