National Character Area 131

New Forest - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The New Forest 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 New Forest 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: Livestock rearing and dairying by commoners is widespread in the open forest, providing high-quality products which are locally significant and an attraction for tourists. The arable area along the coast consisted in the past mainly of market gardening, taking advantage of its proximity to large urban areas and the Southampton dock trade and the favourable growing conditions. This has largely been replaced by grain and fodder crops which have long been a significant feature of the Avon Valley and the coastal belt.

Timber provision: The large hardwood and softwood timber resource is of national significance. It supports a commercial industry and employment locally. Although this is small scale compared with the size of the resource, employment in forestry is important as a supplement to commoners’ incomes. There is an expanding market for locally produced timber framing, furniture and craft products.

Biomass energy: By-products from forestry support regionally significant biomass plants. There is identified potential for a larger supply from private sector woodland which requires an expansion of traditional management techniques and focused marketing.

Water availability: Minor aquifers on the heath areas support agricultural small-scale surface and groundwater extraction for commoners’ stock. The Hampshire Avon is a major public water resource for south-east Dorset and parts of Hampshire but most of the catchment is to the north of the NCA. For information regarding the current state of water availability within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency (Abstraction Licensing Strategy).

Genetic diversity: Some commoners’ stock is made up of rare breeds. The New Forest pony is indigenous to the area and is a recognised mountain and moorland pony breed in the UK.

Regulating services (water purification, air quality maintenance and climate regulation)

Climate regulation: Carbon sequestration and transpiration levels of the wet heaths and large- scale permanent woodland vegetation cover are nationally significant. The capacity of the wet heath habitat to absorb carbon from the atmosphere is being potentially reduced by drying out as a result of land drainage. This is being addressed by various ‘wetting’ projects.

Regulating soil erosion: Uncultivated wet heath soils have good structure and only suffer from erosion through compaction or surface damage, particularly on slopes. Loamy soils in arable areas require careful management to retain organic matter and structure or become prone to wind and water erosion. Both the Hampshire Avon and Blackwater have high run-off sediment levels, which is being addressed by Water Framework Directive and catchment management activity.

Regulating soil quality: Soils on uncultivated heaths are of poor quality but high water retention which is threatened by surface erosion, compaction and drying out. The cultivated loamy soils require good maintenance to retain soil structure.

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: The permanent semi-natural habitats play an important part in water retention and therefore regulating water flow, but this has been affected by drainage operations which have increased the likelihood of flash flooding in smaller streams. The Avon flood plain is a regionally significant water regulation feature.

Regulating coastal flooding and erosion: Coastal processes along the Solent shore have created major deposition features which, while they remain intact, perform nationally important coastal flood regulation and erosion control. These are threatened by sea level rise and increasing storm events. For information regarding current shoreline management within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency (Shoreline management plans).

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: The contrast of heath, salt marsh and estuary, and open semi-natural ancient woodland, with the enclosed pastures, farmsteads and settlements of the back-up lands, produces a sense of place and inspiration that is rare in southern Britain and valued by many. The presence of this landscape in a heavily urbanised and populated region adds to its significance and quality.

Sense of history: There is abundant and extensive evidence of early settlement and ritual sites, and the landscape has been shaped by early clearance and interaction with human activity since prehistoric times. The area has the highest concentration of ancient and veteran trees in England, providing a link with the significance of the medieval hunting forest, the commoning tradition and the early development of ship-building.

Tranquillity: Levels of tranquillity and dark skies are very high, particularly for the region, and an important part of the visitor experience. These are being eroded and threatened by light pollution, and noise from aircraft and traffic. Access to wild open spaces and the presence of, for example, veteran oak trees, provides a rare opportunity for freedom, escape and contemplation.

Recreation: The National Park, including its shoreline and offshore waters, with its visitor attractions and facilities, and around 30,000 ha of open access land, is a nationally significant recreation resource.

Biodiversity: International designations, many of them overlapping because of multiple species and habitat interests, make up 40 per cent of the NCA. This includes, on a large scale, habitat formations formerly common but now fragmented and rare in lowland western Europe. They include lowland heath, valley and seepage step mire, or fen, and ancient pasture woodland, including riparian and bog woodland. Nowhere else do these habitats, and the species associated with them, occur in combination and on so large a scale.

Geodiversity: Cliffs from Highcliffe to Milford on Sea expose the internationally recognised Barton and Headon Beds of Palaeogenic fossils and are designated as a geological SSSI.