Environmental Opportunities in Greater Manchester: National Character Area Profiles

Authors and Affiliations: 

Nancy Stedman, Natural England, nancy.stedman@naturalengland.org.uk  +44(0)300 060 4263

Chris Bolton, Natural England, chris.bolton@naturalengland.org.uk  +44(0)300 060 0587

Val Kirby, Kirby Barton Environmental Consultants, val.kirby@talktalk.net, +44(0)1453 753762, mobile +44(0)7969 789938


As part of its responsibilities in delivering the Natural Environment White Paper, the European Landscape Convention and Biodiversity 2020, Natural England is updating and revising England’s National Character Area (NCA) profiles, to make environmental information more easily available to a wide audience. This paper explains the approach and how the profiles could assist in forward planning in the Greater Manchester area.

The 159 distinct landscapes of England were originally described in the 1990s.  Each NCA is defined by a unique combination of geology, biodiversity, history, and cultural and economic activity to form a distinctive landscape character.  Their boundaries follow natural lines in the landscape rather than administrative boundaries, making them a good decision making framework for the natural environment

The new profiles provide a base of information and evidence as a context for decision making for the sustainable management of the natural environment by individuals, organisations and communities.  Each profile includes supporting facts and figures, a description of the landscape and how it has changed, along with key ecosystem services provided.  Key opportunities for positive environmental change are identified and offered as guidance for decision making and action, both at the local and sub-regional scale.

This paper will focus on Manchester Conurbation, Manchester Pennine Fringe and the Southern Pennines.

The densely populated Manchester conurbation lies to the west of the uplands of the Pennines.  Several rivers flow down from the moorlands through incised valleys in to the urban areas, joining to form the Mersey that flows out to the Irish Sea past Liverpool.  Manchester and the surrounding towns expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution, but now there is more emphasis on technology and service industries.  Of particular interest here is the close conjunction of major urban areas with livestock farming on the hillsides and the moorlands on the higher land.

The profiles are broad-brush and strategic, and aim to present an integrated picture of the place and the key environmental opportunities.  In Manchester Conurbation these focus on green infrastructure within the urban areas, protecting and interpreting the industrial heritage, managing water flow and quality, whilst also enhancing biodiversity, providing space for recreation and relaxation, and mitigating climate change impacts.

The Manchester Pennine Fringe is a transitional area, still very urban but with widespread livestock farming.  Here the focus is on managing the pastures to enhance their biodiversity, restoring field walls and managing and creating clough woodlands.  There is also an emphasis on linking corridors, in particular the rivers and canals, managing them for biodiversity, recreation, water quality and flow, all within the context of the industrial heritage.

The Southern Pennines comprise the watershed on the highest land of the Pennines with extensive moorlands and rough grazing, and a richness of heritage from prehistoric times through to late industrial mills and factories.  The moorlands play a key role in carbon sequestration, water capture and moderating river flows, as well as offering inspirational open space for recreation, biodiversity of international significance, and geological interest, alongside livestock rearing and grouse shooting.

Several things link these NCAs – there are extensive views out from higher land over the lower-lying conurbations, and there is constant recreational demand from the urban populations.  But it is the linear routes that through time have cut across these areas and are now of particular significance – the many rivers, packhorse tracks, canals, railways – as they provide important ecological connectivity as well as recreational opportunities.  The management of the rivers and adjacent land significantly affects water flow management, whilst road and rail cuttings can reveal the underlying geology as much as the overall landform.

The aim with these profiles is to present a comprehensive and integrated picture of the distinctive landscape character and functions of each area, and to demonstrate how managing land for one purpose will inter-act with other services that the landscape provides.  Beneficiaries of land management decisions may live many miles away, and we can no longer make management decisions in isolation – our land is a finite resource under pressure and needs to be multi-functional.


The National Character Area profiles that are currently completed, along with Key Facts for profiles yet to be published, can be seen here:  http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/category/587130