National Character Area 75

Kesteven Uplands - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The Kesteven Uplands 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 Kesteven Uplands 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: Agricultural food production is an important service in the NCA. Some 78 per cent of the area is classified as Grade 3 agricultural land. Medium-scale mixed farming is the main land use with arable crops dominating; 46 per cent of the NCA area is cereals with 27 per cent cash crops/root crops and 21 per cent uncropped grassland. It supports around 10,000 cattle, 32,000 sheep and 4,000 pigs.

Timber provision: There are significant areas of woodland covering approximately 8 per cent of the NCA and many of these woodlands are currently managed for timber production. There is some scope for increasing the production of timber through expansion and creation of broadleaf woodland which would also benefit climate regulation, reducing soil erosion, water flow and biodiversity, as well as strengthening the distinctive wooded character of the area. The good-quality farmland and important grasslands may limit expansion.

Water availability: There is a major aquifer – the Southern Lincolnshire Limestone – located in the east of the NCA for which the outcrop areas are mainly in the western tributary catchment of the West Glen. The aquifer is an important source for public water supply. However, the aquifer currently has a Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS) ‘over-abstracted’ status. 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: Half of the NCA has soils that are generally not susceptible to soil erosion. However, the shallow lime-rich soils over limestone and the lighter-textured freely draining lime-rich loamy soils are at risk of erosion, particularly on sloping cultivated ground or where bare soil is exposed. The relatively small area of freely draining slightly acid but base-rich soils can be susceptible to capping and slaking, increasing the risk of soil erosion. These soils need to be managed carefully to reduce risks with careful timing of cultivation and maintenance of vegetation cover. Sedimentation of watercourses is currently one of the factors negatively affecting water quality in this area.

Regulating soil quality: Most soils are of good agricultural quality. The shallow, lime-rich soils over limestone and the freely draining lime-rich loamy soils, while typically shallow and susceptible to drought, have a degree of natural resilience due to their calcareous nature. They are valuable for aquifer recharge, requiring the maintenance of good structural conditions. Measures are required to increase the organic content of soils to aid water infiltration and also assist with climate regulation and soil erosion. The slowly permeable, seasonally wet loamy and clayey soils suffer compaction and/or capping as they are easily damaged when wet. In turn this may lead to increasingly poor water infiltration and diffuse pollution as a result of surface water run-off. Management measures that increase organic matter levels can help to reduce these problems as will time of cultivation to avoid compaction.

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).

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: A sense of place is provided by the rolling nature of this landscape which is dissected north to south by the rivers Witham, East Glen and West Glen. Significant areas of medium-sized woodland, both semi-natural and ancient, are dispersed throughout the area, framing and containing views, and alongside wide species-rich verges, meadows and mixed farmland generally enclosed by hedgerows reflect a deeply rural landscape. The settlement pattern is generally dispersed but nucleated, with small, picturesque honey-coloured stone villages evenly distributed throughout the area, with the exception of the line of settlements along the edge of the Fens to the east and a cluster of larger villages around Stamford.

Aside from the built form, local geology is reflected in the drystone walls in the south of the area, and in the exposed geological features including characteristic limestone and ironstone quarries. The area has a high concentration of historic country houses and distinctive parklands.

A sense of inspiration and escapism is associated with the intimate landscape of small woodlands, stone villages, parklands and halls which contrasts with the more open, elevated arable areas with exposed, distant views.

Sense of history: The historic evidence includes the route of the Roman Ermine Street, with visible archaeological evidence of settlements and villas concentrated along the route, such as Roman settlements. Later, medieval monastic influences include Vaudey Abbey and the Templar Preceptory at South Witham.
Part of the NCA was once the ancient Forest of Kesteven; this was part of the Royal Forest, which became deforested after 1231. Hunting has long been associated with the area. The NCA includes a large concentration of deserted medieval villages, areas of ridge and furrow, ancient trackways, boundary features such as dry limestone walls and ancient hedgerows.

The history of farming can be traced through small-scale, irregular medieval fields which remain in many areas, alongside the large-scale and regular enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries and numerous ancient woodlands with evidence of later enclosures visible in more regular fields on higher ground to the south and west. Historic parklands and wood pasture and large houses founded on the wealth of the wool trade are distinctive features of the area.

The long history of using local limestone for the construction of buildings is evident from the abandoned quarries scattered around the area and the vernacular which dominates. Notable examples of the worked stone are evident in Stamford. There is scope for protecting features further and raising awareness for the attention of a wider audience.

Biodiversity: There are over 3,200 ha of priority habitats (5 per cent of the NCA), which include broadleaved woodland, calcareous grassland, fen, grazing marsh, reedbeds and meadows. The NCA contains one Special Area of Conservation, at Grimsthorpe, and approximately 1 per cent of the NCA is nationally designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The key habitats associated with the area’s rivers include native crayfish supported, for example, by parts of the River Witham.

Expanding, buffering and connecting the fragmented semi-natural habitats in the area, including those within the parklands, would improve their condition and make them more resilient. Networks of hedgerow and permanent grassland margins could be established within the farmed environment and would provide support for pollinating insects, and farmland birds could also benefit.

Geodiversity: The local geology is reflected in the use of locally quarried limestone in buildings and drystone walls. The exploitation of stone and mineral extraction has given rise to some important exposures in disused quarries.

There are four quarries, all designated as SSSI for the exposures of the Lincolnshire Limestone Formation and rare ammonite fossils found there. These provide opportunities for education and interpretation of the geodiversity and natural features of the area.