National Character Area 65

Shropshire Hills - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The Shropshire Hills 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 Shropshire Hills 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: Sheep and beef are the main enterprises in the Shropshire Hills NCA, with smaller amounts of arable, dairy, pigs and poultry. The dominant agricultural land uses are grass and uncropped land (accounting for nearly 65 per cent of the total farmed area), and cereals (which account for around a quarter of the farmed area).

Biomass energy: The existing woodland cover of 10.3 per cent of the NCA offers potential for the provision of biomass, both by bringing unmanaged woodland under management and as a by-product of commercial woodland management. There is generally a medium potential yield for both short rotation coppice and miscanthus throughout the NCA. For information on the potential landscape impacts of biomass plantings within the NCA, refer to the tables on the Natural England website.

Water availability: There are a number of minor aquifers in this area. The principal rivers are the Corve, Rea Brook and Onny, all of which drain into the Teme, which passes through the south-western corner of the NCA. The River Onny runs along the eastern boundary of the NCA, and has two principal tributaries within the NCA: the East and West Onny. The headwaters of the River Corve are within this NCA, and the river drains through the middle of the NCA. Other rivers include Ledwyche Brook. The River Severn crosses the north-eastern corner of the NCA, south of Telford. 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 soil erosion: The slightly acid, loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage (covering nearly a third of the NCA) are easily compacted when wet, and are prone to capping/slaking, increasing the risks of soil erosion by surface water run-off – especially on steeper slopes. By comparison, the freely draining, slightly acid, loamy soils (covering another third of the NCA) carry an enhanced risk of soil erosion on moderately or steeply sloping land where bare or cultivated soil is exposed, or where soils are compacted. The freely draining, acid, loamy soils over rock are often found on steep slopes and are subject to rapid run-off, with an inherent risk of erosion. The upland soils with a peaty surface (making up approximately 2 per cent of the NCA) may be at risk of gullying and loss of particulate organic matter where surface vegetation is damaged, modified or lost. Reflecting its potential for soil erosion, the majority of the NCA (including the rivers Onny, Corve and Rea) falls within a Defra priority catchment (the River Teme).

Regulating soil quality: The slightly acid, loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage (covering an estimated 28 per cent of the NCA) generally have a weak topsoil structure that is easily damaged. These soils are easily poached by livestock and compacted by machinery when wet, so activities must be carefully timed. Equally, the slowly permeable, seasonally wet, acid, loamy and clayey soils (covering 20 per cent of the NCA) have poor water infiltration, and are at risk of diffuse pollution and flooding. Soils are easily damaged when wet, and therefore it is important to minimise the compaction and/or capping risk – especially as there may be limited potential for increasing organic matter levels in these soils through management interventions.

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 place/inspiration: A sense of place is provided by the strong and varied landscape from rounded, steep-sided hills – often with open moorland on hill tops and deciduous woodland on steep escarpments – to pastoral hillside slopes and arable land in the valleys. Key landmarks include the dramatic Wenlock Edge, The Lawley, Caer Caradoc and the Long Mynd. A wealth of parklands and designed landscapes exist, as well as built remains of lead and coal mining/quarrying, especially on the Stiperstones and Clee Hills. There are 203 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, including many hill forts and barrows, stone circles, buried Roman features, extraction industry remains, ecclesiastical buildings, motte-and-bailey castles, deserted villages, ancient paths and trackways (such as the Port Way), and sections of the Offa’s Dyke National Trail. Remains of the mining and quarrying industry, together with squatter settlements, are a distinctive reminder of the area’s industrial past. Past extraction industries have left a legacy of historically important structures, as well as features that are important for biodiversity and geodiversity: priority habitat calaminarian grassland occurs on lead mine sites beneath the Stiperstones, old adits and mines are important for bats (including the lesser horseshoe hibernacula), and quarries and spoil heaps provide a significant geological resource (for example at Snailbeach lead mine SSSI and Scheduled Ancient Monument, Clee Hill Quarries SSSI and Wenlock Edge Quarries SSSI).

