National Character Area 94

Leicestershire Vales - Analysis: Ecosystem Services

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on a selection of the key provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem goods and services for this NCA. These are underpinned by supporting services such as photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, soil formation and evapo-transpiration. Supporting services perform an essential role in ensuring the availability of all ecosystem services.

Bodiversity and geodiversity are crucial in supporting the full range of ecosystem services provided by this landscape. Wildlife and geologically-rich landscapes are also of cultural value and are included in this section of the analysis. This analysis shows the projected impact of Statements of Environmental Opportunity on the value of nominated ecosystem services within this landscape.

Further analysis on landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities section.

Natural Capital

Further information on Natural Capital within this NCA is contained in the Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services section.

The Leicestershire Vales 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 realised through the ‘ecosystem services’ that flow from the ‘ecosystem assets’ or ‘natural capital’ of a place.

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).

Ecosystem Services Main Beneficiaries

The below map displays the main beneficiaries of each ecosystem service identified within this NCA and neighbouring NCAs. These range from being of international importance to local importance. Some services have not been assessed within all NCAs, and therefore in some NCAs are displayed as “N/A” (not applicable).

 

Main Beneficiaries Map

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Ecosystem service analysis

The following sections show the analysis used to determine key Ecosystem Service opportunities within the area. These opportunities have been combined with the analysis of landscape opportunities to create Statements of Environmental Opportunity. Please note that the following analysis is based upon available data and current understanding of ecosystem services. It does not represent a comprehensive local assessment. Quality and quantity of data for each service is variable locally and many of the services listed are not yet fully researched or understood. Therefore analysis and opportunities may change upon publication of further evidence and better understanding of the inter-relationship between services at a local level.

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

Provisioning Services

Food provision

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Soils
  • Mixed farming regime – arable cropping with dairy, beef and lamb production

State – Underlain dominantly by superficial deposits, Mercia Mudstone and Lias group rocks, these give rise to a moderately undulating landscape characterised by mixed pasture and arable agricultural use that has developed on the neutral clay soils.

Arable farming predominates across the area benefitting from around three quarters of the area being Grade 3 agricultural land. On steeper ground and where clays are heavier, pasture farming is common.

Between 2000 and 2009 dairy farms have reduced by a third whereas cereal farming has increased by nearly a quarter.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Intensively farmed soils can become vulnerable to compaction and erosion, so it will be important to maintain high levels of organic content and good soil structure to ensure soils remain productive.

Arable farming, following best cultivation and cropping practices, can provide multiple benefits in maintaining the level of food production and for potentially enhancing biodiversity and preserving the historic landscape character.

Pressures include the reduction or loss of permanent pasture to arable and the potential effects of diffuse pollution on watercourses particularly along the River Mease. To achieve a balance and optimise food production, land managers and farmers could be encouraged into agri-environment schemes and the application of catchment sensitive farming techniques.

Opportunities – Manage soils to allow continued sustainable agricultural production by increasing organic content and water infiltration, for example use of grass buffers along watercourses and inclusion of fallow in crop rotation.

Work with farmers to manage arable cropping patterns to encourage rarer arable plants, farmland birds and mammals and create grass margins around arable fields.

Extend agri-environment agreements with farmers to minimise the effects of diffuse pollution by adopting buffer strip management particularly along the River Mease to help improve water quality and reduce total loss of pasture to arable.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Food provision
  • Biodiversity
  • Pollination
  • Sense of history
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion

Timber provision

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Areas of existing woodlands
  • Parkland areas with woods and trees

State – This area has a low hectarage (1,976 ha) of woodland covering 3 per cent of the NCA of which only 6 per cent is ancient woodland. There is no significant commercial forestry interest so current timber provision is low.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Bringing undermanaged existing woodland into management could increase the local source of timber in the future, which will bring benefits for biodiversity, water quality, soil quality and reduce the risk of soil erosion.

Better management of the historic woodland within parkland areas could lead to the more efficient and sustainable harvesting of timber using techniques such as coppicing.

By reintroducing coppicing there will be an increase in timber available in the area and spinoff benefits for biodiversity with healthier and more diverse stock.

A range of woodland management techniques are required, including non-intervention; dead wood is an important component of semi-natural woodlands for biodiversity as well as nutrient cycling and soil formation which supports the regulation of soil erosion, soil quality, climate and water quality.

