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A Future for the Natural Economy: The Achievements and Legacy of the Natural Economy Northwest Partnership

Date: 2010

Evidence type: Policy

Organisations: Natural Economy North West, Natural England, Northwest Regional Development Agency

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For three years Natural Economy Northwest has been at the heart of one of the most innovative regional programmes in England: a quest to identify, demonstrate and promote the economic value of the region's unrivalled natural environment.
The Natural Economy Northwest (NENW) partnership brought together a wealth of environmental and economic expertise. It was funded by three organisations, all concerned with giving greater prominence and credibility to the many benefits that can accrue from the natural environment.
The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) wanted NENW to bring to life Transformational Action 113 in the 2006 Regional Economic Strategy – to 'develop the economic benefit of the region's natural environment through better alignment of environmental activities and economic gain'.

Key Messages

Further into the future, the importance of food and energy security will increase as the UK moves towards a low-carbon economy. The Northwest's natural environment and its capacity to underpin and meet our needs are likely to prove vitally important in this process.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure
Climate change role/function
Fossil fuel substitution; Food production

Key message 1: Green infrastructure should be considered as a critical infrastructure. It needs to be planned, managed and invested in at different spatial scales as with any other critical infrastructure.

Natural Economy Northwest, working with partners, has played a key role in stimulating a new and radical approach to green infrastructure that seeks to plan, deliver and manage it in comparable ways to other forms of critical infrastructure. The aim is to maximise its economic, social and environmental benefits. The better the quality of the ecosystem services that support human activity, the greater the benefits.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure

Key message 2: Green infrastructure delivers 11 themed benefits for a multitude of stakeholders

Central to the achievements of the NENW programme is the groundbreaking research underpinning the publication The Economic Value of Green Infrastructure. This outlined 11 benefits to be gained from investment in green infrastructure (GI), as shown in the diagram. It is clear from this illustration that GI underpins the success and sustainability of other parts of the economy. 


The direct gross value added (GVA) from the environment has been calculated at £2.6bn, supporting 109,000 jobs in environmental and related fields. But it's more than that - healthy environments are essential for sustainable futures. 


Green infrastructure can help the region adapt to some of the effects of climate change. Severe flooding is on the increase. By protecting or promoting woodlands, water and wetland habitats and grasslands, and creating sustainable urban drainage systems, flooding can be managed or alleviated.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Woodland; Water courses; Water bodies; Wetlands; Grassland, heathland and moorland
Climate change role/function
Non-specific mitigation role/function; Non-specific adaptation role/function; Managing riverine flooding

Key message 3: Natural environment projects must incorporate socio-economic outputs and outcomes to benefit society

NENW's work has clearly demonstrated that huge socio-economic gains are delivered from natural environment projects. If environmental project managers can point out how projects can deliver socio-economic benefits, this puts them in a better position to engage with non-environmental stakeholders and attract additional funding. 


Another example is the Peatlands for People project at South Solway Mosses, between the hills of the Lake District and the Solway estuary. Much of the area consists of lowland peat bogs, home to a wide range of wildlife, including rare birds, insects and plants. The bogs act as an important 'carbon store', locking up more than 11,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. 


The 'social cost' of each additional tonne of CO2 emitted is put at £42, putting the annual value of the carbon storage function provided by the South Solway Mosses in the region of £481,000. 


Work to raise awareness of these peat bogs and link them to the region's culture, economy and quality of life, is likely to attract an additional 17,000 visits a year to the area, with a value of more than £117,000 to the Cumbrian economy.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Wetlands; Grassland, heathland and moorland
Climate change role/function
Carbon storage and sequestration; Helping other species to adapt; Managing visitor pressure

Key message 4: Grey infrastructure projects must integrate green infrastructure for enhanced benefits and sustainability

There is mounting pressure from national and regional policy for more focus on environmental factors when delivering grey infrastructure projects, and to use green infrastructure to lessen any harmful effects of economic growth. Extreme weather events, which affect thousands of people, often exacerbate such pressures. 


A vital feature of green infrastructure is that it is multifunctional. Many functions that seem to be only environmental or social may have significant economic consequences. For example, a project that aims to improve visitors' experience in a city centre may focus on planting trees to make the surroundings more attractive. However, the trees will have other benefits too, such as helping to mitigate the effects of storm water run-off and minimising the urban heat island effect. 


