What is landscape?

Landscape can mean many things to different people but has traditionally been thought of as a reference to physical elements of the world around us. In 2000, the Council of Europe defined landscape in the European Landscape Convention as:-

“An area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.”

It is also important to recognise landscapes are often regarded as a cultural and spiritual resource that have, for an eternity, evoked feelings, memories, a sense of belonging and often influenced faiths.

It is widely acknowledged that landscape change has sped up significantly since the evolution of humans and noticeably since the onset of the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

National Park Landscape

The Park has primarily been shaped and influenced by its underlying geology, laid down some 400 million years ago, and the subsequent glacial and climatic weathering that has taken place.

Northumberland National Park

The many people who visit and live in the National Park appreciate the stunning and varied landscape. A key characteristic is its openness, with landscapes and horizons free from significant human intrusions, which contributes significantly to the high levels of tranquillity.

Of the 159 National Character Areas (NCA) that cover England, five either partly or entirely lie within Northumberland National Park.

The landscape of each NCAs has been captured and recorded within a profile document that sets out a description of the natural and cultural features that shape our landscapes, how the landscape has changed over time, the current key drivers for ongoing change, and a broad analysis of each area’s characteristics and ecosystem services.

Cheviots

  • A smooth, sinuous cluster of rounded hills of volcanic origin, forming a wild, open, windswept landscape dominated by broad moorland horizons and almost totally devoid of settlement.
  • Extensive rolling plateaux of semi-natural grass and heather moorland; rounded hill tops characterised by mixed areas of heathland, blanket bog and extensive white grassland interrupted by distinctive tors.
  • Deep ravines and rocky outcrops with dramatic scree slopes on the northern flanks of the hills supporting rare Arctic–alpine flora; distinctive features of glacial erosion including meltwater channels and ice-gouged hollows.
  • Distinctive white-faced Cheviot sheep, Northumberland Blackface sheep and wild goats graze the moorland plateaux, which are managed as grouse moors.
  • Largely treeless slopes, with broadleaved woodland confined to the narrow valleys but with a diminishing number of large conifer plantations on the upper slopes and smaller blocks of conifers planted as shelterbelts and for military training purposes in the south of the NCA.
  • Open moorlands and ‘white lands’ of the upper slopes contrast with greener, more productive pastures and meadows on the lower slopes and in the valleys.
  • Large regular fields enclosed by drystone walls or dykes or new post and wire fencing on higher ground, with smaller in-bye fields enclosed by stone walls, fencing and some hedgerows in the valley bottoms, grazed by sheep, and beef cattle on the more sheltered lower ground.
  • Steep-sided valleys with fast-flowing burns radiating from the Cheviots, supporting relict semi-natural broadleaved woodland, gorse scrub, wet flushes and species-rich meadows.
  • Dispersed farmsteads and small hamlets, often incorporating older fortified buildings due to centuries of border conflict, nestle in the sheltered valleys, with larger hamlets in the foothills where the valleys meet the lowlands. Traditional buildings are commonly of sandstone and slate, but clay pantile roofs are a distinctive feature of the northern valleys.
  • Extensive tracts of well-preserved, highly visible and buried prehistoric landscapes with hill forts, settlements and prehistoric field systems, and widespread remains from the medieval period.
  • Ancient tracks and drove roads cross the Cheviots, now used by the numerous visitors to the Northumberland National Park.
  • A sense of isolation and wilderness is maintained by the absence of settlements and cross-border roads through the Cheviots, with dark night skies and high levels of tranquillity, despite periodic disturbance associated with military training in the south of the NCA.

Cheviot Fringe

• Corridor of softer mudstones, sandstones and limestones forming a lowland landscape of valleys and plains between the more resistant rocks of the Cheviot Hills to the west and the Northumberland Sandstone Hills to the east. • Corridor of softer mudstones, sandstones and limestones forming a lowland landscape of valleys and plains between the more resistant rocks of the Cheviot Hills to the west and the Northumberland Sandstone Hills to the east. • Many landscape features shaped by glaciation and deposition, including extensive clay and sand deposits on the Milfield Plain, drumlin fields within the Tweed Valley lowlands, and distinctive hummocky kettle moraines, sinuous eskers and kames within the gently undulating vales. • Agricultural landscape of mixed farmland on good quality loamy soils, combining pasture and meadows for livestock with arable, and interspersed with parklands. •

