Game-changing location data is at the core of Greater Manchester's nature recovery strategy

OS data is being used to help identify wildlife corridors.

5 minute read
Location data from Ordnance Survey is being hailed as a game-changer for a project in the north west of England. Greater Manchester was one of five pilot areas chosen by DEFRA to develop a Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS), designed to reverse nature’s decline across the city-region.

First approached to undertake the pilot in 2020, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is repeating the same process again – but this time with the added benefit of trusted and authoritative data from OS. The Greater Manchester Ecology Unit (GMEU) is leading the mapping work for GMCA and has found the best way of mapping and identifying current land use and land cover is by using the OS National Geographic Database (NGD) and NGD products, selecting ‘recipes’, or layers of data mapping as they need.

A critical component of the LNRS is a map showing priority sites for nature recovery work to take place, so an understanding of existing land cover and land use is therefore essential. GMEU didn’t have an existing habitat map, but by using OS data, they have created their own baseline habitat and land use map so they can start assessing where the priorities for nature recovery are in the area.

The data collected so far has shown that, surprisingly, more than two thirds of the Greater Manchester area is made up of natural land such as farmland, parks, woodlands, green spaces and waterways.

OS data is also being used to model species movement across the landscape by giving an insight into landscape permeability and a very visual indication of existing corridors. Part of the LNRS is to facilitate the protection and expansion of those networks for wildlife, making sure that species across Greater Manchester, such as great crested newts, farmland birds, invertebrates and water voles can move around more easily using natural corridors which have previously been impacted by factors such as habitat degradation, fragmentation, changes in land use and climate change. The location data can also be applied to a variety of tools to try and establish the safest opportunities to create new corridors.

Layers of OS data selected by the GMEU build up a picture of Greater Manchester

"Using OS data has saved the project so much time – it really has been a game-changer. The various feature sets have enabled us to estimate land use percentages so we can see how much is made up of agriculture, buildings or residential gardens and driveways. OS data is also helping us identify which groups of stakeholders and land managers have the most influence and who we need to be engaged with to assist with that nature recovery. I couldn’t have done this without NGD data. It has saved me – and the ecologists we would have needed out on the ground – so much time."

Paul Barrington, Biodiversity Systems Manager for the GMEU

With other essential OS datasets in the pipeline for release into the NGD end of March, such as Land Cover type and percentage cover, as well as Field Boundaries, Paul is confident that he will be able to extract even more data to further support the LNRS.

He also explained the importance of timing in being able to access this data:

“It is critical to have this information now. It is a statutory requirement to halt nature decline in the UK by 2030 and reverse it by 2042. Being able to understand the detail of the land use in Greater Manchester is a great step forward. I would really recommend that other authorities involved in the LNRS process explore how data from the OS NGD can help them develop their own strategies.”

John Kimmance, Managing Director of National Mapping Services at OS, said:

"This is a really strong example of the power of NGD data, supporting national policy and allowing customers to create bespoke maps using select and build recipes. It has provided a valuable insight into the make-up of the landscape in Greater Manchester, facilitating some really significant work into nature recovery. It also shows the level of trust our customers and partners have in OS location data - and I am delighted that a tranche of richer datasets, due to be released in late March, are going to benefit organisations such as the GMEU directly."

The specific OS NGD products used by GMEU were OS NGD Land (Landcover & Landform), OS NGD Geographical Names (Named Features), OS NGD Land Use (Land Use Site), OS NGD Administrative and Statistical Units (Boundaries) and OS NGD Water (Water network, Waterbody Catchment & River Basin District Catchment). OS NGD Buildings and OS NGD Structures were also used.

The Public Sector Geospatial Agreement gives the public sector access to OS expertise and location data for free.

A colourful GMEU map showing opportunities for nature recovery in Greater Manchester
The unit has created their own map based on OS data. Source: GMEU

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