Hedgerow trees were once an important source of local timber. Loss due to Dutch elm disease and ash canker has dramatically reduced tree stocks in the area.

Opportunities – Bring woodlands, including woodlands within parklands, into active management and reintroduce coppicing to increase timber provision.

Encourage the planting of a new generation of hedgerow trees and positively manage existing hedgerow trees to reinstate a future local timber resource.

Plan for and encourage the planting of new woodlands in and around urban fringe developments to better assimilate urban growth, providing valuable green space, increased biodiversity, reduced visual intrusion and a sustainable source of local timber.

Principal services offered by opportunities –

  • Timber provision
  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Biomass energy

Water availability

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Rivers
  • Resevoirs
  • Semi-natural habitats; rivers and streams, woodlands, flood plain grazing marsh and other permanent pasture

State – There are four main rivers in the NCA (the rivers Soar, Sence, Swift and Welland) and two canal systems (the Grand Union and Ashby canals). Saddington Reservoir, a nationally designated SSSI, built to supply water to the Grand Union Canal is also located within the NCA.

There are no major aquifers in the NCA.

The River Welland currently has a Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS) ‘over abstracted’ status.The River Soar rises to the east of Hinckley in the west of the NCA and flows north through Leicester. There are numerous tributaries that join the Soar including the River Sence. There are few water resource pressures within the Soar catchment as the vast majority of public water supply is imported from neighbouring catchments.

The rivers Soar and Sence currently have a CAMS ‘water available’ status (The Soar Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy, Environment Agency, February 2013). The River Swift, which can suffer from low flows during the summer months due to public water supply demands and when used as a water resource for the Coventry Canal, currently has an ‘over abstracted’ CAMS status (The Warwickshire Avon Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy, Environment Agency, June 2006).

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Water resources during dry months can be scarce. In severe cases, low flows and water levels can affect water supply causing restrictions to people and business. Provision of water for livestock from rivers may also be compromised.

The ability of a catchment to maintain a constant flow rather than experience flood and drought episodes is improved by healthy soils and suitable vegetative cover, which improves infiltration of rainfall. Climate change is likely to result in more intense precipitation events with warmer, drier summers in the long term, and future demand for water both for crop irrigation and public water supply is likely to increase.

Water should be used sustainably and land management practices encouraged that will increase water infiltration.

The Welland Valley Partnership is looking to implement much of the above. Its’ vision is that the River Welland, from its source at Sibbertoft near Leicester to the sea at Spalding in Lincolnshire, including all the watercourses which flow into it, will:

  • Support more fish, birds, and other wildlife.
  • Be cleaner and healthier.
  • Meet the needs of drinking-water suppliers and business.
  • Provide a more attractive amenity for people to enjoy.
  • Be sensitively managed by everyone whose activities affect it.

Opportunities – Appropriately manage the rivers Soar, Sence, Swift and Welland to protect the main water sources within the area and maintain and protect the Grand Union and Ashby canals as supplementary water and recreation sources.

Seek opportunities to restore semi-natural habitats such as wet woodland and grazing marsh to improve water storage capacity while reducing flood risk and soil erosion, improving water quality, climate regulation, habitat networks and ecosystem resilience to climate change.

Work with other partners to implement the Welland Improvement Plan Objective to tackle water resource and flow issues.

Work in collaboration with riparian land owners and managers, potentially through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Scheme, to manage watercourses to prevent diffuse pollution entering the watercourses and allow water table levels to rise where appropriate.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Water availability
  • Regulating water quality
  • Biodiversity Recreation
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Regulating soil erosion

Genetic diversity

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Native breed sheep

State – The Leicester sheep appears to have inhabited Leicestershire and neighbouring counties for a long period before it was “improved”. It is now one of Britain’s rarest breeds, categorised as “endangered” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, since fewer than 500 registered breeding females remain in the United Kingdom and very few locally.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – The Leicester sheep, particularly well-suited to lowland grazing, could have commercial value as a local product for both its meat and wool. Its historic association with Leicestershire, and the textile industries associated with the city of Leicester, could be capitalised on linking the breed to the landscape through local grazing schemes and marketing as local produce.

The small number of breeding ewes means this population remains fragile so encouraging the breed would help maintain numbers and genetic sources.

