National Character Area 24

Vale of Mowbray - Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services


The Vale of Mowbray 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 Vale of Mowbray 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 Grade 1, 2 and 3 soils support the production of arable crops with some fodder crops, alongside livestock rearing and dairying.

Water availability: Groundwater sources in the NCA include the major Sherwood Sandstone aquifer (the second largest aquifer in England) and the Magnesian Limestone aquifer. Groundwater in the Sherwood Sandstone is heavily used for drinking water supplies in the Northallerton, Doncaster, Selby and Goole areas, and supplies the grid system supporting supply in Sheffield and Hull. This is a Drinking Water Protected Area. The rivers Swale, Wiske and Cod Beck flow through the NCA. Sustainable land management including extending the area of permanent grassland and semi-natural habitats can assist the infiltration of rainwater to recharge the aquifer. 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: There is generally a low soil carbon content of 0-5 per cent throughout the NCA. There will be higher soil carbon content under the 1,991 ha of woodland in the NCA (3.3 per cent of the NCA area), which could be managed and extended to further enable carbon sequestration and storage. On agricultural land, carbon storage may be enhanced by managing organic matter inputs to soils, by reducing the frequency of cultivation and by reverting some cultivated areas to permanent grassland.

Regulating soil erosion: There is an enhanced risk of soil erosion on moderately or steeply sloping land where cultivated or bare soil is exposed often exacerbated where organic matter levels are low after continuous arable cultivation or where soils are compacted. There is widespread potential for wind erosion of sandy and fen peat soils where soils are cultivated or left bare, especially in spring. Increasing the area of permanent grassland and semi-natural habitats, prudent soils and nutrient management, and careful movement of machinery and livestock in wet ground conditions can all help to regulate this.

Regulating soil quality: Slowly permeable soils are prone to damage and compaction when wet, resulting in poor infiltration and increased surface water run-off. Freely draining soils may play a valuable role in recharge of the important aquifer underlying the NCA: this requires good soil structure to be maintained, to aid infiltration, and close matching of nutrients to needs to prevent pollution of the underlying aquifer.

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: Fluvial flood risk is high within this NCA, with a total of over 1,050 properties at risk within Northallerton, Brompton and Thirsk. Within parts of the Cod Beck catchment, the topography leads to the potential of flash flooding with a short period of time between rainfall and the onset of flooding, which means that flooding can be very hazardous in these areas. Land management in the upper catchments of these rivers, for example blocking drains and planting trees, can help to increase infiltration of rainwater into the ground and reduce the volume of sediment in the rivers, which can assist in regulating flow downstream. In the Vale itself the restoration of a more natural course for the Swale and its tributaries and creating wetland habitats within the flood plain can increase the capacity of the river system to deal with the energy and volume of high flows, and of the land to hold water during flood events.

Pollination: 30 ha of fragmented species-rich grassland provides limited nectar sources for pollinating insects or beneficial predator species, the oilseed rape crop being the main beneficiary of insect pollination in this NCA. There is an opportunity to improve food security by increasing the areas and connectivity of suitable habitat for pollinators, including hedgerows, riparian grassland and field margins, which can contribute to climate adaptation in both food production and biodiversity.

Cultural services (inspiration, education and wellbeing)

Sense of place/inspiration: The Vale’s landform and topography, rivers and flood plain, land cover, field boundaries and pattern of woodland cover contribute to the area’s unique sense of place. There are opportunities to positively manage new developments and the significant transport infrastructure corridors to retain and enhance local character and sense of place.

Sense of history: Aspects of history likely to be particularly evident to the general public and contributing to the Vale’s character are the area’s medieval churches, the vernacular building style of red brick and also of cobbles with pantile roofs, and the historic market towns of Northallerton and Thirsk. The Roman origins of the A1 route are widely known, as is the local presence of military airfields.

Tranquillity: Tranquillity has declined significantly, with the area of the NCA classed as undisturbed declining from over 80 per cent in the 1960s to 40 per cent in 2007. The main factors affecting tranquillity are the major north-south transport corridors, namely the A1, the A19 and the East Coast Main Line. A sense of tranquillity is most likely to be associated with the rural areas of farmland away from these transport corridors, especially along the undeveloped stretches of the River Swale and within localised parkland and woodland landscapes.

Biodiversity: There are five Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the NCA designated for their wildlife interest, and fragments of priority habitat. Together these should be at the core of attempts to restore habitat networks, particularly grasslands in the flood plain, woodlands and hedgerows, and increase the resilience of local flora and fauna to environmental change.