• Corridor of softer mudstones, sandstones and limestones forming a lowland landscape of valleys and plains between the more resistant rocks of the Cheviot Hills to the west and the Northumberland Sandstone Hills to the east. • Many landscape features shaped by glaciation and deposition, including extensive clay and sand deposits on the Milfield Plain, drumlin fields within the Tweed Valley lowlands, and distinctive hummocky kettle moraines, sinuous eskers and kames within the gently undulating vales. • Agricultural landscape of mixed farmland on good quality loamy soils, combining pasture and meadows for livestock with arable, and interspersed with parklands. •

• Many landscape features shaped by glaciation and deposition, including extensive clay and sand deposits on the Milfield Plain, drumlin fields within the Tweed Valley lowlands, and distinctive hummocky kettle moraines, sinuous eskers and kames within the gently undulating vales. • Agricultural landscape of mixed farmland on good quality loamy soils, combining pasture and meadows for livestock with arable, and interspersed with parklands. •

• Agricultural landscape of mixed farmland on good quality loamy soils, combining pasture and meadows for livestock with arable, and interspersed with parklands. •

• Agricultural landscape of mixed farmland on good quality loamy soils, combining pasture and meadows for livestock with arable, and interspersed with parklands. •

• Strong pattern of hedgerows, with many hedgerow trees within the undulating vales, contrasting with flatter, more open, arable farmland to the north. •

• Strong rectilinear pattern of small, coniferous woodland blocks and shelterbelts with deciduous woodland more prevalent along watercourses. • Many meandering rivers and streams, often flowing between raised terraces and flat, gravel benches, supporting internationally and nationally threatened species such as Atlantic salmon, sea trout, otter, lamprey, water vole and water crowfoot, and providing one of England’s most important game fisheries. • Farmed

• Many meandering rivers and streams, often flowing between raised terraces and flat, gravel benches, supporting internationally and nationally threatened species such as Atlantic salmon, sea trout, otter, lamprey, water vole and water crowfoot, and providing one of England’s most important game fisheries. • Farmed

• Farmed environment supporting a nationally important assemblage of farmland birds and providing important roosts and feeding grounds for wintering wildfowl on the coast, with wet woodland and grazing marsh occurring along streams and rivers, and pockets of fens, mires and heath scattered within the landscape.

• Small, traditional villages strategically sited at river bridging points and on the break of slope of the surrounding uplands and the flatter vale floor, and isolated farm hamlets and farmsteads.

• Sandstone, either rubble or dressed, is the predominant building material, with blue-grey roof slates and orange

• Sandstone, either rubble or dressed, is the predominant building material, with blue-grey roof slates and orange pantiles.

• A wealth of heritage assets – extensive buried artefacts from Mesolithic, Neolithic, bronze-age, iron-age and Anglo-Saxon settlements – and upstanding defensive structures such as fortified castles, bastle houses and tower houses associated with three centuries of border conflict.

• Tranquil, rural landscape with small, nucleated villages linked by minor roads; only one major road (A697) links to adjacent NCAs.

Border Moors and Forests

A large-scale upland landscape of sweeping moorlands and coniferous forests, with extensive views, sparsely populated, with dark night skies and a strong feeling of remoteness and tranquillity. Extensive areas of exposed moorland with a variety of mire habitats and unimproved grassland, much of which is internationally designated. Large tracts of planted coniferous forest, including Kielder Forest, the largest planted coniferous woodland in northern Europe, with a patchwork of felled areas and different age classes of non-native conifers. Network of small streams and rivers flowing through narrow gorges and crags, draining the uplands and forming enclosed valleys. Upland farmed landscape of scattered farmsteads with semi-improved and improved pasture in the larger valleys, mainly enclosed by wire fences and drystone walls, with small copses of broadleaved woodland. Kielder Water, a large expanse of open water at the head of the North Tyne Valley, forming a dramatic landscape feature and providing recreational opportunities as well as supplying potable water. Military training areas covering large tracts of land including Spadeadam Forest and the more open Otterburn Ranges, with associated noise and activities influencing perceptions of tranquillity and remoteness. Archaeological and historical features of interest in the landscape, such as the remains of Roman marching camps and fortified farmhouses as evidence of past border instability.

