Generating investment for Natural Capital in Greater Manchester

In Greater Manchester a range of innovative natural capital investment initiatives are seeking to reverse the decline in nature, secure much needed investment and deliver wider environmental and socio-economic benefits.


In Greater Manchester a range of innovative natural capital investment initiatives are seeking to reverse the decline in nature, secure much needed investment and deliver wider environmental and socio-economic benefits.

Image showing a yellow meadow and blue sky
Credit: Lancashire Wildlife Trust


Greater Manchester (GM) has a long history of cooperation and partnership working across the 10 local authorities within the city region. This had largely focused on economic and regeneration priorities, but since becoming a Combined Authority in 2011 the environment has taken an increasing priority within Greater Manchester’s agenda.

In 2016 Greater Manchester was designated an Urban Pioneer City Region, one of four places chosen by the Government to test new ways to value, manage and invest in the natural environment as part of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. This was supported by a designated officer working on natural capital funded by a ten-year EU LIFE Project ‘Natural Course’ focussing on improving river catchments, including through strategic and integrated approaches to planning and decision making.

Growing environmental concerns, both in the city region and nationally, culminated in the landmark 2018 Green Summit hosted by GM Mayor Andy Burnham. The Green Summit helped to raise the political profile of the natural environment and led to the GMCA declaring a climate emergency in 2019, as well as the publication of its Five Year Environment Plan which included an ambitious vision for a “clean, carbon-neutral, climate resilient city region with a thriving natural environment” and demanding urgent action to achieve this.


Mar. 2018 	1st Green Summit Mar. 2019 	5 Year Environment Plan Mar. 2019 	2nd Green Summit Aug. 2019 	Climate Emergency announced  Sep. 2020 	3rd Green Summit July 2021 	Greater Manchester Environment Fund created  Oct. 2021 	4th Green Summit Mar. 2022 	Biodiversity emergency announced  Mar. 2022 	Greater Manchester Strategy Announced Oct. 2022 	5th Green Summit



The main challenge for GMCA was to move the focus from high profile political ambition for the environment to delivery on the ground, and to do this at scale. This requires sources of long-term funding for nature and investment into green initiatives, beyond that within the remit and control of the GMCA and its constituent local authorities alone.

Acting on the Green Summit, GMCA prioritised the need to shift away from the traditional sources of funding. The Greater Manchester Five Year Environment Plan states:

In Greater Manchester, we […] need to work across the public and private sector to take on more innovative approaches to fund investment (including from private and social investors) in our infrastructure that will deliver our aims, focussing on areas where revenue models for returns on investment are, as yet, unproven’

The commitment led to the proposal for a Natural Capital Investment Plan, intended to set how the route to mobilising existing and new sources of funding for a range of natural environment projects.

The project: Greater Manchester Environment Fund

The Natural Capital Investment Plan aims to encourage investment in the natural environment to secure financial and social returns through a range innovative finance models including habitat banking and carbon trading. The plan sets out several actions, including the setting up of an investment readiness fund and project delivery unit, to support the delivery of natural environment projects.

As a result of these actions, GMCA has been pioneering a new approach, the Greater Manchester Environment Fund (GMEF), formed in 2021 by a partnership between Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, and Finance Earth – the first of its kind in the UK. The GMEF provides a mechanism to collect and distribute funds for natural environment projects across Greater Manchester. To date, it has brought in over £5m of funding to deliver projects on the ground. One of the first successful funding bids was from Defra’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, securing £1.8m to support a diverse range of projects including ‘Northern Roots’ – the UK’s largest urban farm and eco-park on 160 acres of green space.

The GMEF also secured funding from Defra’s Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund to develop the business models required for habitat banking and carbon trading. These models are looking to stimulate investment in peatland habitats and set up a biodiversity net gain investment facility ahead of the mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain requirements coming next year.

Most recently, the GMCA announced a Biodiversity Emergency which seeks to restore and promote a variety of wildlife and habitats across the city region. As part of this, a £2.6m Green Spaces Fund was launched by the Greater Manchester Mayor. This new fund is also being managed through the GMEF, ensuring effective coordination with other investment as well as providing grants to communities to improve biodiversity locally.

Impact and lessons learned

Utilise existing partnerships: Effective partnerships have been critical to the GMCAs progress. Greater Manchester has a long history of partnership working and existing partnerships were utilised to build capacity for natural capital investment. Rather than create a new partnership, a key forum for the GMCA was the Natural Capital Group which is Greater Manchester’s Local Nature Partnership. The Group is now embedded within the GMCAs wider structure, providing the profile, relationships, and authority it needs to accelerate project delivery on the ground.

Exploit catalysts for change:  The Urban Pioneer and Natural Course projects provided catalysts for change, enabling different organisations across Greater Manchester to collaborate together and to collaborate with the GMCA, building on existing initiatives and unifying the language, direction and effort being delivered across the city region. This has also helped to accelerate the transition to a new way of thinking, to better understand the value of the natural environment and so inform delivery of key policy objectives.

Collaborate on funding opportunities: Building on the legacy of partnership working in Greater Manchester, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the GMCA were active in coordinating joint bids and projects on behalf of the GMEF bringing together a range of Environmental Non-Government Organisations. This has helped the GMCA and its partners to maximise the opportunity of competitive Government funding streams for Greater Manchester as a whole, securing over £6m in funding to date.

Political leadership: The Green Summit held by GMCA in 2018 has since moved to become an annual event. The Summit provides a high-profile platform for political, business and community leaders on environmental issues, enhancing understanding of the importance and value of the natural environment across Greater Manchester. Consequently, the heightened emphasis on the environment has helped to shape priorities for the GMEF as well as within emerging strategies such as the Greater Manchester Places for Everyone spatial plan, which includes the requirement for a minimum of 10% Biodiversity Net Gain from new development.