National Character Area 54

Manchester Pennine Fringe - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The Manchester Pennine Fringe 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 Manchester Pennine Fringe 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 Manchester Pennine Fringe provides medium- to low- grade agricultural land (14 per cent is Grade 3 and 39 per cent is Grade 4), which predominantly supports livestock rearing. There is also some dairy farming. Some 46 per cent of the NCA is urban.

Timber provision: There are some opportunities for small-scale timber and wood fuel production for local use.

Water availability: Principal surface water resources within the Manchester Pennine Fringe NCA are the rivers Irwell, Roch, Tame, Goyt and Etherow. The majority of the water abstraction in the area is used for industrial purposes, such as chemical, construction, metals and mineral, mining, leather and textiles. Abstraction for public water supply and supplying the canals is also significant. 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)

Climate regulation: The pockets of carbon-rich soils in this NCA are very important to conserve, providing a carbon storage function. The area of woodland cover (3,699 ha) has a role in sequestering and storing carbon. There are opportunities for habitat management, restoration and creation to enhance 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: There is a risk of fluvial flooding along the narrow river valleys where settlements have typically developed, and within adjacent downstream NCAs. Upstream land management practices that increase vegetation cover and sward roughness can increase the infiltration, interception and evapotranspiration of water and slow surface flows locally. There is some scope to improve flood mitigation by intercepting and retaining water for longer within key locations in river catchments. There are also opportunities for managing surface water, such as integrating sustainable urban drainage systems into development.

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Recreation: The NCA has significant recreational and potential health benefits. Recreation is supported by the area’s extensive rights of way network, as well as open access land. The access network, including the Pennine Bridleway National Trail and the Irwell Sculpture Trail, is particularly important in allowing links from urban areas to the wider countryside. Any improvements to the access network would allow greater public participation, understanding and enjoyment of the natural environment. Given the NCA’s proximity to Manchester, the countryside is heavily used for recreation, including angling, horse riding, golfing and walking. In addition, the Red Rose Community Forest and Pennine Edge Forest are in this NCA. The proximity to a large urban population gives opportunities for recreational use and tourism.

Sense of place/inspiration: The backdrops of the Pennine uplands on one side of this NCA, with the Manchester Conurbation NCA on the other, create a strong sense of place, as does the area’s industrial past. The sense of inspiration and escapism is constrained by urban development and industrialisation, however in some places there are extensive long-distance views from elevated vantage points across urban development in the valleys to the Pennine Moors and Manchester conurbation. This, combined with the area’s industrial background (largely based on the textiles industry), gives a distinct mill-town feel. A sense of inspiration may also be derived from the strong industrial archaeology of the area. Millstone Grit building stone and red bricks give a strong sense of identity to the villages and urban areas, and are intimately associated with the landscape. Similarly, communities value their local green spaces as places of local distinctiveness that provide opportunities to engage with nature close to where they live and work, and that help to encourage a sense of community.

Sense of history: There is a wealth of industrial heritage within the NCA, reflecting the area’s strong links to the textile industry during the Industrial Revolution. Aspects of the historic environment most evident to the general public are the canal network, and the many industrial buildings and large mill complexes. The connection between geology and the industrial heritage include the historical link to coal mining and the underlying Pennine Coal Measures; clay and brick making; the link with sand and gravel extraction; and the Quaternary extensive glacio-fluvial sand and gravel deposits. There are a number of registered parks and gardens, including Heaton Park (Manchester), Smithills Hall (Bolton), Alexandra Park (Oldham), Stamford Park (Stalybridge), Queen’s Park (Bolton), and Queen’s Park (Rochdale). These all provide opportunities for the historical interpretation of land use changes within the NCA.

Biodiversity: Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitats within the NCA are limited in extent, with isolated areas of wet woodland, lowland heathland and lowland meadows. The NCA contains the Rochdale Canal Special Area of Conservation (SAC), while less than 100 ha are nationally designated as SSSI. There are 192 local wildlife sites in the Manchester Pennine Fringe NCA, while 15 Local Nature Reserves fall fully or partly within the NCA, covering 396 ha.

Geodiversity: There are four geological SSSI in this NCA. The area’s geology provides a sense of place and history, as well as providing important resources for education and recreation. The history and geology can be explored in locations such as the Glodwick Lows Local Nature Reserve, where a trail passes the Lowside Brickworks SSSI, an exposure of the Upper Carboniferous Pennine Coal Measures.