Blog: Delivering a Natural Capital Approach in Greater Manchester

Krista Patrick, the Natural Capital Coordinator for Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Natural Course, takes some time to explain the Natural Capital Approach being taken in Greater Manchester.

Our relationship with the natural world is changing, which provides real opportunities for us to apply natural capital ideas and approaches.  As with other city regions Greater Manchester faces major environmental challenges that threaten the health and prosperity of our everyday lives.  The current Covid crises has made us even more aware of the value of green and blue spaces and our natural environment.  Greater Manchester is taking action to address these challenges with the 5-Year Environment Plan which sets out our long-term environmental vision – including to be a carbon neutral city-region by 2038.

The natural environment plays a key role in delivery of the plan, and through the Urban Pioneer under the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, we have been designing and testing innovative natural capital approaches to support sustainable economic growth, such as improved water management through Natural Course and City of Trees ambitious proposals to plant 1 million trees.  A set of natural capital accounts has been developed, first for the Irwell Management Catchment and then for the whole city-region, to account for the true value of Greater Manchester’s natural capital. The accounts provide decision makers at all levels with the tools and evidence to make more informed, joined-up decisions.

The first city-region-wide Ecosystem Services Opportunity Mapping Tool provides a valuable resource for funders, policy-makers, project developers, partnerships and infrastructure planners to inform and support their decisions on the protection of the natural environment and investment projects.  The tool extends the Ecosystem Services Opportunity Mapping Assessment developed for the Irwell Management Catchment across the whole of Greater Manchester. Practical support has also been provided to four pilot projects on how to use these tools to embed a natural capital approach into project development.

Working with the Greater Manchester’s Natural Capital Group, the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit and Natural England, we have been working to develop approach to development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before, including the production of guidance for planners and developers. Ultimately we are looking at setting up the right approach for delivering these improvements through a Nature Recovery Network which is a joined-up system of places important for wild plants and animals.

Delivering improvements requires investment. Greater Manchester is the first city-region in the UK to develop a Natural Capital Investment Plan – a plan that will help us encourage investment in our natural environment to secure financial and social returns, as well as those for our environment.  A key action from the investment plan is around developing new funding models to improve the quality and quantity of our natural environment, including those around mitigating the impacts from new development on biodiversity, and carbon through habitat banking and carbon trading.  To support the development of these models we are now looking at setting up a Greater Manchester Environment Fund. 

To ensure the benefits are achieved, people need to know what is available to them and where to find information. We are continuing to support delivery of a targeted communications campaign ‘connecting people with nature’ including the development of a dedicated website, Nature Greater Manchester, as well as a set of interactive resources as part of the natural environment engagement toolkit. Whilst the toolkit has been put on hold due to the Covid outbreak we have recently teamed up with Lancashire Wildlife Trust to roll out the My Wild Garden campaign across Greater Manchester. Year on year the Greater Manchester’s Natural Capital Groups annual conference continues to gain more interest with keynote speakers from Government and leading experts in natural capital.

 With all this work being delivered to date, my advice is to be ambitious.  We need to change thinking to move from a burden agenda to a benefit agenda, because it is the future. There is no easy solution but we know that a `business as usual’ approach will not get us to our longer term goals.


Photo credit: Amicable Photography