Opportunities – Encourage viable flocks of Leicester sheep and the genetic basis of the breed to secure its future.

Work with farmers and the local community to explore the potential to develop a local brand and a local market for quality meat and wool from the breed.

Seek to raise the profile of the Leicester sheep breed and its historical significance and connection with the area through branding. Promote its use as a grazing animal in local grazing schemes and conservation grazing.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Genetic diversity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Biodiversity
  • Food provision
  • Sense of history

Biomass energy

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Soils
  • Existing woodland

State – Low lying clay vales containing large and expanding urban areas with soils that could potentially accommodate increased yields from short rotation coppice (SRC) and miscanthus.

The existing woodland cover (3 per cent of the NCA) offers some potential for the provision of localised biomass, through bringing unmanaged woodland into management.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – A large heterogeneous area where significant energy crop opportunities exist, albeit bringing a new character by creating some enclosure. The potential yield for SRC is varied spatially across the NCA; the area around the city of Leicester in the north of the NCA has low potential SRC yield as does the area around Hinckley (in the west of the NCA), while the central part of the NCA (to the south of Leicester and to the west of Market Harborough) has high potential yield.

The existing woodland cover offers limited potential for the provision of biomass, both through bringing unmanaged woodland into management or as a by-product of commercial timber production.

The potential miscanthus yield in the NCA is high around Leicester and in the centre of the NCA and medium around Market Harborough in the east and north-west. For information on the potential landscape impacts of biomass plantings within the NCA, refer to the tables on the Natural England website.

Opportunities – Ensure good soil management to keep soils fertile and maintain potential for biomass opportunities by increasing organic matter inputs.

Where feasible, bring unmanaged areas of woodland back into management to increase localised biomass production.

Seek opportunities to plant energy crops to increase biomass production while maintaining the overall character of the landscape.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Biomass energy
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Biodiversity
  • Timber provision
  • Sense of place/ inspiration

Regulating Services

Climate regulation

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Soils
  • Existing woodlands
  • Grazing marsh pasture
  • Woodland and field boundaries

State – The mineral soils over most of the NCA have low carbon content (0 to 5 per cent) but carbon sequestration and storage can be increased by increasing organic matter inputs and by reducing the frequency/area of cultivation.

There are small pockets of soil with higher carbon content (5 to 20 per cent) which may be associated with the loamy and clayey flood plain soils, under permanent pasture, with naturally high groundwater. These are mainly mineral soils but some may be peaty at depth or include small areas of peaty soils.

Higher carbon content may also be associated with other areas of permanent grassland, grazing marsh, reedbeds and areas of woodland cover in the NCA.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Carbon sequestration and storage in mineral soils could be raised by improving soil structure, steadily increasing organic matter inputs to cultivated soils, and by reducing the frequency/ area of cultivation (while avoiding the potential impacts on other ecosystem services for example water quality through diffuse pollution). Soil carbon and soil carbon storage capacity will be higher under areas of woodland, permanent pasture and heathland.

A range of woodland management techniques are required, including non-intervention; dead wood is an important component of semi-natural woodlands for biodiversity as well as nutrient cycling and soil formation which supports the regulation of soil erosion, soil quality, climate and water quality.

Opportunties – Encouraging the maintenance of permanent pasture to increase soil carbon storage, with a subsequent improvement in soil quality.

Maintain woodland in good condition to benefit carbon storage in soils.

Increasing appropriate woodland management (such as coppicing and pollarding) to increase both sequestration and the resilience of woodlands to climate change.

Ensuring that any new woodland planting is appropriate, making a contribution to increasing the overall woodland coverage in the region and integrating and enhancing the landscape, as well as boosting carbon storage.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Climate regulation
  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Timber provision
  • Sense of place/ inspiration

Regulating coastal erosion and flooding

No information available.

Regulating water quality

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Rivers, streams and reservoirs
  • Woodlands and hedgerows
  • Soils

State – Saddington Reservoir has not been subject to water quality testing. The only river or canal subject to surface water chemical testing in the NCA is the River Sence, which currently has a good surface water chemical status. The potential ecological status of the River Soar is poor while the Grand Union Canal and the River Sence have moderate ecological potential. Although there are no major aquifers in the NCA, the groundwater chemical status in the majority of the NCA is good.

