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'Winter Hill, Lancashire' by Flickr user Robert Wade

Natural Capital

“We are still being held up nationally as one of the more dynamic partnerships,” says Anne Selby, chair of the Natural Capital Group. “GM is on the map with some of our thinking.”

It’s a proud boast, given that cuts and a lack of revenue mean that the group, which forms Greater Manchester’s Local Nature Partnership (LNP), continues to run without any financial input from Defra or central government.

The LNPs were set up in 2011, with GM’s made up of the ten local authorities, along with organisations such as United Utilities and British Waterways. The group’s raison d’etre is to make the link between the region’s natural environment and its economy, fostering links and exploring ways in which the two can work closer together. It also plays an important role as part of GM’s Low Carbon Hub.

Among recent successes is the £2.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), awarded to help create a “living landscape,” linking wildlife corridors across The Great Manchester Wetlands and across to Merseyside.

Dubbed the Carbon Landscape, much of the land lies on former coalfields and peat mosses, as well as rare, internationally important lowland raised bog, which store huge amounts of carbon making them vitally important to the environment.

It’s an exciting project, says Selby, who is also chief executive of the Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust. These corridors are vitally important to mammals, birds and insects, as it allows wildlife to move freely and across wider areas, she explains.

“Corridors already exist along rivers, canals and former railway lines which act as vital stepping stones for populations of creatures, but these will be enhanced to join up the landscape,” she continues.

“Obviously the Great Manchester Wetlands will help us to create employment and volunteering opportunities within the area, as well as providing areas where residents can enjoy nature and get closer to the wildlife on their own doorstep. The group is keen to promote nature and well-being, getting people out into the environment where they can live more healthy lives.”

Greater Manchester is also trialling two projects under Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), a new scheme which has been designed to help promote conservation but with one eye on the marketplace.

The first of these has seen the sale by Bolton Council of some 1,700 acres of moorland on the Smithills Estate to the Woodland Trust. In what’s generally been seen as a ‘win win’ situation, the council has received much-needed funds, while the land itself will now be properly maintained and managed, something the cash-strapped  local authority had been struggling to do.

As Mark Gordon, Smithills project lead for the Woodland Trust, explains:

“Smithills estate is an exciting opportunity for the Woodland Trust to turn around a declining upland estate.

“With the right investment, the right management and careful, long term planning for the site’s future, Smithills will stand proud as an example of how all our uplands can be saved, transformed and preserved, long into the future.”

A second project will focus on the Irwell Catchment in Greater Manchester, and identifying practical ways to deliver new investment in the natural environment.

And as a result, Selby is now talking to other NGOs such as the RSPB and National Trust, as more and more organisations start to consider taking over land that local authorities can no longer afford to manage.

Going forward, a soon to be published report – the Greater Manchester Ecosystem Services Pinch Point study - will give more structure to the Group’s future plans. It has set out to identify GM’s priority Ecosystem Services (ESS), or the benefits that people derive from the natural environment.

As well as mapping these ESSs, the study has also set out to identify pinch points, issues which are critical to the ESS and which need to be addressed in order for those services to be maximised.

These pinch points are potentially wide ranging, from spatial issues such as rivers that act as barriers to recreation, or even areas which are prone to flooding, and which can stifle local economic development.

Selby also expects devolution to have a big impact on the Group’s work. “I’m, excited about devolution. You can already see some of the powers giving us more flexibility on some fronts.”

As part of this, she foresees an additional role for the group championing many of GM’s rural areas. “We do have a large rural hinterland and I think that can be forgotten,” she adds.

Developing and protecting green infrastructure in the light of continued cuts is likely to be the central theme of a conference the Group has planned for later in the year and in the meantime Selby is also looking at a major bid to the EU Social Fund around environmental skills that could help deliver both jobs and some of the environmental initiatives which are currently on the table.

“For me the job of the Natural Capital Group is orchestrating, in a new, very austere world, everybody’s efforts for GM. If we want a resilient city, we’ve got to be integrated. If we can pull it off it will be a great thing for Manchester.”

Main image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Wade, published here using a Creative Commons Licence.