This landscape of rolling, interlocking ridges, deeply incised by river valleys and patterned by beech hedges, provides an important setting and transition to Exmoor. The upland river valleys drain southwards from the high moorland, forming deep clefts in the landscape that contain clean, fast-flowing water and are clothed in ancient oak woodlands. The Bray valley is the major landscape feature of the western part of the area; further east the valleys are shorter, steeper and narrower. Tree features and hilltop clumps form notable landmarks. The area is sparsely settled, with individual farmsteads and small hamlets and vernacular buildings that are mainly of sandstone and slate. Seen from the south, the area forms the foreground landscape to Exmoor. Seen from the north it forms a diverse and strongly patterned patchwork of fields and wooded valleys.
This area abuts the southern and western boundaries of Exmoor National Park (not part of the Devon Landscape Character Assessment). Bounded to the west by the more open landscape of the North Devon Downs and to the south by the South Molton Farmlands and Witheridge and Rackenford Moor, this area of enclosed pastoral land with deep north-south wooded valleys rises northwards to the Exmoor moorland rim, where there is a clear landscape transition.
Constituent Landscape Character Types
Constituent LCTs: 2D: Moorland Edge Slopes, 3D: Upland River Valleys Part of NCA: 145: Exmoor
- Elevated land with a rolling topography underlain by Devonian sandstone around the edges of Exmoor, with a transition southwards to Upcott Slate and the softer siltstones and mudstones of the Culm Measures.
- Landscape crossed by streams and springs draining into the steeply incised wooded valleys, with clear fast-flowing streams draining southwards from the high moorlands of Exmoor.
- Higher ground sparsely wooded with grown-out wind-sculpted beech hedgebanks and some pine shelterbelts; valley sides densely wooded – ancient oak with bluebells and primroses; beech-dominated woodlands; wet woodlands; and conifer plantations.
- Traditional orchards found in some locations (e.g. Loxhore Mill, Newtown Bridge).
- Mixture of regular modern and Parliamentary fields of small to medium scale, with smaller curving fields of medieval origin remaining on valley slopes; field patterns strong and intact.
- Square-cut beech hedgebanks and historic banks on the edge of Exmoor; more species-diverse Devon hedges (e.g. beech, sycamore, ash and gorse) with flower, fern and moss-rich banks on lower slopes.
- Mainly sheep grazing in improved pasture fields and rough grazing on areas of rush pasture on the edges of Exmoor; some horse keeping around settlements (e.g. Stoke Rivers).
- Nature conservation interest provided by patches of gorse, bracken, mire, acid grasslands and remnant heath on upper slopes; ancient semi-natural and broadleaved woodlands; and areas of species-rich meadow on steep valley sides and rush pasture fringing streams.
- Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hillforts in commanding positions above valleys; also ancient settlement remains that lend strong time-depth.
- Legacy of past industrial features such as stone bridges, mills, quarries and dismantled railways.
- Clustered hamlets and villages at road crossings and bridging points; often centred on a square-towered church; farmsteads scattered throughout, nestled in sheltered dips.
- Some larger settlements including linear housing spread outside their historic cores (e.g. Brayford and North Molton).
- Strong local vernacular of sandstone buildings with slate roofs and red brick detailing, with some cream cob/ render cottages, often thatched.
Special qualities and features
- Distinctive, unspoilt, and very exposed skylines below the Exmoor moorland rim and abutting the National Park.
- High scenic quality and key role as part of the setting of Exmoor National Park.
- Outstanding views across North Devon, both westwards to the coast and southwards into the heart of Devon.
- Sense of isolation, tranquillity and remoteness, enhanced by natural qualities of the rivers and valley woodlands – one of the most tranquil landscapes in Devon, with dark night skies.
- Moorland influence in vegetation and rich, varied wildlife habitats including part of the wider South Exmoor SSSI and Exmoor Heaths SAC.
- Many SMs including prominent Bronze Age barrows on Bampfylde Hill, Berry Hill and the summits of Bratton Down; and Iron Age hillforts including Smythapark and Castle Roborough.
- Grade II* registered Regency Arlington Court with 19th century parkland estate including historic wood pasture and parkland designated SSSI for its rich lichen and invertebrate communities.
- Picturesque villages with traditional buildings linked by narrow winding lanes crossing historic stone bridges; many listed buildings and a Conservation Area at Molland.
Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:
Past and Current
- Past planting of coniferous shelterbelts and plantations forming conspicuous features on higher ground, on valley sides and associated with Wistlandpound Reservoir.
- Decline in woodland management including coppicing, deer damage and a spread of invasive species affecting the appearance and biodiversity of the landscape’s woodlands.
- Loss of traditional orchards along riversides.
- Past hedgerow removal and replacement with post-and-wire fencing, affecting the integrity of field patterns.
- Lack of hedgerow management (laying and coppicing) leading to grown out sections of beech, now susceptible to wind throw and storm damage.
- Conversion of former areas of moorland to pasture, beginning in the late 18th century and intensifying after the Second World War.
- Recent under-grazing on land on moorland edges ands steep valley sides, leading to a spread of gorse and bracken.
- Suburbanising influence of pony paddocks on edges of settlements (e.g. Stoke Rivers).