Woodland cover, which helps to improve water quality by slowing down the pathway of run-off, is limited in the area. There is however, an extensive network of hedgerows. Gradients in the landscape tend to be shallow, both limiting the velocity of cross-land ‘contaminated’ water flows.

A tenth of the soils in the area have impeded drainage and suffer from soil compaction and increased soil erosion which then runs off into watercourses affecting quality.

The large urban and suburban areas and some of the industrial activities in and around Leicester and the extensive major road network across the area present significant sources of pollutants.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Agreements (Catchment Sensitive Farming) could be extended with farmers to reduce nutrient and pesticide losses to water from agricultural holdings. Water quality can be enhanced by ensuring that Saddington Reservoir is kept in good condition, semi-natural vegetation used as buffer strips and reedbeds used to increase biodiversity and naturally filter the water entering the reservoir, enhancing the quality of water generally.

Pressures affecting water quality include land use change, agricultural intensification and high levels of phosphorous from sewage treatment works and road run-off.

Slowing the pathway of run-off could have significant impacts on regulating soil erosion and subsequent sedimentation, and impacts on biodiversity and soil.

Himalayan balsam, a non-native invasive plant that colonises river banks, restricting native riverside plant species, which in turn increases the amount of fine sediment entering the channel through surface run-off.

Opportunities – Appropriately manage the rivers, streams and reservoirs to support and protect their biodiversity and ensure good water quality.

Promote the Welland Implementation Plan to domestic, agricultural and industrial stakeholders to improve the quality of the water in this catchment.

Promote the Catchment Sensitive Farming Scheme to farmers and landowners.

Ensure good management of woodlands and hedgerows so that they can act as natural barriers to run-off.

Provide buffer strips of semi- natural vegetation around the reservoirs and along the river banks, and increase the quantity of reedbeds to naturally filter the water.

Identify and implement sustainable urban drainage systems and other green infrastructure techniques in and around urban areas and alongside major transport routes that will help to intercept polluted run-off before it reaches rivers, streams and other waterbodies.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Climate regulation
  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Timber provision
  • Sense of place/ inspiration

Regulating water flow

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Rivers and streams
  • Soils
  • Semi-natural habitats; woodlands, flood plain grazing marsh and hedgerows
  • Gravel extraction sites

State – The majority of the NCA is located within the River Trent catchment while an area in the east of the NCA (around Market Harborough) is within the River Welland catchment. The Environment Agency flood risk map indicates that there is flood risk associated with the River Soar, the River Sence and the Grand Union Canal in and around Leicester where flooding results from a lack of capacity in the river channels and the consequent flooding of the river flood plains. It is anticipated that flood risk is likely to increase in future with further urban growth. Leicester is also susceptible to surface water flooding when the capacity of urban drainage systems is exceeded.

The Welland Catchment Flood Management Plan (CFMP) identifies Market Harborough as at risk from flooding from the River Welland. The town has a history of river and surface water flooding, although flood risk is not expected to increase significantly in the future. The town centre has flood walls along the River Welland and in the short term the policy is to maintain these.

In the rural areas to the west of Market Harborough that are within the River Welland catchment, the CFMP indicates that there is low flood risk to people and property.

Gravel extraction sites are prominent along the Soar.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – This area has a moderately low flood risk overall so the preferred approach includes ceasing bank and channel maintenance in some places to help increase continuity between rivers and their flood plains, which will also improve wetland and aquatic habitats.

New woodland planting schemes along banks and on the flood plain could also help slow down the flow of water thereby further reduce flooding events.

The risk of major flood events could increase with climate change and there is a major opportunity to significantly enhance the regulation of water flow by restoring and creating multi-functional semi-natural habitats within the main river corridors to encourage the rivers to respond to varying levels of water flow naturally.

Using the opportunity to take old workings of gravel extraction sites, especially along the Soar, and turn them into additional wetlands with multifunctional semi-natural habitats that can help balance water flows. This would also enhance biodiversity and recreation.

The use of sustainable urban drainage systems and green infrastructure in and around urban areas, particularly Leicester, would significantly help with the management of water flows limiting risk to properties and improving both water quality and urban environments.

Opportunities – Work together with the Environment Agency and other stakeholders to implement the River Welland and the River Trent Catchment Flood Management Plans.

Manage the aquatic habitats in the flood plains to help attenuate surface water run-off.

