Project update: Integrated Ecological Network Tool

Our Natural Course partner Natural England have provided us a quick update on how things are progressing with the development of the Integrated Ecological Network Tool, which aims to highlight habitat restoration and creation opportunities in Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Background

Historic habitat loss and degradation means that only a small fraction of natural wetland and woodland habitats now remain in North West England. Networks of these key habitats are significantly fragmented, which can disrupt species dispersal and reduce the ecological function of remaining habitat patches. Providing bigger, better and more connected habitat networks will be vital for nature recovery in the face of climate change and other threats to biodiversity, and will also provide a range of natural capital benefits relevant to Natural Course, such as improved water quality and resilience against flooding. The ecological network tool aims to identify key areas for habitat restoration and creation that will benefit both habitat connectivity and species dispersal, and our communities through improvements in water quality and flood risk mitigation.

The project

This Natural Course funded project is addressing this problem using a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, we use habitat distribution modelling to identify areas where soil conditions are appropriate for creation of semi-natural wetland and wet woodland habitats. Next, we use the software Condatis, developed by Liverpool University, to model habitat connectivity and identify bottlenecks in our wetland and woodland habitat networks. These two approaches allow us to identify priority areas for habitat creation and restoration, and the appropriate management actions to recommend in each area. We then combine this modelling work with, for example, the Environment Agency’s ‘Communities at Risk’ data to identify where these actions can have maximum natural capital benefits from a Natural Course perspective.

 Key stakeholders engaged in the project so far are Liverpool University, who have developed the Condatis software and advised on its application to our ecological network modelling, the Environment Agency, who we have engaged to discuss where habitat creation and restoration projects can have maximum benefit in terms of EU Water Framework Directive, flood risk etc., the Wildlife Trusts and woodland partners to discuss opportunities for woodland creation that would provide maximum natural capital benefits.

 Where is the project at now?

The ecological network tool is still in development. In 2019, we produced an initial version of the tool modelling the wetland habitat network between Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. We are now expanding this work to the wider study area, and incorporating additional woodland habitat networks that may be of importance for Natural Course objectives. Engagement with partners and stakeholders around the initial findings and future utility of the network tool is ongoing and will continue throughout the project.

Look out for more updates on our news page