National Highways commissions habitats map


Road verges often contain a range of protected habitats supporting rare and protected wildlife

Manchester Metropolitan University has been commissioned to develop a new mapping system to make it easier for National Highways to keep track of the ecosystems bordering the 4,300 miles of road that it looks after.

The research and development programme will use more than 20 different sets of data to overlap and layer National Highways’ soft estate, roughly 28,258 hectares of green land close to the roads.

While National Highways already has detailed environmental maps of many individual locations, this will be the first time the complete network has been mapped in this way.

The Manchester Met project will also develop a tool that will enable Natural England’s biodiversity metric to be used on the maps and allow a targeted approach to maximising the number of biodiversity units across the network.

In its biodiversity delivery plan, National Highways is committed to maximising biodiversity delivery to achieve no net loss of biodiversity at an organisational level by the end of 2025.

National Highways principal biodiversity advisor Laurence Lewis-Jones said: “We’re excited to be working with Manchester Metropolitan University to ensure we’re maximising our biodiversity work, bringing long-lasting benefits to people, nature and wildlife. This is a glowing example of how funding and partnership working can help to improve biodiversity.

“This is an important building block of the work we’re undertaking to protect and enhance the ecology and the environment across the country, with an aim of achieving no net loss of biodiversity across all our work areas. 

“We know roads have the potential to compromise the quality of their surrounding environments. For wildlife, roads can fragment important habitats, putting pressure on plant and animal populations. This project should help combat these challenges, identifying areas where we can increase biodiversity, putting nature at the heart of our network.”

Habitat mapping in the landscape surrounding National Highways’ land
Habitat mapping in the landscape surrounding National Highways’ land

Dr Chris Field, leader of the research team at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Through remote mapping and the application of the biodiversity metric across the whole strategic road network, we can take a holistic view that helps National Highways make strategic investment decisions that optimise gains in biodiversity.”

A conceptual image (experimental data, not based on actual results) to demonstrate the road network’s net gain potential as categorised in the final mapping layer(s)
A conceptual image (experimental data, not based on actual results) to demonstrate the road network’s net gain potential as categorised in the final mapping layer(s)

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