Where feasible re-naturalise the rivers and restore to their original courses, cease bank and channel maintenance so that wetland habitats can help to regulate water flow.

Explore opportunities for creating sustainable urban drainage systems and green corridors along watercourses through Leicester.

Encourage management and restoration of quarry wetlands and the creation of new wetland habitats.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating water quality
  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration

Regulating soil quality

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

Soils

Areas of semi- natural habitat; woodlands, permanent pasture and hedgerows

State – More than three-quarters of the NCA is covered by slightly acid loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage.

The clay soils can be heavy and unmanageable but as a result host pasture and occasionally ancient woodlands.

Woodland cover and semi-natural habitat, although only covering less than four per cent of the area, provides important organic matter to help maintain and improve soil quality.

Hedgerows in the area are in poor condition overall, however they are important in maintaining soil quality by preventing migration of surface material.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Soils are easily damaged when wet and therefore it is important to minimise compaction which will tend to exacerbate run-off problems.

To counter this, best farming practices could be encouraged such as reducing machinery operations on more vulnerable soils and during protracted wet periods, encourage permanent leys to improve soil structure and minimise cultivation. Grassland and particularly permanent pasture supports better soil structure with greater deposition of organic matter and deeper root penetration.

Stabilising the soil and increasing levels of organic matter could be achieved by enhancing and managing the hedgerows and increasing the amount of semi-natural habitats within the farmed environment. This would also have landscape and biodiversity benefits.

Opportunities -Maintain good soil structural condition and enhance soil organic matter levels, encouraging the retention of existing permanent pasture and the creation of new long-term grasslands.

Encourage best farming practices to improve soil structure.

Where appropriate, work with partners to steadily increase the cover of woodland and hedgerows within the farmed environment.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating water quality
  • Biodiversity
  • Water availability
  • Food provision
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Geodiversity

Regulating soil erosion

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Soils
  • Woodlands
  • Hedgerows
  • Pasture
  • Semi-natural habitats

State – More than three-quarters of the area has a low risk of soil erosion as it is covered by slowly permeable, seasonally wet, slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey soils, and loamy and clayey flood plain soils.

In contrast, the rest of the area has soils at risk of erosion as they have impeded drainage as a result of soil compaction. There may also be wind erosion on some coarse textured cultivated variants.

Semi-natural habitats including woodlands and hedgerows increase water infiltration and impede cross land flows and subsequently soil erosion.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – The base-rich loamy and clayey soils, and the lime-rich loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage are easily compacted by machinery or livestock if accessed when wet, increasing the risks of soil erosion by surface water run-off, especially on steeper slopes.

Possible solutions could include an increase in the condition of riparian habitats beside both small and major watercourses, reintroducing a strong network of habitats. These riparian habitats will capture increased volumes of migrating sediments before they can enter into the rivers and streams.

Increasing the network of semi-natural habitats would also enable the free movement of species and increase landscape elements that contribute to sense of place and tranquillity.

Well timed cultivations and access onto land by low ground pressure machinery and stock to prevent compaction and poaching would also contribute to regulating soil erosion and soil quality.

Maintain good structural condition and enhance organic matter to improve structure and infiltration.

Opportunities – Working with partners across the NCA aim to increase woodland and shelter belts and restore hedgerows in poor condition to act as wind breaks and help bind soils.

Improve the condition of riparian habitats beside both small and major watercourses; reinstating a strong network of such habitats will increase capture of suspended sediment before it can enter into the rivers and streams.

Work with landowners to encourage well timed cultivations to prevent compaction and poaching.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Biodiversity
  • Regulating water quality
  • Water availability
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Food provision
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Biomass energy
  • Geodiversity

Pollination

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Hedgerows
  • Arable

State – The extent of semi-natural habitat supporting pollinating insects within this NCA is very limited.

Hedgerows are often in poor condition and many are single-species (hawthorn) hedgerows.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Networks of species-rich hedgerows, managed to maintain a diverse range of flora which flower over a prolonged period of time provide a good habitat for pollinating invertebrates to move through and between food crops. This asset is limited in this area, the majority of hedgerows being single species, enclosure hedgerows.

Identification of ‘ancient’ hedgerows, appropriate management and expansion of the resource is needed to benefit pollination services.

The contribution of pollination services to commercial food production could be an important service in the area. The area produces increasingly higher volumes of crops which could benefit from pollination.

