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Devon's Landscape

Devon's landscape character

Countryside in Devon

Devon’s landscape contains a diverse range of geology, vegetation types and habitats that supports an outstandingly rich biodiversity. The sights, sounds and smells of wildlife contribute strongly to our perception and enjoyment of landscape quality. The distinctive character of some landscapes is strongly linked to the wildlife they support, such as the birdlife on the Exe Estuary.

A long history of human occupation in Devon has left its mark on the landscape, from the familiar and ordinary Devon’s farming landscape of fields, hedges and copses, to the extraordinary prehistoric stone structures on Dartmoor. The historic environment of Devon, and in particular its historic landscape characterisation helps us to understand how people have interacted with their landscape over time and how this has resulted in variations in landscape character. It also helps us appreciate what has changed and how the landscape needs to be managed in future to safeguard our heritage.

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What is landscape character?

Landscape character is defined as 'a distinct, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements in the landscape that makes one landscape different from another, rather than better or worse'. Put simply, landscape character is that which makes an area unique.

Only by paying proper regard to the existing character of our landscapes can informed and responsible decisions be made regarding landscape management, and sustainable future landscapes planned for. Through understanding how places differ we can also ensure that future development is well situated, sensitive to its location, and contributes to environmental, social and economic objectives.

Natural, cultural and perceptual aspects of landscape character

Natural aspects of landscape character are associated with the physical environment including vegetation, ecology and the shape of the land. These physical aspects include landform, habitats and features such as rivers and marshland.

Cultural aspects of landscape character are those associated with an event, activity, person or group of people. Cultural aspects of landscape are expressions of regional identity and exist in relationship to their natural context.

Perceptions vary depending on who perceives the landscape: demographic factors such as age and gender affect how people experience the landscape and thus how it is perceived. Landscape is perceived through sight, sound, smell and feel, and can be influenced by the weather, the seasons or time of day.

What is Landscape Character Assessment?

Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) is an approach to understanding the differences between landscapes. It is defined as ‘The tool that is used to help us to understand, and articulate, the character of the landscape. It helps us identify the features that give a locality its 'sense of place' and pinpoints what makes it different from neighbouring areas.’

It provides more detailed descriptions and analysis at a local level within thenationalframework of National Character Areas that has been developed by Natural England [LINK: NCA information]. Everyone has a role to play in identifying the characteristics and qualities that make a particular landscape unique, and using this understanding to plan and manage landscape change.

Landscape Character Assessment Guidance

The Landscape Character Assessment Guidance, published by Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage, provides advice on how to identify and express the different elements, such as woodlands, hedgerows, moors, mountains and farmland, building styles, and historic artefacts, which give a place its unique character.

The document sets out the full scope of activity potentially involved in a LCA, but recognises that it may be possible to undertake a more modest exercise that will still inform decision-making.

The guidance has two parts

1. a basic guide to the approach and methods of LCA

2. a series of topic papers offering more detail on particular uses and policy contexts.

The Landscape Character Assessment Guidance is currently being reviewed by Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and Countryside Council for Wales.