- Prominent telecommunications mast on Bratton Down.
- 20th century expansion of Bratton Fleming and Brayford in a linear form along roads, with cream houses and bungalows standing out in the landscape.
- Growing demand for facilities such as caravan parks, holiday accommodation and visitor attractions – many as farm diversification enterprises.
- Recreation pressures and growing traffic levels on rural roads, particularly at holiday time.
- Heavy farm traffic leading to vehicular damage to roadside hedges and woodland; subsequent removal of vegetation by highways authority changing the character of lanes.
- Peace and tranquillity interrupted by main roads in some valleys – particularly the A399 alongside the River Bray.
- Spread of Phytopthora resulting in felling of rhododendron and larch.
- Uncertain future for the agricultural economy – levels of future agri-environment support, food production demands and market prices for farmed products unknown.
- Potential increase in the area of extensively managed pasture.
- Changes in land use due to changes in climate and markets e.g. new bio-energy crops.
- Potential loss of or change in oak- and beech-dominated valley woodlands due to spread of Phytophthora or other pests and diseases linked to changing climate, intolerance of water level extremes and more frequent storm events.
- Longer growing season and faster growth of bracken, gorse and secondary woodland resulting in a decrease in remaining areas of heathland and rush pasture.
- Changes in precipitation patterns leading to drying-out of wetlands and seasonal flooding.
- Development pressure within the area and along the main A399 corridor, particularly due to the attractiveness of the area as a place to live.
- Potential need for further water supply reservoirs in due to climate change and population increase in nearby settlements such as Barnstaple.
- Potential increase in the area of coniferous plantation and woodland planted to filter water, minimise downstream flooding, store carbon and provide low carbon fuel).
- 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; potential future hydro-power schemes.
To protect the landscape’s role as a setting to Exmoor National Park, strengthening its special qualities and features and conserving its open skylines. Field patterns are reinforced through the restoration and management of distinctive beech hedgebanks. Distinctive hilltop tree clumps and valley-side woodlands are managed and wetlands are expanded to help prevent downstream flooding and protect water quality. Opportunities are sought to restore conifer plantations to broadleaved and heathland habitats. 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 valley settlements and their industrial heritage is enhanced whilst providing recreational spaces in less prominent locations.
- Protect the distinctive, unspoilt, and exposed skylines below the Exmoor moorland rim.
- Protect the landscape’s role as a setting to Exmoor National Park.
- Protect the area’s outstanding views across North Devon.
- Protect the landscape’s tranquillity and remoteness with a strong historic sense of place.
- Protect and appropriately manage the rich cultural heritage of the area’s hilltops, such as Bronze Age barrows, Iron Age hillforts and ancient settlement remains, including through livestock grazing at appropriate levels and recreation management.
- Protect the character and setting and wildlife interest of the Grade II* Listed Arlington Court, ensuring any new development does not encroach into the historic landscape or views to it, and that the parkland trees and their associated biodiversity are conserved through extensive management of the park grasslands and retention of old trees and new plantings.
- Protect the sparse settlement pattern of clustered hamlets, villages and farmsteads, preventing 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, utilising the same styles and materials in new development wherever possible (whilst seeking to incorporate sustainable design).
- Protect and restore historic features within the valleys, particularly those relating to the rivers’ industrial heritage such as mills, dismantled railways and bridges.
- Protect the landscape’s network of quiet lanes enclosed by woodland and species-rich hedgebanks, resisting unsympathetic highways improvements or signage.
- Protect and repair characteristic built features such as stone hump-backed bridges.
- Protect the area’s dark night skies.
- Manage conifer plantations for sustainable timber production, recreation and wildlife, creating new green links to surrounding semi-natural habitats; restore planted ancient woodland sites to semi-natural woodland.
- Manage and enhance the valleys’ semi-natural woodlands through traditional techniques including coppicing grazing to promote natural regeneration and species diversity of ground flora; explore opportunities for utilisation of coppice residues as a low-carbon fuel source.
- Manage the landscape’s distinctive beech hedges on higher ground to strengthen the strong square field pattern; respect traditional methods and styles of 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 rush pasture through a continuation of livestock grazing at appropriate levels, along with a programme of scrub removal.
- Within the valleys, manage and extend species-rich meadows and floodplain grasslands through appropriate grazing and traditional land management regimes – both to enhance their wildlife value and functions in flood prevention.
- Plan for long-term restoration of the more prominent conifer plantations and shelterbelts to open habitats on maturity/ felling including re-creation of heathland and rush pasture.
- Create, extend and link woodland and wetland habitats to enhance the water storage capacity of the landscape, increase biodiversity, reduce soil erosion, agricultural run-off and downstream flooding and improve water quality.
- Plan to encourage the natural regeneration of woodland
- Minimise soil erosion and reduce diffuse pollution by replanting of former hedgelines, particularly along slopes to minimise soil erosion and reduce diffuse pollution.
- Restore and manage areas of relict traditional orchards and explore opportunities to create of new ones, including community orchards to promote local food and drink production.
- Plan for the potential development of small scale hydro schemes as a valuable source of renewable energy on suitable sites (both in ecological and landscape terms).