An increase in pollinator populations may facilitate an increase in the types of crops that could be grown in the future.

Opportunities – Encourage good hedgerow management to ensure they provide a network of habitat which supports healthy populations of pollinating invertebrates able to move through and between food crops.

Work with farmers and land owners to identify both existing grassland sites and grass margins of high floristic diversity and opportunities to create new sites within the farmed environment.

Work with farmers and landowners to increase the population of pollinators enabling a more diverse range of crops in the future, expanding the range of food provision thus increasing resilience to the effects of climate change.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Pollination
  • Sense of history
  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of place / inspiration
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Climate regulation
  • Food provision

Pest regulation

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

Woodlands

Hedgerows

Arable margins

State – Many of the semi-natural habitats in this area support a variety of predatory species, such as beetles, which can contribute to the regulation of food crop pest species; however the extent of semi-natural habitat is extremely limited.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Semi-natural habitats and hedgerows proximal to areas of commercial agriculture may support species of predators which can regulate populations of pests that adversely affect food crops.

Fragmentation and poor connectivity in the network of habitats may limit the movement and effectiveness of predatory species.

Opportunities – Enhance and expand the network of semi-natural habitats that aid the movement of predatory species and bring benefits for pest regulation within food crops, as well as pollination and biodiversity.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Pest regulation
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Pollination
  • Biodiversity
  • Food provision

Cultural Services

Sense of place/inspiration

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Pasture and arable farmland
  • Hedgerow and field pattern
  • River valleys
  • Attractive village and town centres, and many notable buildings

State – The area retains its mixed farm character but there is a trend towards increasing levels of arable farming.

There is variety in the distribution and extent of hedgerow and tree cover and density of hedgerows. On some valley flood plains, such as that of the Welland, there are substantial waterside trees and meadows, but elsewhere flatter areas are used for arable cropping with low and intermittent hedgerows.

The river valleys are often the focus for settlement; however, many areas retain an undisturbed rural quality.

Field patterns are varied and reflect multiple changes in land use and enclosure over many centuries of agricultural use. Over management and annual flailing has led to poor quality hedgerows their structure tending to be low and ‘gappy’ and hedgerow trees are often in poor condition.

There are many villages and small towns, often attractive with historic, vibrant centres with many notable older buildings. Larger country houses and estate cottages are also characteristic.

The city and county town of Leicester bears considerable influence over the surrounding landscape, being the focus of transport networks, infrastructure, industry and development.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – The continuing trend towards arable expansion may result in further deterioration of the distinctive historical field pattern, boundary hedgerows and hedgerow trees.

Development may have an adverse impact on the legibility of the topography and landform which are defining elements of the landscape. The open nature of the landscape is particularly vulnerable to negative landscape and visual impacts.

There has been a relatively high rate of change from a rural to urban character within this predominantly rural area. About 11 per cent of the area lies within green belt. Development is locally concentrated, such as around Lutterworth/Magna Park, at junctions along the M69, around the edges of the area in particular Market Harborough, Hinckley and Earl Shilton, as well as on the fringes of the City of Leicester in Oadby and Wigston.

Conserving and enhancing the distinct landscape character is likely to benefit biodiversity by enhancing the range of habitats, such as woodlands and riverine habitats.

Management to maintain locally distinctive features and elements is also likely to increase sense of history.

Opportunities – Manage and protect the locally distinctive features and elements of the area.

Protect the area’s distinctive character by maintaining and restoring the pattern of pasture, hedgerows, small woods, parkland and river valleys.

Protect and manage woodlands, particularly the few ancient and semi-natural woodlands.

Encourage the creation of extensive new planting and urban greening on the edges of residential and other development to reduce visual intrusion and negative impacts.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Recreation
  • Sense of history
  • Biodiversity
  • Tranquillity
  • Food provision

Sense of history

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Roman roads; Fosse Way and Watling Street
  • Villages with dominant church spires
  • City of Leicester Ridge and furrow
  • Foxton Locks and other canal architecture and engineering features
  • Historic country houses and parkland
  • Bosworth Battlefield
  • Richard III associations
  • Former quarry operations for aggregate and building stone

State – The area contains large concentrations of ridge-and-furrow earthworks and important examples of former open field cultivation systems. The changing patterns of land use, cultivation and enclosure are a defining characteristic of the area.

