National Character Area 98

Clun and North West Herefordshire - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


Clun and North West Herefordshire Hills NCA provides a wide range of benefits to society. Each is derived from the attributes and processes (both natural and cultural features) within the area. These benefits are known collectively as ‘ecosystem services’. The predominant services are summarised below. Further information on ecosystem services provided in Clun and North West Herefordshire Hills NCA is contained in the ‘Analysis’ section of this website.

Note: The natural capital in this NCA is mapped below. This displays more recent national and publicly available data sets as used within Natural England’s 2020 Natural Capital Atlas Profiles.

The predominant ecosystem services in this NCA are also summarised below. The text contained in this section is based on the previous NCA profiles in 2014, and so is not entirely current. Further information on ecosystem services provided in the North Northumberland Coastal Plain NCA is contained in the Analysis: Ecosystem Services page of this website.

What is Natural Capital?

Natural capital means “the elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions” (Natural Capital Committee, 2017).

It is helpful to consider natural capital in the form of a logic chain that represents the links between ecosystem assets, services, benefits and value to people. The figure below displays that logic chain. The quantity and quality of ecosystem assets (woodland, bogs, etc) support different types of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration or water filtration. These ecosystem services then provide different benefits to society, providing value for people. The figure also shows how management interventions, as well as pressures and drivers of change, influence this chain. Other capital inputs are also often needed for people to obtain the benefits from ecosystem services (a simple example is the processing of trees to produce wood products).

As an example, an area of woodland (ecosystem asset) may reduce air pollution created by traffic on a nearby road. This woodland is therefore improving air quality (ecosystem service) in the local area which results in cleaner air and improved health in the adjacent residential street (benefit). This cleaner air has a value because we know it impacts the health and wellbeing of communities.

Sometimes for ease of understanding, economic framing is used to give these benefits a monetary value. The figure below shows how natural capital assets support the provision of ecosystem services, benefits and value. The roots of the tree show how aspects of asset quality are critical to the provision of ecosystem services. The roots also show that geodiversity underpins the ecosystem assets and therefore the ecosystem services and benefits they can provide. It is important to remember that this diagram, and natural capital frameworks more generally, are a simplification of how nature works in practice.

Natural Capital within this NCA

In 2018, Natural England published ‘Natural Capital Indicators: for defining and measuring change in natural capital’ (Lusardi et al., 2018). This report identified key properties of the natural environment vital for the long-term sustainability of benefits, which can act as indicators of change.

These indicators are designed to inform our understanding of the state of our natural assets. The indicators highlight the importance of our natural assets for delivering which ecosystem service and the benefits they provide for society. The indicators and datasets identified in Natural England’s Natural Capital Indicators Project provide the foundation for the Natural Capital Atlas Profiles.

Natural England’s Natural Capital Atlas Profiles provide an “off the shelf” natural capital evidence base for each county or city region. They have a wide variety of uses with more information in the How to Start Using Your Natural Capital Atlas.

The Natural Capital indicators are presented on the map below by broad asset theme, displaying the natural capital within the NCA.

It is noted that not all indicators listed within the Natural Capital Atlas Profiles are included within the map as data is not yet available to measure them. Refer to the “Indicator Gaps and Limitations” of the Natural Capital Atlas Profiles for further information.

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Provisioning services (food, fibre and water supply)

Food provision: Sheep and beef farming are the main enterprises in the Clun and North West Herefordshire Hills NCA, with smaller amounts of arable farming and fruit (apples and damsons). The predominant land use is grass and uncropped land accounting for 71 per cent of the total farmed area, with cereals accounting for just 19 per cent.

Water availability: The main uses of water in the catchment are for public water supply and agriculture, with very little industrial use. However, there is no further water available for abstraction from surface water or groundwater sources, including from the River Teme and its tributary the River Clun, which has no water available in order to protect flow levels downstream in the River Severn. The rivers Lugg and Arrow, crossing the south of the NCA, also have no water available. There are no underlying major aquifers. For information regarding the current state of water availability within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency (Abstraction Licensing Strategy).

Regulating services (water purification, air quality maintenance and climate regulation)

Regulating water quality:For information regarding the current state of water quality within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency (Draft river basin management plan maps).

