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Socio-ecological systems and people

Socio-ecological systems and people

Complex and adaptive socio-ecological systems (consisting of a ‘bio-geo-physical unit’ and its associated social actors) are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity. Urbanisation, in particular habitat fragmentation and loss, affects the services provided by ecosystems - which have been undervalued in decision making. Research by Professor Philip James, in partnership with communities, landowners, local authorities, governments, environment and planning agencies, voluntary sector organisations, and their service users, is focused on providing leadership in:

  • Developing improvements in the management of ecosystems;
    Enhancing capacity for valuing ecosystems in policy and decision making mechanisms;
  • Developing innovative methods of implementing green infrastructure frameworks.

The Life ECOnet project has brought benefit to the three study areas: Cheshire, UK; Emilio-Romagna, Italy; Abruzzo, Italy. The study combined local ecological knowledge with modelling (the Landscape ecological Analysis and Rules for the Configuration of Habitat model [LARCH]), which was used to assess the functionality of ecosystems within the networks) and land use options, identified in partnership with public and private landowners.

  • The work in Cheshire on the ECOnet, the original concept for which was developed by Philip, has been included in a report by The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology as a case study indicating good practice in developing local ecological networks. The wider ECOnet work in Cheshire led to a £3 Million investment in the Sandstone Ridge ECOnet Partnership (SREP): the implementation phase of the project covering a potential chain of interconnected woodland networks, alternating with two interconnected heathland networks and two isolated peatland networks.
  • The ideas developed in this work are now embedded within the Lawton Report, Making Space for Nature and in the Natural Environment White Paper. A direct result of the Life ECOnet project was the inclusion in the North West Regional Planning documents that all local authorities covered by the plan should develop an Ecological Framework. The Greater Manchester Ecological Framework (GMEF), completed in 2008, was adopted into the planning system of Greater Manchester, for example by incorporation into the Greater Manchester Minerals Plan and was a forerunner of work on the Green Infrastructure of Greater Manchester and in work informing the Natural Economy Northwest initiative (NENW).
  • Working in partnership with Red Rose Forest (RRF), a Community Forest serving Greater Manchester, the Forestry Commission and Natural England, James’s work from the Greater Manchester Ecological Framework (GMEF) has been used to develop the overall approach to the Greater Manchester Green Infrastructure (GI) Framework.
  • This work has shown how different datasets may be brought together to model the benefits GI could bring to the City-Region. It also highlighted the importance of ways to improve the ‘urban matrix’, work Red Rose Forest pursues with street tree planting and other interventions (including green roof creation).
  • The GMEF approach has been used in two major area strategies, the Trafford Forest Plan and the Manchester City Centre Green and Blue Infrastructure Plan. The University joined with the Red Rose Forest’s Greater Manchester Tree Audit Consortium, helping this ambitious idea become a reality, and the use of the Greater Manchester Tree Audit is yielding useful data to develop the Audit as a ‘live’ project.  The work on ecosystem services has also helped formulate the approach for a new piece of work identifying and prioritising Ecosystem Services for the Mosslands area to the west of Salford. This work is informing the development of a Local Nature Improvement Area (the Great Manchester Wetlands) and a significant funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund which is currently being written.
  • The research programme in Halton began in 2005 and as a result of the early work the management of the ponds and urban trees within the borough has been modified. Since 2008 the work has focussed on the movement of species in the borough and on the saltmarsh. The outputs of the work on species movement was used in informing the decision making process related to the planning approval for the £600 million second Mersey Crossing bridge. The work on the saltmarsh focused on the ecosystem services associated with the environmental mitigation over 1,700 ha of land and estuary which will flow from the construction of the bridge.
  • In China, the main impact of Philip’s work is seen in the planning and design of a new development in the Xicheng District in the centre of Bejing. Xicheng is a major commercial district in central Beijing. Professor James’s work is breaking new ground as this is the first time that urban eco-system services and urban ecological concerns have been incorporated so prominently in a practical masterplan project in China. This work has established the principles of integrating urban eco-system services into the masterplanning agenda for this area. In particular, the proposal for creating a series of linked urban green spaces (some of which span an existing urban ring road) has attracted keen interest from the Xicheng government.