The area has a high density of settlements with many villages and small towns, many representing continuous settlement and occupation since prehistory. The villages and towns retain numerous buildings, architectural styles and building materials from a range of periods.

The city of Leicester is of particular note; probably of iron-age origin, but with substantial Roman and other early building remains. The city saw dramatic expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries and became a manufacturing centre with particular connections to the textile industries.

Connections to the existing road transport network, railways and canals aided this expansion and many features from the Industrial Revolution remain.

In 1918 about 3 per cent of the area was historic parkland. By 1995 it is estimated that 60 per cent had been lost. About a fifth of the remaining parkland is covered by a Historic Parkland Grant, unconverted.

In 2010, 49,000 visits were made to Bosworth Battlefield.

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – Many of the historic assets such as the ridge-and- furrow earthworks are potentially at risk from increases in cultivation.

Development could lead to the expansion of the smaller villages that might be out of keeping with local character and impair the legibility of historical settlement patterns and enclosure.

The connections between the fertile, productive agricultural land and the populations and industries of the numerous settlements, particularly Leicester and the larger towns, may be eroded or lost. For example the relationships between transport of agricultural produce, industry and settlements via the canal network may be lost as the network is increasingly seen as a leisure and recreation resource. Managing and enhancing these assets could increase recreation and sense of history and place.

Opportunities – Protect and maintain the remaining areas of ridge and furrow with good soil and land management.

Maintain and protect historic buildings and landmarks which strongly reflect the traditional character of the area including country houses and churches.

Encourage the use of traditional building materials for construction, extension and repair work.

Protect and promote important heritage sites such as the Bosworth Battlefield (through the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage and Conservation plan) and the

Foxton Locks (through the Foxton Locks Partnership).

Seek to increase the knowledge and understanding of the historical relationship between the urban and rural parts of the area to ensure that heritage assets inform future development and resource management.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Sense of history
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity
  • Food provision

Tranquility

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Rural areas

State – This NCA has experienced a significant reduction in tranquillity over the last 50 years, with undisturbed areas decreasing by nearly a half between the 1960s and 2007 (CPRE Intrusion Map, 2007) Nevertheless, more rural areas provide important sources of tranquillity.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Tranquillity has been reduced as a result of urban expansion, road improvements and increased traffic levels, with the Vales crossed by a large number of trunk roads, not least the routes of the M1, M6, M69 and the A426, A4303, A47, A447, A5, A50 and A6.

Pressures on tranquillity could come with more development around Leicester, Hinckley and Market Harborough.

Light pollution from the towns and main transport routes is particularly intrusive in the open, level landscape.

Opportunities – Maintain the remaining quiet rural character of the area by preserving the sparse settlements, secluded valleys and winding green lanes.

Conserve more remote areas from development by working to ensure traditional settlement patterns are retained and maintain relative high levels of tranquillity.

Plan to incorporate green infrastructure measures into new and existing development on the fringes of urban areas to limit the impacts of both noise and light pollution.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Tranquillity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of history

Recreation

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Rights of way network
  • Country parks
  • Rivers and canals and restored gravel workings

State – The NCA offers a network of rights of way totalling 949 km at a density of 1.32 km per km2 as well as a small amount of open access land covering 50.8 ha or just 0.07 per cent of the NCA.

There are a number of country parks in the area which provide a valuable recreational resource for Leicester and the other urban areas most notably Watermead Country Park (South) which is one of the most important sites for wildlife within Leicester.

A number of former sand and gravel pits have been restored for informal recreation and wildlife conservation, such as at Watermead Country Park on the edge of Leicester.

There are two canal systems (the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal and the Ashby Canal).

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Currently the recreational opportunities and provision are low in relation to the population of the area. Recreational opportunities could be increased without significant effects on other services particularly by increasing the green infrastructure network linking Leicester with the wider countryside and by encouraging the management and restoration of old gravel workings and other extraction sites to wetlands.

Sympathetic planning and management of sites such as the Country Parks and canals should seek to lessen any negative effects of increased recreation on tranquillity and biodiversity and would offer local communities and visitors opportunities to engage with the natural environment.

Opportunities – Maintain and extend public access routes within the NCA, linking where possible with existing routes.