Regulating water flow: In the north of the NCA, there is a moderate level of fluvial risk associated with the rivers Teme and Clun but the risk of flooding is not expected to increase significantly in the long term. In this area, the Environment Agency is considering opportunities to restore sustainable natural storage of floodwater on undeveloped flood plains. In the south of the NCA, fluvial flood risk is low to moderate. There is important agricultural land in this area, with a large proportion of good quality land at flood risk. The Environment Agency supports opportunities to store water or manage run-off to reduce flood risk and provide wider environmental benefits, including along the River Lugg.

Regulating soil quality: The freely draining, slightly acid and loamy, soils that cover two thirds of the area are permeable and allow for the recharge of groundwater. This requires the maintenance of good structural conditions to aid water infiltration, helped by the addition of organic matter, and the matching of nutrients to needs, which also prevents groundwater pollution.

Regulating soil erosion: Over 80 per cent of the area is covered by soils at risk of soil erosion. The dominant freely draining, slightly acid and loamy soils have an enhanced risk of soil erosion on moderately or steeply sloping land where cultivated or bare soil is exposed. This is exacerbated where organic matter levels are low after continuous arable cultivation or where soils are compacted. There is potential for wind erosion on some coarse-textured, cultivated soils.

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: Sense of place is provided by the rolling, rounded, upland hills that are divided by several small, wooded, narrow valleys, including the Teme, Lugg, Clun and Onny, which widen to the east. There are extensive areas of unenclosed grasslands and moorlands on hill tops, creating a wide, open landscape with slopes largely under grass. On lower land, the valleys become flatter with more extensive flood plains, enabling more intensive arable and mixed farming while retaining a pastoral character. Senses of inspiration and escapism are associated with the panoramic views across the plateau and long vistas along valleys; the parklands, castles and hill forts; and extensive woodland cover. The area has literary associations with Sir Walter Scott and is referenced in A.E. Housman’s cycle of poems ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

Sense of history: The history of the landscape is most evident in its long associations with cross-border defence and settlement, defined by iron- age hill forts visible on many hill tops, the massive border earthwork of Offa’s Dyke, and motte-and-bailey castles. In the hamlets and villages, the fortified Norman churches and houses emphasise the border character of this area, often termed ‘Middle Welsh Marches’, as does the mixture of English and Welsh settlement pattern, tenure and place names. Aspects of history likely to be most evident to the general public are the landscapes developed on ancient sites such as Brampton Bryan and Croft Castle as well as other Registered Parks and Gardens, including Downton Castle, Walcot, Eywood and Stokesay Court. In addition, the former market towns of Kington and Bishop’s Castle are attractive historic settlements.

Tranquillity: Tranquillity is a significant feature of the NCA, with 97 per cent of the area classified as ‘undisturbed’. The area remains largely unaffected by development apart from the northern edge of Knighton and Kington, and the western edges of Craven Arms and Ludlow which include the A49. A sense of tranquillity is particularly associated with the deeply rural character of the area with its extensive woodland and contrasting lowland and upland patterns of field boundaries, distinctive lines of trees along watercourses, extensive pastures and occasional parklands.

Recreation: Recreation is supported by Offa’s Dyke National Trail as well as 966 km of rights of way and 1,407 ha of Open Access land. Further opportunities for recreation include regional routes such as the Jack Mytton Way, the Shropshire Way, the Mortimer Trail, the Herefordshire Trail and the Black and White Village Trail.

Biodiversity: There are three internationally designated Special Conservation Areas within the NCA – Downton Gorge, River Clun, and River Wye. Downton Gorge is a narrow ravine with a distinctive microclimate, supporting lime, ash and elm woodland as well as being rich in a wide range of fern species. The three main rivers, the Teme, Clun and Lugg, are noted for their high water quality and associated habitats. Both the Teme and Lugg are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are among the 24 SSSI in the NCA, totalling 590 ha, with a further 5,620 ha designated as local wildlife sites. There are over 6,000 ha of priority habitat, and almost two-thirds of this is comprised of lowland, mixed deciduous woodland, along with wet woodland and upland oak wood habitats.

Geodiversity: This is a very important area for geology and is where much of the pioneering work that established the foundations of geology was undertaken. For example, the Mortimer Forest SSSI, which exposes rocks belonging to the Wenlock and Ludlow Series, is a global reference locality for the Ludlow Series. This importance is reflected in the 10 Geological Conservation Review sites in addition to the 70 local geological sites, many of which are disused quarries. The link between the underlying geology and the form of the landscape is strong, and the influence on land use and the use of building stone contributes to the area’s local character. Working quarries are still found in the NCA, including at Hergan Hill and Leinthall Earls. The NCA is internationally significant for its geodiversity and is critical to geological research and learning.