Natural England - State of the natural environment in the North West

State of the natural environment in the North West

The natural environment matters. The State of the Natural Environment report 2008 brings together for the first time the evidence we have about the current situation in our natural environment.

Lake District. Blea Tarn, looking north towards Side Pike and Harrison Stickle

The report demonstrates that the natural environment in England is much less rich than 50 years ago and remains under pressure from a significant range of threats. It identifies the impact of those threats on our landscapes and biodiversity.

Why it matters

The state of the natural environment matters to everyone in the North West. It is an essential regional asset that provides the foundations for our economic and social well being.

A healthy natural environment provides essential public services, such as;

  • clean air, clean water and productive soils
  • support for economic activity and sustainable energy production
  • security against the impacts of climate change
  • a natural health service, contributing to people's health and wellbeing
  • places to experience and enjoy the natural world.

The North West report

The State of the Natural Environment in the North Westexternal link brings together for the first time the regional evidence we have about the current situation in our natural environment.


  • 29% of our region is designated as protected landscapes compared to 23% for England overall, with 11% and 18% by area for AONB and National Parks respectively.
  • The Lake District is the largest of England’s national parks covering 229,159 ha.
  • There are 187 SSSIs designated for their geodiversity features, with 89% in favourable or recovering condition.
  • Almost 35% of all English common land is in the North West, with the uplands containing fewer but larger commons than the areas in the south of England.
  • Of the North West region’s 29 Joint Character Areas, 14% are enhanced, 41% maintained, 7% neglected and 38% diverging. Areas that are neglected or diverging are largely around major centres of population and transport corridors.
  • Landscape character is being maintained in our protected areas such as Cumbria High Fells, which makes up a large part of the Lake District.
  • Many rivers and estuaries are of international importance and we have the largest area of standing open water and canals, with large bodies concentrated in the Lake District and Cheshire Meres and Mosses.


  • The North West has the largest area of wetlands of all regions (almost 23% of England’s wetlands by area), dominated by blanket bog (62%) which forms peat landscapes in wet areas. Although significantly smaller, there are also important areas of lowland raised bogs, which represent almost 56% of England’s resource by area.
  • Over 77% of the region’s blanket bog is in favourable or recovering condition compared to 64% for lowland raised bog.
  • The North West holds a significant proportion of heathlands, particularly in the uplands which hold over 17% of England’s heathland resource. By area 92% is in favourable or recovering condition.
  • Our coast support millions of wintering and migrating waterfowl, and important breeding bird populations; over 80% is designated for its European wildlife importance. By area 97% of coastal SSSI is in favourable or recovering condition.
  • Our region also has a high proportion of sand dunes and intertidal mudflats and saltmarsh, representing 33% and 41% of England’s resource.
  • Parts of Sefton coast and Cumbria provide important habitat for internationally protected amphibian species including the natterjack toad and great crested newt.
  • There are currently 2 Marine Special Areas of Conservation, Morecambe Bay and Solway Firth, which provide food for important seabirds.

Successful restoration of lowland raised bogs, once subject to peat extraction, at Wedholme flow in Cumbria is turning a degraded area back into a functioning ‘carbon sink’ capable of absorbing and retaining greenhouse gases. For further information see Wedholme Flow SSSI, part of the South Solway Mosses SAC and NNR.

Enjoying the natural environment

  • Leisure time has increased and there is a significant amount of direct contact with the natural environment. Annually there were 22 million visits to the Lake District National Park.
  • 17.7% of our region has open access, compared with 6.5% for England overall, with the largest areas in the uplands and commons.
  • The Pennine Bridleway Way National Trail provides 382 km of purpose built trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders and new link routes to large centres of populations are providing access opportunities for a greater number of people.
  • We have 88 approved WHI schemes, more than any other region (national total is 550), located throughout the North West. Thousands of walkers with a range of health problems take part in this scheme to get fit in the natural environment.
  • The region has 26 Doorstep Greens and 35 Millennium Greens and 43 Country parks which provide opportunities for people to use green space close to where they live.
  • Health inequalities are most concentrated in the areas of most social deprivation and in the North West this also equates to areas of poor environmental quality.

Meeting the challenge in the North West

In the face of external impacts such as climate change, development pressures and agricultural change, we will make concerted efforts to ensure that ecosystems are healthy in order to maximise species and habitat resilience, whilst also providing socio-economic benefits through ecosystem services.

We will adopt a long term, outcome-based approach to sustainable land and sea management which embraces multi-functionality and demonstrates clear benefits from public interventions. This will require effective cross-sector working and strong public engagement to deliver integrated actions in a transparent manner.

We will engage our partners in developing an Uplands Vision for the Lake District and share our knowledge on climate change adaptation strategies based on the Cumbria High Fells JCA pilot for a secure environmental future for the North West.

We will facilitate and demonstrate how the natural environment can be beneficial for physical and mental health. To do this we will encourage the maintenance and improvement of accessible green space and more awareness of existing PROW and access land. In parallel health professionals should be encouraged to promote physical activity in the natural environment. To facilitate this we will provide credible and relevant evidence, showing how the natural environment is a motivator for keeping active, providing additional mental benefits when compared to indoor environments.

The need for green infrastructure to be planned, delivered and maintained is as significant as other forms of infrastructure planning. We are advocating the incorporation of green infrastructure planning into regional and sub-regional policies and regeneration plans to bring about significant landscape, biodiversity and access benefits whilst contributing to economic goals. New housing and growth points present an opportunity for delivering green infrastructure but at the same time must be delivered within environmental limits. In the North West the integrity of designated rivers and estuaries are closely linked with water supply and quality. We will use our statutory responsibilities to ensure that mitigation as set out in the Regional Spatial Strategy is implemented to avoid adverse impacts on these sites of European importance.

Related report

State of the Natural Environment 2008external link

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