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Greater Manchester's Spatial Framework: Strengthening our Natural Capital

Natural Capital can be defined as our precious stock of natural assets. Here in Greater Manchester, this extends from our river valleys and diverse array of wildlife, to Salford's 10,000-year-old peat bogs and that bit of grass behind your local super market – and everything in between.

Natural Capital assets provide basic ecosystem services such as the production of food and water, climate control and disease prevention and can even help prevent flooding. They keep our economy afloat, our societies functioning, and sustain human life. 

"Valuing our natural capital and greenspace can achieve a better quality of life for the people of Greater Manchester"

Greater Manchester's biodiversity is under continual threat from fragmentation, isolation, development, farming and pollution  We need to protect and preserve our green space and ecosystems in order to manage and adapt to challenges and contribute to a better future for all.

Valuing our natural capital and greenspace can achieve a better quality of life for the people of Greater Manchester.

A mass of evidence argues that if you have access to green space, your health and wellbeing is so much better.

"If we want a vibrant, resilient city...we need to link greening with industrial and residential development"

Recent studies have also found significant associations between green space maintenance and crime reduction, specifically in cities across America.

Community plots and well-maintained gardens encourage residents to spend more time outdoors. This boosts local pride in the overall appearance of these areas, generates a greater sense of community alliance, and increases informal surveillance of the area, thereby deterring crime.

People want to live and work in attractive cities. They want to cycle or walk to work, visit a local park during the weekend or grow their own in a local allotment.

If we want a vibrant, resilient city that people want to live in and future generations want to stay in, we need to link greening with industrial and residential development, encouraging people to use their gardens to promote and enhance wildlife. All great cities have this.

The Natural Capital Group is the Local nature Partnership for Greater Manchester, and works to ensure that the value of local environments and ecosystems, and the services they provide to the economy and local people, are taken into account when planning decisions are made.

When Local Authorities develop plans, they have a duty to cooperate and take the views of the Natural Capital Group into consideration.

The National Capital group is a pretty broad church as a group, from private to third sector, we work together to find a consensus and take a solid, evidence based approach, flying the flag for green infrastructure and services.

"Areas like the peat bogs aren’t overly attractive and can sometimes get a bad reputation for being dangerous wastelands...the answer to this is engagement and education"

We’ve been consistently involved in the consultation and development of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, gathering research and info for policy development and meeting with relevant planners.

As a group, we can also declare Nature Improvement Areas (NIA’s) for investment and planning purposes.

These areas offer opportunities to establish and improve ecological networks by enlarging, enhancing and connecting existing green areas and wildlife habitats and creating new sites.
NIA’s have been woven into the new framework and we’re keen to highlight the significance of specific areas such as the Greater Manchester Wetlands.

Much of the land across this ‘Carbon Landscape’ lies on former coalfields and peat mosses, as well as critically important lowland raised bogs, which store mass amounts of carbon and are very important to the environment.

We’re now in the second phase of a Heritage Lottery Funded project to create a ‘living landscape,’ linking wildlife corridors across the Wetlands and over to Merseyside. It’s all making a big difference to the city region.

Aesthetically, areas like the peat bogs aren’t overly attractive and can sometimes get a bad reputation for being dangerous wastelands.

The answer to this is engagement and education. Engage local people with landscapes that may be alien to them, get them involved, volunteering and help them understand the ecological importance of these unique sites.

"We’ve got to get people behind the concept of a more climate resilient city in order to enact change"

This is why organisations such as the Greater Manchester Environmental Education Network are so important. MEEN is dedicated to supporting schools, organisations and individuals to engage the next generation in the importance of climate resilience, promoting environmental education and sharing good practice around sustainability.

Greater Manchester has given itself a pretty tough carbon reduction target, but I believe we can achieve it. It’s great to see. There are many people from all sectors giving their time to chair groups, educate others and contribute to the movement.

As part of this, there’s a real need for businesses to take responsibility and be mindful of their impact on biodiversity and ecosystems.

As well as supporting various international schemes that allow businesses to offset their carbon, the Wildlife Trust also runs a local, informal scheme that supports the re-wetting of peat bogs.

We’re hoping, that a formal carbon compensation scheme could be established in Greater Manchester. The landscape is littered with initiatives, such as biodiversity offsetting that could yield more value out of developments, however at the present time the Government is not properly legislating to support it. To embed carbon offsetting as a culture in Greater Manchester would be fantastic  – it’s there, its working, we just need to scale it up.

The future is looking bright for Greater Manchester. The city region was recently invited to become a member of an international cohort of 100 Resilient Cities and will gain access to tools, funding, technical expertise, and other resources to build resilience to the challenges of urbanisation, improve the health and well-being of Greater Manchester’s citizens and protect the city from flooding risks.

Ultimately, we’ve got to get people behind the concept of a more climate resilient city in order to enact change. People need to understand that we all need to take responsibility, work with nature and respect the services it provides, in order to adapt and continue to live good quality lives.

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