The value of our natural capital

Comprehensive new report on the economic, environmental and social value of plants based on extensive consumer behaviour research.

Urban view of Sheffield with trees

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) report, entitled ‘From Nursery to Nature: The Value of Plants‘, underscores the pivotal role of plants in environmental conservation, the significant economic impact of the horticultural industry and the therapeutic benefits of gardening and green spaces on mental health. The report also addresses sustainable horticultural practices.

A must read for anyone working in horticulture.

Key economic findings

  • In 2022, UK growers produced plants and trees worth £1.54 billion, employing over 20,000 people and contributing £183 million in tax revenue to the exchequer. A further £760 million of plants and bulbs were imported meet growing demand for plants, trees and green infrastructure in the UK.
  • The 300-400 UK growers and producers of plants and trees are the fundamental pillars of the wider environmental horticulture and landscaping industry, including; garden retail, wholesale, garden goods manufacturing, landscape services, arboriculture and domestic and international tourism -valued by Oxford Economics (2019) as supporting contributions to UK GDP of £28.8 billion, with the potential to grow to £41.8 billion by 2030.
  • Consumers spend nearly £3 billion per year on plants and trees, with about half spent in UK garden centres, which equates to approximately 200 million visits annually. HTA research estimates that UK consumers spent £2.2 billion on plants for outdoors in 2022, and a further £500 million on houseplants.
  • Once supplied, the plants and trees produced by environmental horticulture add significantly to the value of the UK’s assets, assessed at £130 billion (Office of National Statistics).
  • Meeting the expectations of the UK’s 30 million gardeners there needs to be a continued supply of plants from the industry. Should production fall short, not only will the volume of supply decrease but there will a knock on impact on the economic and environmental benefits.
  • The cost of living crisis has left gardeners highly sensitive to the price of plants. HTA modelling shows that even a modest 5% price increase is likely to lead to a fall in the volumes of plants supplied of just over 10% – the impact is more pronounced amongst lower income households. Suggesting therefore that any increased costs such as managing the transition to peat-free production, rising input and seasonal labour costs, and the costs of new regulations (cross-border plant trade) risks the environmental, social and economic value provided by the industry.
  • Plants are key part in supporting the wider supply chain of goods as purchases often include ‘link-sale’ items such as compost, pots, plant food etc. A fall in plant sales is highly likely to involve a substantial ‘knock-on’ economic impact for garden retailers and associated manufacturers.
  • Whilst consumers are price-sensitive, they also value ‘value-added’ traits like plant health, plant guarantees, and environmental impact. Suggesting that investment by horticulture businesses to improve and promote biosecurity, quality and environmental impact of plants will add significant value to consumers and may sustain the volumes of plants and trees supplied into our natural environment.
  • A well presented garden has been seen to add 20% to property value, with 70% of home buyers willing to pay more for a property with an outdoor green space. Furthermore, in 2023 the Office of National Statistics reported that the annual value from house prices that can be attributed to living near to green or blue spaces in the UK was £2.8 billion in 2020, roughly £1,000 on average per household.

Key environmental findings

  • The horticulture industry and the plants and trees it produces underwrites seven of the ten goals of the UK’s Environmental Improvement plan.
  • Ordnance Survey assessed that 29.5% of the UK’s total urban area is accounted for by domestic gardens, not counting nearly 50,000 hectares of public parks and gardens – an area almost equivalent to the Isle of Man.
  • The value from urban cooling provided by the UK’s urban vegetation was estimated at £430 million (ONS) in 2020. Putting that into context, in London for example the cooling effect of vegetation was estimated at 0.24°c which is vital to making our urban spaces liveable. The average city tree coverage across the EU was 11%, but increasing tree coverage to 30% lowered temperatures by an average of 0.4°C, with a maximum effect of 5.9°C in some areas.
  • The annual value of air pollution removal services by urban vegetation was around £800 million in 2021 (Science of The Total Environment, Volume 858, Part 2).
  • Plants and trees can remove particulate matter that is less than 2.5 microns in width (PM2.5) from the atmosphere. Woodlands are estimated to account for over 80% of all PM2.5 removed by vegetation, despite only accounting for 12% of the UK land area. The estimated value of this service provided by plants in terms of avoided negative impacts to human health was worth £667m in 2021 alone.
  • Total carbon storage by trees in Great Britain (both above and below ground) is just over 980 million tCO2e22, making trees a valuable weapon in the fight against climate change.
  • Domestic gardens account for almost a third of the UK’s urban areas, providing invaluable support for wildlife. As well as providing habitat, domestic gardens and the plants withinthem form vital wildlife corridors.
  • Studies have found that more bee and hoverfly flower visits are recorded in allotments and domestic gardens than most other land uses. Bumblebee nests have also been found more often in domestic gardens compared to other habitats such as grassland and woodland because gardens provide a higher diversity of plant species and flowering phases.

Key social values of plants

  • According to Defra the value of UK’s natural capital (stock of renewable and non-renewable resources that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people) is estimated at £11.6 billion per year.
  • Plants play an important role in the accessibility of gardening and connecting with nature. The desire to engage with plants and the health, psychological and environmental benefit they provide is not limited to any specific age group.
  • 23 million people with a garden/outdoor space claim to using their outdoor spaces to grow plants.
  • Houseplants provide a means of connecting with nature and gardening for the lowest household income brackets, and amongst consumers without access to garden or private outdoor space of – 29% of UK adults without access to a garden bought a houseplant in 2022. The Flower Council’s Survey (2021) revealed that plants help their home office environment and help to boost happiness, productivity, and concentration in the (home)workplace.
  • As seen during the Covid pandemic, during periods of economic uncertainty, people tend to to retreat to the garden and enjoy the sense of self-sufficiency that growing food can bring; not as a means of saving money, but for comfort and having a sense of control and autonomy.
  • Eight in ten UK adults (81%) believe gardens and green spaces benefit their state of mind. One survey revealed that over half (54%) of UK adults walk in nature and perform gardening to restore mental wellbeing as a form of self-care and social prescribing is increasingly being used by healthcare professionals over medicating.
  • A study found that for patients in hospitals, exposure to real plants or even posters of plants, resulted in lower levels of experienced stress.
  • Almost two thirds of primary school head and deputy headteachers agreed that school gardening benefitted pupils physical health and mental wellbeing
  • Gardening is an exercise in itself, burning up to 200 calories in a 30-minute long stint, and thereby helps to improve overall health and lower risk of obesity, cancer and cardiovascular complications.