National Character Area 71

Leicestershire and South Derbyshire Coalfield - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services

Introduction

The Leicestershire and South Derbyshire Coalfield 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 Leicestershire and South Derbyshire Coalfield 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: Food provision is important to the region. Agriculture comprises mixed sheep and beef units and, to a lesser extent, dairy; combinable crops are grown on the free-draining soils, and potatoes on the heavier soils around Measham and Packington. The predominance of Coal Measures geology produces poor, slowly permeable soils and fine clayey gley soils that are waterlogged in the winter months. The National Forest offers financial incentives to farmers to convert the less productive agricultural land to woodland and other associated habitats.

Water availability: The rivers Mease and Sence and their tributaries are the primary supplies of water available for water abstraction in the Humber catchment. Unsustainable abstraction results in low flow levels that have a negative impact on biodiversity and water quality in terms of Water Framework Directive assessment and also the experiential qualities of the NCA. Part of the NCA is underlain by the deep Sherwood Sandstone aquifer that provides base flow to the rivers and storage capacity, which no surface reservoir can match in terms of quantity and quality, and water from this is used by the brewing industry in Burton upon Trent. 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).

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of history: The character of this NCA is heightened by the clear evidence of past human land use and visual links with the past, principally through mineral extraction. Sites of historic and cultural significance require maintenance, promotion and interpretation to ensure their longevity in the landscape and culture of the NCA – for example, the Moira Furnace site. Opportunities exist for the area’s industrial heritage to form the basis of visitor attractions such as the Snibston Discovery Museum, which can bring about an improved enjoyment of the landscape and improved management. Tourism can provide employment and benefit the local economy. Parklands and associated country homes provide a sense of the wealth that the industry brought to the area and remain an important historic asset. The settlement pattern reflects the process of change and development. Although many rural villages and scattered farmsteads remain, many villages have expanded. The continued expansion of settlements may pose a risk of losing traditional settlement patterns, especially the distinctive pattern of the early 13th-century mining settlements around Coleorton.

Recreation: Linear routes, for example the Ashby Canal and its towpath, link the NCA with the neighbouring Mease/Sence Lowlands NCA, while woodland walks in the north of the NCA cross into the Melbourne Parklands NCA. The mining and industrial infrastructure of the NCA is now a valuable asset for recreation, biodiversity and tourism and is within easy reach of the city of Leicester. Thornton Reservoir, a semi-redundant public water supply reservoir, is now important for biodiversity and recreation. Other open bodies of water associated with mineral extraction sites could also be restored for public access, ideal for circular strolls.

Biodiversity: The River Mease and Gilwiskaw Brook are special lowland rivers as they are relatively unspoilt and support internationally important populations of spined loach and bullhead fish. This is why the rivers were designated as an SAC under the EU Habitats Directive, and as an SSSI under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The rivers also support populations of white-clawed crayfish, otter, and a range of river plants such as water crowfoot.