National Character Area 25

North Yorkshire Moors and Cleveland - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The North York Moors and Cleveland Hills National Character Area (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 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 area is a major producer of lamb, beef and dairy products as well as crops such as cereals, and other produce such as honey.

Timber provision: There is a well established forestry industry, with extensive conifer plantations and overall woodland cover of 21 per cent.

Biomass energy: The high existing woodland cover in this area offers significant potential for the provision of biomass through bringing unmanaged woodland under management and as a by-product of commercial forestry management.

Water availability: Much of the NCA overlays the Corallian Limestone major aquifer, which gains significant quantities of water from the River Rye and River Derwent through swallow holes. The River Derwent is an important source of drinking water supply. For information regarding the current state of water availability within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency (Abstraction Licensing Strategy).

Genetic diversity: A number of pedigree breeds are reared in the NCA, including beef shorthorn, belted Galloway and highland cattle.

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

Climate regulation: The upland soils in this NCA generally have a relatively high carbon content with more significant carbon storage provided by the moorland habitats. Climate regulation is also offered by the extensive cover of woodland and wetlands – blanket bog, reedbeds, coastal and flood plain grazing marsh, fens, mudflats and saline lagoons along the coast.

Regulating soil erosion: Careful management of moorland is required to achieve healthy vegetation in order to reduce erosion of peat soils. Soil erosion also often occurs in times of heavy rainfall on steeper slopes and woodland creation here can help to prevent this. There are also high levels of sediment run-off from agricultural land into the rivers Rye, Leven, Esk and Derwent. This can be addressed by securing sustainable grazing of grasslands and changes to management of arable land, such as grass buffer strips, uncropped land and tree planting alongside watercourses and on slopes, to reduce both run-off and wind erosion.

Regulating soil quality: Soil quality can be improved through extensive management of in-bye and lowland grasslands which will enhance soil structure, increase the organic content, reduce poaching and compaction, and improve infiltration.

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: Many major rivers rise here, and are prone to flash floods, especially in the south of the area. The River Derwent and its upland tributaries also tend to respond quickly to rainfall events. Peak flow events can be regulated through managing moorlands to store more water, restoring and extending wetland zones, and carefully sited woodland creation.

Pollination: Heathlands, grassland and meadows cover 27 per cent of the NCA, including a 43,000-hectare expanse of open heather moorland, and provide important nectar sources and habitats for pollinating insects and beneficial predator species.

Regulating coastal erosion: Dynamic coastal processes operate along the coastline of this NCA, removing material from soft cliffs in one location and depositing it along the coast where these accretions are then fundamental to other natural processes, such as the development of beaches and intertidal areas which help to attenuate wave energy.

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: A sense of place is provided by the high moorland plateau with its extensive moorlands, dissected by a series of dales that narrow to form intimate, steep-sided valleys. Roseberry Topping is a distinctive landmark in the outlying hills to the north. The sense of place is enhanced by the distinctive and dramatic coastal landscape of high cliffs, sandy coves and bays which contrast with the arable farmland and parkland with veteran trees. The area is valued for the sense of escapism that it provides and as a source of inspiration for writers and artists, Whitby famously being used as the dramatic setting for Dracula’s landfall in Bram Stoker’s novel.

Tranquillity: The NCA is an important resource for tranquillity with 80 per cent of the area classified as ‘undisturbed’ according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England Intrusion Map of 2007.

Sense of history: A sense of history is evident in the rich archaeology dating back to prehistoric times. Features include rock art, barrows, cairns, standing stones, forts, historic tracks and ecclesiastical sites. Attractive small villages built from local materials, early Christian stone crosses and the ruins of the 12th-century Rievaulx Abbey, along with more recent features such as the railway, add to the sense of history.

Recreation: The NCA provides a significant area of open access land (28 per cent), along with a network of rights of way, including the Coast to Coast path, the Cleveland Way and the Ebor Way. The special qualities of the area are a major draw for recreation and tourism with North York Moors National Park accounting for 85 per cent of the NCA, and the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast being a major attraction.

Biodiversity: Some 65 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) have been designated in this NCA, a number of these having further levels of designation, including as European Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, emphasising their importance.

Geodiversity: A total of 29 SSSI have been designated wholly or in part for their geological interest (20 purely for geological interest, 9 for mixed biological and geological interest) within this NCA. The dramatic coastline is widely known as the Dinosaur Coast, coastal processes revealing the classic geological exposures and rich fossil resources for which it is famous.