England’s unique and varied landscapes are changing says
a new report launched today.
From the hop fields and apple orchards of Kent, to the grazing
pastures of Somerset dairy herds, the quality of England’s
landscape is changing when judged against seven criteria such as
woods, hedges and dry stone walls, rivers, farming, wild open spaces
and housing developments.
The ”Tracking Change in the Character of the English Landscape” report
produced by Natural England, English Heritage and Defra, monitored
changes in the English landscape between 1998 and 2003. Of England’s
159 Joint Character Areas (JCAs)
- 10% have been enhanced
- 51% have been maintained
- 20 % are neglected
- 19% are diverging, where new landscape characteristics
of the changes are due to agricultural changes such as fewer animals
grazing pasture and new crops being planted. Other changes are
due to development; for example, in the flat, wide valleys of the
Trent Valley Washlands new business parks and housing are being
built alongside major routes such as the A38, A5 and A50.
The rate of change is accelerating along motorways and trunk roads
(see map A) as urban corridors develop along the M1, M3, M4, M5,
M6 and the A14. New development hot spots in traditionally rural
areas such as Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and South Devon suggest
that pressures from commuting lifestyles now extend beyond major
towns and cities.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “Some
of our treasured landscapes are suffering from decline and neglect.
We want to celebrate the countryside’s local accent such
as honey coloured dry stone walls in the Cotswolds and the hedgerows
of the Midlands.
“Where Natural England can target agri-environment schemes
and grants to make this happen on Sites of Special Scientific Interest,
farms and in partnership with National Parks and Areas of Outstanding
Natural Beauty it is fairing well. The Countryside Quality Counts
indicators allows us to monitor change and to identify the pressures
causing it that will help guide policies to help ensure that the
wider countryside does not slip away quietly unnoticed and unmourned.”
Landscape character is an important aspect of the overall quality
of the countryside and a key contributor to people’s quality
of life. Natural England, working together with top academics from
the Universities of Nottingham and Sheffield, supported by communications
specialists, Countryscape, devised a set of criteria to assess
what is changing, and whether change matters to people.
The research was jointly sponsored by English Heritage. Stephen
Trow, Head of Rural and Environmental Policy for English Heritage,
said: “Change in the countryside is inevitable and necessary,
but needs to be planned and managed so that we pass on to a future
generations a diverse and attractive landscape in which history
can still be understood and enjoyed.
“The historic character of the landscape is absolutely fundamental
to its beauty and we must be concerned if this character is needlessly
eroded. Countryside Quality Counts gives us a powerful new tool
for understanding the process of change and for helping us to decide
how to respond to it.”
Barry Gardiner, Minister for Biodiversity, Landscape and Rural
Affairs welcomed the report saying:
“The way we manage our landscape is important to people’s
quality of life. It is good to see that over 61% of England’s
Joint Character Areas have maintained or enhanced their character.
Nearly 50% of farmland is being maintained under our Environmental
Stewardship Scheme, which will contribute to improving the landscape.
We look forward in working with Natural England to explore what
else can be done. The results will be used to inform future government
policy, to help ensure that development in rural areas is sustainable.”
The picture is brighter in some of the best loved and protected
areas of England from the Lake District to the Cotswolds. Our National
Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are included within
the top ten per cent of Joint Character Areas where landscape quality
has improved since 1998 and 2003, when judged on seven key criteria,
from woodland cover to river quality.
- Just over half of England’s
JCAs have maintained their traditional character.
- Trees and woodlands
have been enhanced or maintained in roughly equal numbers, associated
with the wide take up of woodland grants.
- For semi-natural features
within the agricultural setting, the majority of JCAs assessed
as maintained, benefited from agri-environment funding, which
also benefits features such as dry stone walls and hedgerows.
70% of the JCAs were classified as either maintained or enhanced,
in relation to semi-natural features.
- For river and coastal features,
most JCAs were classified as maintained.
- Alongside of these good
indications, other landscape themes showed erosion of landscape
- The assessment for settlement and development patterns
suggested that the character of the majority of JCAs was diverging,
or changing from previous distinctiveness.
- For the boundary features
theme, most JCAs were classified as neglected.
- For the historic
features theme, the majority of JCAs were assessed as neglected.
The development of the Countryside Quality Counts
method has provided a scientific measure of countryside quality
can be used to monitor change and to identify the pressures causing
and this will help guide policies to ensure that what people love
about the English countryside is conserved and enhanced.
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