National Character Area 11

Tyne Gap and Hadrian’s Wall - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The Tyne Gap and Hadrian’s Wall 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 Tyne Gap and Hadrian’s Wall 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: Half of the agricultural land is Grade 3, and 7 per cent is Grade 2; most farming is pastoral, with sheep and cattle grazing. This occurs mainly in the north and western upland areas, while further east farming becomes mixed to largely arable in the flood plain. The remaining 41 per cent of Grade 4 and 5 land lies mostly on the higher ground and comprises the open moorland used for sheep farming. The extensive archaeological remains limit some agricultural practices, particularly in the northern parts. There is support for celebrating and promoting local produce.

Water availability: There are no major aquifers, and surface water resources are categorised as ‘water available’. Water abstracted from the Tyne catchment is mainly for public water supply. Major users are settlements in the NCA and the larger conurbations of Newcastle and Gateshead in the Tyne and Wear Lowlands NCA. Water reservoirs of the Border Moors and Forests and the North Pennines NCAs provide a potable source of water through a transfer system whereby water is transported down from these reservoirs into this NCA and the Tyne and Wear Lowlands. For information regarding the current state of water availability within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency (Abstraction Licensing Strategy).

Genetic diversity: Farms in the north-west upland area are a stronghold for Whitebred Shorthorn and Blue Grey cattle and for Northumberland Blackface sheep. These breeds are ideally suited to the poor-quality grazing land found in these areas of open moorland. Rearing rare breed livestock conserves the native genetic resource of these hardy animals.

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

Climate regulation: Soil carbon levels are generally low (0-5 per cent), although some areas of deep peat occur in the north-west. Woodland covers 4,415 ha (10.2 per cent) of the NCA. Increasing the extent of woodland in appropriate areas offers the most potential for carbon storage. Extensive grazing regimes should be encouraged, as intensive grazing can both increase the amount of greenhouse gases released through methane and lead to a decrease in soil carbon levels because it damages 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: During periods of heavy rainfall, water flows rapidly from the adjacent upland NCAs and causes downstream flooding of settlements along the River Tyne, and to the west in the Solway Basin NCA. Grip blocking on the open moorland and strategic planting of woodland in appropriate places within riparian zones and flood plains can reduce the risk of flooding.

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: The north-western area has distinctive upland features – such as the Whin Sill escarpment, Hadrian’s Wall, Whin Sill grasslands, mires and loughs – and panoramic views of designated landscapes, combining to provide a sense of openness, remoteness and escapism. By contrast, the dark- green wall of forestry – prominent in the adjacent Border Moors and Forests NCA – and other deciduous, mixed and coniferous woodland areas add texture, shelter and feelings of enclosure. Wind farms have been developed to the east. Running through the valley, the rivers Tyne, Allen and Irthing show distinctive changes in the landscape, from wild upland streams to wide, meandering rivers. Together with the A69 transport corridor, they have influenced the development of key settlement patterns. The largely unfettered skyline in the NCA is interrupted only by the manmade, vertical structures of the chipboard manufacturing plant at Hexham and the paper mill at Prudhoe.

Sense of history: Extensive heritage sites occur throughout the NCA (above and below ground), from Mesolithic, Neolithic and bronze-age stone circles and burial cairns to Roman forts, camps, roads and Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. These combine to create one of the best-known archaeological landscapes in the world, attracting many visitors to the area. Regular conflicts occurred in this border area from the 14th to the 16th centuries and a range of other fortified structures also survive, such as castles, bastles and pele towers. Honeypot sites include Hadrian’s Wall, Roman fortifications such as Vindolanda and Housesteads, and the historic town of Hexham.

Tranquillity: This is a very tranquil area, particularly in the north-west, away from main settlements, where striking natural and heritage features occur in an open, expansive landscape. Tranquillity decreases during high season, when visitor numbers are high, and around larger settlements such as Hexham, Prudhoe and Haltwhistle and along the A69 transport corridor. The skies in Northumberland National Park, which includes this NCA, have been awarded ‘Dark Sky Status’ by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Recreation: There are many opportunities for recreation and tourism via easily accessible routes, mainly National Trails and cycle ways, including the Hadrian’s Wall Path, the Pennine Way, the Hadrian’s Cycleway and the Pennine Cycleway. In addition to rowing and canoeing opportunities, the River Tyne is good for fishing, being one of the best rivers in England for salmon, sea trout and brown trout. The Tyne salmon fishery is worth in excess of £1 million per year to the local economy.

Visitor attractions include those associated with historic features/sites (largely Roman and medieval) and the natural environment (Local and National Nature Reserves), all of which are well managed. There are also opportunities to encourage local communities and nearby urban populations to engage in Walking for Health schemes to improve their health and wellbeing.

Biodiversity: A range of tree species occur in broadleaved woodlands (including 1,072 ha of ancient woodland), providing habitat for woodland birds and red squirrels. Rushy pastures occur on land around settlements, lower hills and valley bottoms. Many designated sites are located in the upland areas, including the Whin Sill grasslands (SSSI) and blanket bog and mires (SSSI and SAC) that support species of raptors, grouse and waders. The uplands are often surrounded by heather and purple moor-grass.

Rare habitats include loughs, Calaminarian grasslands and waxcap-rich grasslands. Tributaries of the Tyne support important populations of freshwater mussels, and the Tyne itself supports important fish populations, particularly of salmon and trout. Maintaining biodiversity interest on the designated sites largely involves implementing the correct grazing regimes and scrub management, maintaining water quality and water levels, and controlling non-native plants (Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed). Woodland management involves increasing native tree species and the age range of trees, and undertaking thinning and coppicing. Where there are red squirrels, management methods include avoiding clear felling, planting small seed tree species and controlling grey squirrel populations.

Geodiversity: There are seven geological SSSI, some of which are former quarries. The most striking feature is the classic cuesta landscape associated with the Whin Sill, together with a suite of complementary features that occur extensively to the north and south, in association with the outcrops of limestone and sandstone strata. Management generally involves removing scrub and, where appropriate, excavating new sections. Quarrying and woodland planting should be avoided where it is inappropriate. These unique sites offer opportunities for access and interpretation.