Northumberland Sandstone Hills

Arc of sandstone hills forming distinctive skyline features including the iconic monolith of Simonside, characterised by generally level tops, north-west facing scarp slopes and craggy outcrops. Exceptional panoramic views of the coast and across the lowland Cheviot Fringe to the Cheviots and Scotland. Heather and grass moorland provides rough grazing on the upper slopes and broad tops of the ridges, interrupted by large geometric conifer plantations, giving way to improved pasture and cropping on lower slopes and valley bottoms. A mixture of piecemeal and regular enclosure, bounded by drystone walls but often broken up by coniferous shelterbelts and blocks, especially in areas of regular enclosure. Wide valleys of the Coquet and Aln rivers pierce the arc of hills, containing remnant native woodland and a patchwork of wet pastures and arable fields, often with steep-sided bluffs and fed by incised tributaries. Wet peaty flushes, mires, loughs, lakes and small reservoirs occur throughout the area. Broadleaved woodland is associated with rivers, burns, loughs, scarp slopes and country house estates. Nationally and internationally important species including Atlantic salmon, brook and river lamprey, otter, water crowfoot, hen harrier, peregrine, merlin, ring ouzel, black grouse, whinchat, golden plover, dunlin, curlew, nightjar and red squirrel. A number of large country houses set in extensive gardens and parklands with associated broadleaved woodland fringe the lower slopes. Important and complex archaeological landscape, with prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ marked rocks, bronze-age burial cists, earthwork remains of later iron-age hill fort systems, standing stones, enclosures and cairns, extensive medieval remains, bastles and castles such as Alnwick Castle, and evidence of quarrying. Scattered pattern of individual isolated farmsteads and small hamlets, served by the main market town of Alnwick and smaller service centre of Rothbury. Buildings constructed from locally quarried dressed or rubble sandstone, with slate roofs. Tranquil, rural landscape with low population and a few strategic major roads but with increasing numbers of vertical structures such as communications masts and wind turbines prominent on the skyline. Moorlands, forests and sandstone outcrops provide important recreational opportunities for activities such as walking, biking, climbing and wildlife watching.

Tyne Gap & Hadrian’s Wall

Narrow, distinctive corridor running east–west, graduating from lowland to upland through a low-lying gap, separating the Borders Moors and Forests NCA in the north from the North Pennines NCA in the south. Valleys underlain by sedimentary carboniferous rocks comprising repetitive successions of tilted limestones, sandstones and shales, together with north-facing escarpments of Whin Sill, forming a cuesta landscape of east–west ridges. The River Tyne and its tributaries within a valley of managed flood plains and mixed farmland. Source of potable water for conurbations further east and habitat for freshwater mussels, salmon and trout. Well-wooded mosaic of deciduous, mixed and coniferous woodland, broadleaved woodland on steeper slopes lining the rivers and little tree cover in upland areas. Fertile, lowland corridor of the river flood plain with flat, arable fields contrasting with larger-scale upper slopes of the valleys. Cattle and sheep graze large areas of rough pasture, divided by stone walls and fences in the west, merging to mixed farming in hedged fields in the east along the Tyne Valley. Higher elevations to the north with rough grazing on moorland, loughs, raised mire and rushy pastures confined within the Whin Sill outcrops and its associated grasslands and specialised flora. Natural waterbodies (loughs) on the ridged plateau provide breeding and wintering areas for wildfowl (whooper swan, goldeneye and wigeon). Country estates – Chesters, Haughton Castle, Nunwick Hall, Blenkinsopp Castle and Chipchase Castle – set within parklands of mature trees in the lower valley. Extensive archaeology from Roman times: Hadrian’s Wall, forts, camps, and roads; other historic features include fortified castles, bastles and pele towers; lime kilns; and evidence of ridge and furrow. Villages and towns strategically located along the River Tyne with sandstone buildings and original village centres, dispersed settlements in valley bottoms, with small, nucleated villages and buildings of Millstone Grit. Hamlets or isolated farmsteads on valley flanks. Significant transport route with road and rail linking east and west across the Pennines along with the Hadrian’s Wall Path and Pennine Way National Trails and the National Cycle Routes, Hadrian’s Cycleway and the Pennine Cycleway.

Landscape Convention

These days, while 80 per cent of the British landscape is still classified as rural, only 20 per cent of the population live there.

Employment and better standard of living saw many families migrate from the countryside to cities, particularly in the last century, and thus the majority of the population are now more familiar with an urban landscape.

However, the importance of the rural landscape has not been lost to society altogether.

The willingness to access the countryside for leisure and desire to protect England’s most treasured landscapes led to the designation of National Parks and other protected landscapes in the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Regarded as Britain’s breathing spaces, there are now 15 National Parks.

The role Parks play in the UKs commitment to the European Landscape Convention is set out in a National Parks England publication. Click the image above for more.