National Character Area 9

Eden Valley - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The Eden Valley 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 the Eden Valley 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: The Eden Valley supports many highly productive farming systems with 70 per cent of the total land area forming Grade 2 or 3 prime agricultural land. This NCA is a major producer of lamb, beef, pork, dairy, cereals and other crops. This locally sourced food plays an important role in supporting tourism in the area, with the Eden Valley and Penrith food trails helping to encourage a locally sustainable, green economy.

Timber provision: The main sources of commercial timber are the larger coniferous blocks on the sandstone ridge and eastern foothills of the Pennine escarpment, some exceeding 100 ha in size. Collectively, these conifer woodlands cover over 4 per cent of the NCA. There is good potential to restructure these conifer woodlands to support multiple ecosystem services and extend the area of woodland, boosting long-term provision of hardwoods and softwoods for production.

Biomass energy: The NCA has moderate potential for biomass energy crops, with careful siting required to optimise multiple ecosystem benefits and minimise adverse effects on local landscape, biodiversity and historic features. There are opportunities for wood fuel biomass from the under-managed woodland resource. There is also good potential to develop anaerobic digestion to create biogas from excess farm wastes/slurries.

Water availability: Waters drain into the River Eden from the fells of the Lake District to the west and the Pennines to the east, and the catchment is a major source of potable water, including supply for the city of Carlisle. This water supply is thus influenced by land management in the catchment. 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 soil erosion: The River Eden and its tributaries are a priority catchment under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra’s) England Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme. All of the Eden catchment is at high risk of soil loss. Arable areas, especially on slopes or in areas susceptible to flooding, present a high risk of soil erosion. This risk can be regulated through land management practice that minimises the exposure of bare soil and achieves good levels of organic matter in soils, and by creating woodland and other vegetation barriers such as permanent grassland strips and hedgerows to hold soil on the land.

Regulating water quality: Generally the Eden is meeting its Natura Protected Area (SAC) targets under the Water Framework Directive, however there are specific tributaries that fail due to diffuse pollution problems from agriculture and from non-mains sewered discharges from hamlets and villages. The River Eden SAC is a Defra priority catchment where advice and grants are offered for land management practices that will reduce or prevent sediment and nutrients washing into the watercourses, thereby protecting this important asset and ecosystem service.

Regulating water flow: The flood plain of the River Eden floods regularly. Carlisle, immediately to the north of this NCA, and Appleby-in-Westmorland are at risk from major flood events, and the River Eden is a significant source of the floodwaters that converge there. Land and river management within the Eden Valley – which is designed to absorb the energy of high water, enhance infiltration, increase surface roughness through expanding woodland and other semi-natural habitats, and create vegetation ‘buffers’ to watercourses – will improve the landscape’s capacity to hold on to peak flows and thus enhance this service downstream.

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: The Eden Valley’s location, a sheltered valley nestled within surrounding rugged uplands, gives it a particularly strong sense of place and, in its juxtaposition with these uplands, serves to accentuate their own sense of place too. Within the valley, features such as the widespread use of red sandstone in buildings and other structures (a unifying feature across much of the NCA) provide a direct link with the geology of the area.

Sense of history: This is a landscape with a very strong sense of history associated with its strategic position and favourable conditions for agriculture: stone circles and earthworks of early settlements attest to its long history of human use. This was a defensive border location with fortified castles, many of these now ruined but remaining as conspicuous features of the landscape. The industrial and architectural heritage of the railways is also particularly evident within the Eden Valley.

Tranquillity: A landscape with a strong sense of tranquillity and calm, heightened by the river and surrounding fells. The Campaign to Protect Rural England maps classify 71 per cent of the NCA as ‘undisturbed’.

Recreation: The area attracts many visitors due to its high landscape value and wildlife interest. It is a popular destination for walking, horse riding, cycling/ mountain biking and water-based activities such as angling, kayaking and canoeing, together with other activities including bird/wildlife watching.

Biodiversity: Six internationally important wildlife sites and 31 SSSI lie partly or wholly within the Eden Valley, including the River Eden SAC and the Cumbrian Marsh Fritillary SAC. The NCA contains important populations of marsh fritillary butterfly, whooper swan, wading birds, black grouse, red squirrel and otter, and remnant stands of the native black poplar.

Geodiversity: There are 11 SSSI within Eden Valley NCA which are notified at least in part for their geological interest – these tend to be stream sections, cuttings or quarry exposures of Permo-Triassic and Ordovician geology and significant fossil exposures. These are complemented by 25 Local Geological Sites, providing an educational and research resource which help in understanding how this landscape developed.