Sense of history: Defensive and ritual sites lend a strong sense of place to this border and upland area. These include the iron-age hill forts that are a striking feature of much of the area (such as at Caynham Camp, Caer Caradoc) and the bronze-age camp and Norton, burial mounds (such as Duckley Napp on the Long Mynd), stone circles (for example Mitchell’s Fold), motte-and-bailey sites and cairns. All of these features give the area a distinctive sense of history and place. The settled nature of the NCA is reflected in today’s dispersed settlement pattern, with strong concentrations along valleys. Settlements feature a diverse range of building materials and styles. Key landmarks include the well preserved historic border town of Ludlow, with its medieval castle, the 19th-century spa and market town of Church Stretton, and parklands and designed landscapes such as at Burwarton House, Acton Burnell Castle, Millichope Park, Stokesay Court and Morville Hall. On a smaller scale, standing stones and medieval crosses are notable landscape features, as well as the well known route of Offa’s Dyke.

Tranquillity: The NCA has experienced a slight decline in tranquillity – the area of undisturbed land has decreased from 97 per cent in the 1960s to 87 per cent in 2007 (Developing an intrusion map of England, CPRE, 2007) – but it still remains one of the most tranquil parts of the country. The main area of low tranquillity is the A49 corridor. Landscape characteristics that are particularly important in conveying a sense of tranquillity are the steep-sided, ‘whaleback’ hills, often open and exposed hill tops with moorland, and the mixture of pastoral and wooded hillside slopes and historical villages along valley springlines.

Recreation: The NCA offers an extensive network of rights of way, totalling 2,407 km at a density of 2.23km per km2, open access land covering 6,220 ha (or nearly 6 per cent of the NCA), and over 5 km of the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, which cuts through the area. Particular opportunities for recreation are associated with well known landmarks and honeypots, including Wenlock Edge, The Wrekin, the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones. Horse riding and angling are significant recreational activities: a number of rivers (including the River Severn) are used for angling. The rugged upland terrain makes the area popular for mountain biking and off-road cycling, but a number of Sustrans cycle routes cross the NCA as well. National Cycle Routes 44 and 45 and Regional Route 31 run through the area. Extreme sports are becoming increasingly popular and there are a number of activity centres. The unique geological interest of the area draws in visitors. There are a number of attractive market towns and the annual Ludlow Food Festival is a significant visitor attraction.

Biodiversity: Some 8 per cent of the NCA is covered by priority habitats, including upland heathland (3,289 ha) and lowland mixed deciduous woodland (1,089 ha). The area is very rich in upland fens, flushes and swamps, but this habitat has been very poorly surveyed to date. Less than 1 per cent of the NCA (619 ha) is designated as being of international importance: there are two SAC (The Stiperstones and The Hollies, and Downton Gorge) and one Ramsar site (Midland Meres and Mosses). There are 63 SSSI in the NCA, covering 5 per cent of the total area. All of the main rivers in the NCA (Onny, Corve, Ledwyche Brook and Rea Brook) have a ‘very high’ or ‘high’ ecological sensitivity to water abstraction levels. (The Teme Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy, Environment Agency, 2005). This NCA supports an interesting assemblage of plant and animal communities, showing transitions between southern lowland and northern upland, with several species being present at the edge of their natural range (Natural Area Profiles: 42 Shropshire Hills, Natural England, 1997).

Geodiversity: An outstanding area, where much of the pioneering work that established the foundations of geology was undertaken. The importance of the area is reflected in the presence of 38 Geological Conservation Review sites (designated as SSSI), as well as a large number of local sites. The NCA has generated a vast quantity of scientific literature in relation to its geology, and research activities will continue into the future. The links between the underlying geology and the form of the landscape are very strong, and the influence on land use and the use of building materials contributes markedly to local character. There is a history of quarrying and mining that is directly related to the geology, and that has had its own impact on the landscape and history of the Shropshire Hills.