This landscape forms a wide band of scarp woodlands and farmed slopes which are orientated east-west, and which face northwards over the Vale of Taunton. Historically this area has divided the counties of Somerset and Devon. This is a dramatic landscape that is very prominent, particularly in views from the north. It stands out from the land that surrounds it; and has considerable visual interest and texture due to its diverse land use and woodland cover. The Wellington Monument, a key landmark, is located on the north-facing slopes which are gently undulating, rising to Staple Hill. The western end of the scarp is most pronounced; to the east the slopes become broader and gentler. There is dense semi-natural woodland cover on the steepest slopes, along with patches of gorse and scrub. Vegetation patterns are often irregular, reflecting variations in the underlying landform, although in some areas these variations are masked by conifer plantations. The wet pastures associated with spring lines add further interest and texture to this landscape.
This area comprises the north-facing wooded greensand scarp slope of the Blackdown Hills which overlooks Vale of Taunton. Its northern and eastern edges are marked by the AONB boundary while to the south its boundary is clearly defined by the start of the central plateau of the Blackdown Hills. The western edge is also clearly defined by the greensand scarp and quick transition into the Culm Valley Lowlands.
Constituent Landscape Character Types
Constituent LCTs: 3B: Lower Rolling Farmed and Settled Valley Slopes, 2A: Steep Wooded Scarp Slopes, 3A: Upper Farmed and Wooded Valley Slopes Part of NCA: 147: Blackdowns
- Steeply sloping scarp comprising unstable greensand on Keuper Marl and Lower Lias Clays on the lower slopes and valleys.
- Springs emerge from the interface of greensand and clays resulting in numerous streams flowing northwards with associated areas of mires, willow carr and rushy grassland.
- Sloping landform and indented topography as well as extensive belts of oak-ash woodland and some areas of conifer plantation lend visual enclosure.
- Woodlands separated by small fields of improved and semi-improved pasture; occasional arable land and in-field copses on the lower slopes.
- Magnificent beech avenues on parts of the escarpment crest, particularly towards its eastern end.
- Habitats that include many ancient woodland sites, areas of semi-improved and rushy grassland, and heathland commons.
- Range of historic features including the Wellington Monument, small quarries, hillforts and medieval field patterns.
- Limited settlement on steep scarp slopes; dispersed pattern of small springline villages and farmsteads with associated orchards and little to no modern development.
- Local vernacular buildings of chertstone with slate roofs.
- Roads frequently run north-south and are often narrow and incised into the landscape.
Special Qualities and Features:
- Distinctive north-facing scarp marked by the Wellington Monument, lending a strong sense of place and widespread visual influence across the Vale of Taunton.
- Outstanding views northwards across the Vale of Taunton but also to Quantock Hills, Exmoor National Park and the Culm valley.
- High scenic quality reflected in the area’s inclusion in the Blackdowns AONB.
- SSSIs including ancient woodland e.g. Quants (SAC), Prior’s Park and Adcombe Wood (providing important habitats for bats), and heathland commons e.g. Black Down and Sampford Commons at the western end of the scarp.
- Important historic landscape around Neroche, at the eastern end of the scarp, site of an Iron Age hillfort and motte and bailey castle (SM), and part of a royal hunting forest in medieval times.
- Extensive areas of open access land e.g. Staple Hill and Black Down Common.
Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:
Past and Current
- Loss of field boundaries and amalgamation of fields for arable resulting in a fragmentation of the pastoral character of the area.
- Loss of hedgerow trees due to lack of management and maturing.
- Replacement of Devon hedgebanks with fences.
- Creation of farm reservoirs on lower slopes south of Leigh Hill.
- Growth of development within the Vale of Taunton which is visible from this landscape.
- Loss of tranquillity as a result of road noise from M5
- Increase in the area of coniferous plantation and woodland planted to filter water, minimise downstream flooding, store carbon and provide low carbon fuel (through coppice management).
- Potential loss of beech-dominated woodlands and avenues due to overmaturity, spread of Phytophthora, intolerance of water level extremes and more frequent storm events.
- Uncertain future for the agricultural economy – levels of future agri-environment support and market prices for farmed products unknown.
- Longer growing season and faster growth of bracken, gorse and secondary woodland resulting in a decrease in remaining areas of heathland and rush pasture.
- More intense periods of drought, as a result of climate change, leading to the drying out of important wetlands including spring line mires and rush pasture.
- Increased autumn and winter precipitation leading to higher water levels and consequent increases in poaching of river banks and flood risk in lower catchments.
- Increased demand for wind turbines and communications masts on higher ground as well as for domestic and community-scale solar panels and small wind turbines, with cumulative impact on landscape.
- Increased recreational pressure due to growth of Taunton and Cranbrook.
To protect the landscape’s distinctive scarp slopes, well wooded character and iconic Wellington Monument which contributes a strong sense of place. Opportunities are sought to restore conifer plantations to broadleaves and heathland habitats and strengthening the network of valuable heathland habitats. Field patterns are reinforced through the restoration and management of distinctive hedgebanks. Scarp woodlands and beech avenues are managed; and valley side wetlands are expanded to help prevent downstream flooding and protect water quality. The landscape’s time-depth continues to have a strong influence, whilst opportunities for sustainable recreation and limited low-carbon development are sensitively accommodated. The peaceful and historic character of the area is enhanced whilst providing recreational opportunities in less prominent locations.
- Protect the outstanding views to and from the Vale of Taunton.
- Protect the landscape’s strong sense of tranquillity and remoteness and sparsely settled character with clustered villages and hamlets reinforcing a strong historic sense of place.
- Protect and appropriately manage cultural heritage features such as hillforts and castles, through livestock grazing at appropriate levels and recreation management.
- Protect the sparse settlement pattern of clustered hamlets, villages and farmsteads. Prevent the linear spread of development along river valleys and roads wherever possible, to maintain the settlements’ characteristic form and peaceful character.
- Protect traditional building styles and materials, particularly local chertstone, utilising the same styles and materials in new development wherever possible (whilst seeking to incorporate sustainable design).
- Protect the landscape’s network of quiet lanes enclosed by woodland and species-rich hedgebanks, resisting unsympathetic highways improvements or signage.
- Protect areas of ancient woodland and rushy pastures along spring lines.
- Manage Devon hedgebanks and hedgerow beech in order to maintain and enhance the well-treed character, distinctive beech avenues and pattern of small to medium size medieval fields.
- Manage semi-natural habitats, including mires, gorse scrub, wet meadows, ancient woodland, heath and small copses, through appropriate grazing and scrub and bracken control.
- Manage conifer plantations for sustainable timber production, recreation and wildlife, creating new green links to surrounding semi-natural habitats.
- Encourage medium to long term reversion of conifers to heathland.
- Manage and enhance the scarp’s semi-natural woodlands through traditional techniques including coppicing; control livestock to promote natural regeneration and encourage species and age diversity; explore opportunities for community utilisation of coppice residues.
- Respect traditional methods and styles of boundary construction, including stone facing on banks.
- Support farmers in management of ‘marginal’ areas as an integral part of their farming system. Manage rough grassland, heath and springline mires through a continuation of livestock grazing at appropriate levels, along with a programme of scrub removal.
- Plan for long-term extension and re-creation of heathland on the ridges and broadleaved woodland on steep scarp slopes.
- Create, extend and link wetland habitats to enhance the water storage capacity of the landscape, reducing soil erosion, agricultural run-off and downstream flooding and improving water quality.
- Extend and link fragmented woodland sites through natural regeneration and new planting (using appropriate native climate-hardy species).