By Alistair Grant

TENS of billions of pounds have been wiped from the value of Scotland’s natural assets due to a fall in fossil fuel prices, according to new figures.

The Scottish Government placed the partial asset value of Scotland’s “natural capital” - such as its mountains, woodlands and rivers - at £196 billion in 2016, the last year for which full figures are available. 

This represents a 22 per cent drop from the year before, which officials said is largely down to the plummeting value of fossil fuels. 

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the value of Scotland’s assets has actually risen by £4bn if fossil fuels are excluded.

She said: “There have been substantial methodology improvements in these statistics in this year’s reporting which have resulted in a £52bn reduction in comparison to previously reported figures.

“There has also been a well-documented fall in fossil fuel prices which has contributed to the overall reduction in total asset value.

“However if you exclude fossil fuels the partial asset value rose by £4bn between 2015 and 2016.”

A comprehensive assessment of the monetary value of Scotland’s natural capital was carried out for the first time last year.

This takes in everything from oil and gas to timber production and renewable energy, as well as cash generated from outdoor recreation and fishing.

The latest experimental statistical report provides a detailed appraisal of a variety of sectors and assets.

It suggests the equivalent of 1,549 years of life were saved through Scottish vegetation removing air pollution in 2017.

That same year, more than one billion hours were spent on visits for outdoor recreation in Scotland.

Overall, the report said the partial asset value of Scottish natural capital was £196bn in 2016, which is 20% of the UK asset valuation.

More than a third of this was attributed to “non-material benefits” not directly captured in other economic measurements, such as gross domestic product (GDP).

Fossil fuels accounted for 46% of the asset value, but their extraction more than halved between 1998 and 2018.

The report said renewables made up the majority (55%) of Scottish electricity generation in 2018, up from 18% in 2008.

Meanwhile, timber production in Scotland has doubled between 1997 and 2018.

Elsewhere, nearly four-fifths of the total number of fish caught in UK waters were captured in Scotland in 2016.

Atlantic mackerel was the fish caught most frequently in the UK that year, 98% of which were landed in Scotland.

But the most valuable species caught almost entirely in Scottish waters was blue whiting, with a gross annual value of £2.8 million in 2016.

The report said living near “publicly accessible green and blue spaces” added on average £2,393 to property prices in Scottish urban areas.

It said Edinburgh and Glasgow avoided £3.15m in productivity losses during 2018 because of the cooling effects of urban green spaces

The report said: “Natural capital assets are environmental resources that persist long-term, such as mountains, woodlands, or a fish population.

“From these assets, people receive a flow of services, such as mountain hikes and fish captured for consumption. 

“We can value the benefit to society of those services by estimating what the hikers spent to enable them to walk over the mountain or any profit from bringing the fish into the market.

“Applying this logic consistently across assets and services enables us to start building accounts of Scotland’s nature.”

It added: “Because of data coverage constraints, 2016 is the latest year we can estimate an overall Scottish natural capital asset value.”

It said the total value of Scottish natural capital declined by 22% between 2015 and 2016, largely because of the 39% drop in the asset valuation of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels plummeted in value by £58bn over the year.

Officials stressed this year’s report should not be directly compared with last year’s due to “significant methodological improvements”

Experimental statistics are not yet fully developed and have not been submitted for assessment by the UK Statistics Authority.