Promote the recreational and educational opportunities afforded by the network of rights of way, canals and improved access to the open countryside from the city of Leicester, which could have a beneficial effect on people’s health and wellbeing and provide solutions for sustainable transport.

Promote and add to recreational opportunities by implementing the local green infrastructure strategy.

Encourage the management and restoration of quarry wetlands and the creation of new wetland habitats.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Recreation
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Biodiversity
  • Regulating water quality
  • Climate regulation

Biodiversity

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Local sites
  • Flood plain grazing and other permanent pasture
  • Reservoirs, rivers and other waterbodies
  • Woodlands
  • Hedgerows
  • Urban green space

State – Less than 0.5 per cent of the NCA area is identified as priority habitat, which includes small areas of undetermined grassland, wet woodland, lowland mixed deciduous woodland, flood plain grazing marsh, fen, and lowland meadow.

There are no SPAs, SAC or Ramsar sites in the NCA. Nationally designated SSSI account for 175 ha (0.2 per cent) of the total NCA area with over half of the area specified as being in unfavourable condition.

Within Leicester there are a number of important green spaces, not least the corridor provided by the River Soar and there is a notable and valued urban wildlife resource present.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – There is an opportunity in this area to work with partners and landowners to ensure that the SSSI are maintained in favourable condition.

This will not only help biodiversity but also soil quality and water quality as many of the SSSI are woodland or water based.

Other pressures on the biodiversity resource include the effects of pollutants in the river systems and the reservoirs.

There are also the impacts of climate change that may cause fluctuation of water levels, drought, and migration of species.

New development in and around Leicester may provide opportunities for extending the network of urban green spaces and the connectivity with existing sites and corridors.

Opportunities – Work with partners and landowners to secure improvements in SSSI to ‘good’ condition.

Encourage local management and planning for local wildlife sites.

Work with the water companies to manage the reservoirs to enhance biodiversity and recreation as well as maintaining water quality and quantity.

Conserve ancient trees, and replace the stock of ageing ancient trees in the country parks and hedgerows.

Work with partners to build appropriate networks of habitats across the area and particularly within Leicester, to strengthen biodiversity, sense of place and assist in the regulation of soil erosion, soil quality and water quality.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Biodiversity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Recreation
  • Climate regulation

Geodiversity

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service

  • Geology
  • Soils
  • Aggregates
  • Local vernacular building materials
  • Local geological sites

State – There are 3 geological SSSI in the area and 11 local geological sites.

Approximately half of the area is underlain by the Mercia Mudstone Group and half by the Lias Group. There are small areas of the coarse grained igneous intrusive South Leicestershire Diorites. These deposits have been worked for hard rock aggregate.

Two thirds of the area is recognised as Grade 3 agricultural land.

Superficial deposits of till (clay), glaciolacustrine clay glaciofluvial sand and gravel, river terrace gravels and alluvium cover most of the NCA. These deposits have been commercially worked for aggregate in many locations and the working of these has in places had a significant landscape impact

Many local buildings are constructed from materials sourced from within the area, particularly locally made red bricks.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – With only 3 geological SSSI and 11 local sites it is important to protect and enhance the features which are of geological interest. This could have additional benefits for biodiversity, recreation and scientific research as well as soil and water quality.

The geological resource also provides a ‘history’ of how climate change throughout time has impacted on the rocks and soils of this area; this could be used to ‘predict’ future climate change impacts.

It is important to retain the quality, structure and condition of the fertile soils in this NCA for the retention of the geological features and for maintaining food production.

Use of locally sourced building materials in the conservation of existing buildings and construction of new buildings, helps to support local distinctiveness and the connections between geology and place.

Opportunities – Protect local geological sites and bring them into good condition.

Support the Local Geodiversity Action Plan, particularly opportunities to increase access to and interpretation of geological exposures.

Use the geological resources for education, recreation and scientific research, linking them to industrial heritage.

Use the geological resources to study previous climate change to support future adaptation.

Support good soil and land management particularly to help stabilise the geological sites and bring them into better condition.

Manage and restore quarry wetlands and the creation of new wetland habitats.

Encourage the use of locally sourced building materials in building conservation works and new developments.

Look for opportunities to develop new Local Geological Sites; work with quarry managers to preserve geodiversity features.

Principle services offered by opportunities:

  • Geodiversity
  • Sense of place/ inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Biodiversity
  • Recreation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil quality