Sometimes more complex approaches can be used. In areas of high flood risk, for example, green infrastructure can be used in upstream water catchment areas to mitigate increased reliance on pipes and sewers downstream.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Trees; Water courses
Climate change role/function
Non-specific mitigation role/function; Managing high temperatures; Managing riverine flooding; Managing surface water; Managing visitor pressure

Key message 5: Natural tourism is an important area of sustainable economic growth. The Northwest's stunning natural assets give it the potential to be a leader among the English regions

Natural tourism covers a host of activities - from the quiet enjoyment of tranquil landscapes to the energy of adrenalin-fuelled sports like rock climbing and sailing. 


If the offer is good enough to encourage people to holiday within the UK rather than travel abroad, there is a double benefit through the reduction in CO2 emissions. 


The Northwest's wetlands and coast are particularly suited for natural tourism development. Wetlands are critical for the functioning of the natural landscape, providing ecosystem services for wildlife and society. 


The area around Morecambe Bay, for example, hosts a mosaic wetland with an exceptional range of biodiversity, including the last viable population of high brown fritillary butterflies.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Wetlands; Coastal habitat
Climate change role/function
Non-specific mitigation role/function; Helping other species to adapt; Managing visitor pressure

Key message 6: Businesses can benefit from the natural environment, and business is part of the solution for sustainability

Biodiversity makes business sense, as a pioneering project run by NENW in Cumbria has shown. Thanks to the Natural Benefits for Business (NB4B) project, commercial ventures across Cumbria discovered that simple and inexpensive changes in working practices could have lasting benefits not only for wildlife but also for their business. In total, 66 businesses took part and received advice from Cumbria Rural Enterprise Agency, supported by the Cumbria Biodiversity Partnership, on how they could boost biodiversity within their enterprise. 


NENW has been involved in green roofing projects in Liverpool and Greater Manchester. As well as producing environmental benefits such as enhanced biodiversity, reduced storm water runoff and better flood risk management, green roofs have other advantages. 


Unicorn Grocery in Manchester, for example, achieved 25% reductions in fuel bills and 10% cuts in water rates, while a green roof on a new business development in Piccadilly Basin was built using construction rubble which would otherwise have had to be carted off-site.

Green infrastructure type
Green roofs
Climate change role/function
Managing surface water; Helping other species to adapt

Key message 7: We need to manage natural assets effectively in hard times to optimise the multifunctional benefits

South Solway Peatlands: The Northwest's wetlands are not only a vital natural resource, but are also vital to the region's economy. They act as a store for carbon, they attract tourists, and they support rural communities. 


The South Solway Peatlands provide an example of how effective environmental management also creates economic value. The peatlands, between the hills of the Lake District and the Solway estuary, help to alleviate coastal erosion and the possible effects of rising sea levels. The area is a natural 'carbon store' whose community and economic benefit to the region has been calculated at £481,000 annually.

Green infrastructure type
Climate change role/function
Carbon storage and sequestration; Managing coastal flooding; Managing visitor pressure

Key message 8: The natural economy is a unique selling point for Northwest England

The Northwest approach towards understanding green infrastructure provides a comprehensive process and framework for relating the planning, creation and management of natural environments to social and economic benefits. It offers a way of combining the economy, sustainable communities, quality of place and ecosystem services agendas. 


It is important to recognise this because the traditional measure of economic success – Gross Value Added (GVA) – fails to adequately record the contribution of the natural environment. Green Infrastructure (which involves working with biodiversity, landscape, environmental protection and the use of natural resources) contributes directly to GVA, helps create the conditions for growth, contributes to the wider benefits of quality of place and life, increases economic security and provides the underpinning ecosystem services for future sustainability.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure
Climate change role/function
Non-specific mitigation role/function; Non-specific adaptation role/function; Helping other species to adapt
Document Analysis


Level of document
Geographical area to which document refers
North West England
Is 'green infrastructure' mentioned?
Relevant to climate change...
Mitigation; Adaptation
Is it relevant to other (non-climate change) benefits of green infrastructure?
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