This landscape of elevated coastal plateau and dramatic coastal scenery has a varied, indented profile reflecting the alternating bands of Meadfoot Beds and harder rocks such as limestone, the latter forming the headlands such as at Sharkham Point and Berry Head. Between the headlands are coves and sandy bays such as St Mary’s Bay. The Daymark Tower, built in 1864 at the entrance to the Dart Estuary, is also a key landmark. The coastal plateau is open and exposed with a gently rolling appearance except at Berry Head where it becomes a flat topped promontory. There is little tree cover or settlement on the plateau except in the north where the town of Brixham and associated tourism development have encroached. Fields have been enlarged, reinforcing the exposure of the plateau, in sharp contrast to the greater shelter within the incised combe valleys and coves which has enabled the planting of pine or exotic plant species at Coleton Fishacre Gardens. Along much of the coast above the cliffs is an area of coastal grassland, scrub and heath with open access.
This area comprises a small elevated coastal plateau dissected by coastal combes which stretches from the mouth of the Dart Estuary in the south to Berry Head and the urban edge of Brixham in the north. To the east the area is bounded by the sea, while to the west the landscape faces inland, forming the upper slopes of the Dart Estuary, which are incised by tributary streams.
Constituent Landscape Character Types
Constituent LCTs: 1B: Open Coastal Plateau, 4D: Coastal Slopes and Combes, 4H: Cliffs Part of NCA: 151: South Devon
- Elevated land with a rolling topography underlain by Meadfoot Beds with the harder rocks of Beeston grits and limestone forming the headlands and promontories.
- Landscape drained by small streams which create incised coastal combes which drain into the sea.
- Sparse woodland cover on the plateau, with grown-out wind-sculpted hedgerow trees.
- Pine plantations, shelterbelts and woodlands in more sheltered locations including combes e.g. Neathway Wood and The Grove (ancient woodland with some conifer plantation).
- Mixture of regular modern and Parliamentary fields of medium to large scale, with smaller curving fields of medieval origin remaining on valley slopes.
- Nature conservation interest provided by coastal grassland including patches of heathland, gorse, bracken and scrub; ancient semi-natural and broadleaved woodlands; and mixed farming systems supporting farm birds and weed communities.
- Historic parkland with notable veteran trees which make a distinctive contribution to landscape pattern.
- Limited settlement – village of Hillhead located at road crossing on plateau, and dispersed farmsteads with urban influences closer to Brixham where development has encroached onto the plateau.
- Narrow historic lanes connecting farms and becoming farm tracks towards the coast, resulting in much of the area being inaccessible by car.
- Strong overarching perceptions of tranquillity and remoteness in many areas, particularly in south.
Special Qualities and Features:
High scenic quality reflected in the inclusion of most of the area in the South Devon AONB.
- Outstanding views down the coast – along sweeping bays and dramatic cliffs to distinctive headlands.
- Sense of isolation, tranquillity and remoteness, enhanced by natural qualities of the coast.
- Varied wildlife habitats including the extensive Berry Head SSSI and SAC, valued for its limestone grassland and cliffs which are home to large colonies of breeding seabirds and greater horseshoe bats; other SSSI and CWS designations flank the coast throughout the area.
- Mixed farming systems supporting important arable plants and cirl bunting.
- Partly within the English Riviera European Geopark and WHS, designated for its geological diversity and including numerous coastal geological SSSI and GCR sites, especially between Berry Head and Sharkham Point.
- Lupton Park and Coleton Fishacre both Grade II* Registered Park and Gardens, the former notable for its parkland, veteran trees and ancient semi-natural woodland, and the latter for its exotic plants.
- Ancient woodland at The Grove.
- Historic man-made features associated with the sea including the Daymark Tower overlooking the Dart Estuary and lighthouses and fort and battery on Berry Head.
- Area valued for its recreation opportunities in close proximity to conurbations – Berry Head is Country Park and NNR and South West Coast Path extends along the cliff top.
- Tranquillity and dark night skies in the south of the area.
Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:
Past and Current
- Past loss of coastal heathland as a result of poor management or enclosure for agricultural use; and under-grazing on cliff tops and steep valley sides, leading to a spread of scrub.
- Past agricultural changes reducing habitat for farmland birds and arable plants.
- Loss of hedgerows from the open coastal plateau resulting in large scale, open character.
- Small-scale landscape impacts from tourism and recreation, such as litter, unauthorised camping, and traffic on narrow lanes particularly around Berry Head.
- Growing demand for facilities such as caravan parks, holiday accommodation and visitor attractions.
- Peace and tranquillity interrupted by high volumes of visitors in summer months.
- Uncertainty over future funding of agricultural grants and subsidies, potentially affecting: farm viability and management of landscape features such as hedgerows; habitat management and coastal grassland restoration schemes; and the continuation of mixed farming.
- Changes in seasonal weather patterns and the introduction of new species, pests and diseases due to climate change, potentially affecting agriculture and habitats such as woodland and heath.
- Increased demand for communications masts on higher ground as well as for domestic and community-scale solar panels and small wind turbines, with cumulative impacts on landscape.
- Growth in renewable energy sources, including biomass crops and offshore and onshore wind farms, which potentially have a landscape impact.
- Higher sea level and storm frequency as a result of climate change leading to increased coastal erosion.
- Further growth in popularity of the area for recreation and tourism, resulting in pressure for new recreational development, infrastructure and signage particularly in exposed locations, in turn affecting openness and tranquillity.
- Future growth of Brixham further intruding into the coastal plateau landscape.
- Increasing demand for tidal energy from estuaries in response to government targets, potentially affecting this area around the Dart estuary mouth.
To protect the area’s outstanding coastal scenery including the openness and horizontal emphasis of the coastal plateau and views across the Dart estuary and along the coast. Ancient and semi-natural woodlands are well managed and historic man-made features associated with the sea and their settings are protected. Local communities are involved in planning for future landscape change as a result of sea level rise and changes in coastal erosion. New development is integrated into its landscape setting and the area’s popularity as a tourist destination is managed to provide further sustainable recreational opportunities whilst ensuring landscape character is managed and strengthened. The area’s outstanding wildlife interests are conserved including coastal habitats and wildlife associated with farmland.
- Protect the open and largely undeveloped character of the headlands, avoiding the siting of new development immediately above or along the coastline, which is otherwise pristine.
- Protect the open emptiness of the coastal plateau and the strong horizontal emphasis of these areas, avoiding the location of new development and vertical structures on prominent skylines which may compete with historic landmarks.
- Protect the character of the landscape’s expansive sea views.
- Protect the landscape’s wild and highly tranquil qualities by promoting sustainable tourism and recreation which benefits the local economy throughout the year.
- Protect the landscape’s network of winding rural lanes and tracks, resisting unsympathetic highway improvements (e.g. hedgerow/woodland cutting) or signage; promote sustainable transport options to reduce traffic levels during busy holiday periods.
- Manage the landscape’s valued ancient woodlands, controlling alien species and considering new planting with species of greater resilience to climate change; revive traditional woodland management (including coppicing) and promote wood as a sustainable energy source for local communities.
- Manage and protect the landscape’s network of hedgerows and characteristic dwarf or windswept hedgerow trees, replanting ageing or diseased specimens to ensure the future survival of these characteristic features and to provide flight lines and foraging for bats.
- Manage nationally important coastal habitats, including coastal heath and maritime grassland, by supporting a continuation of extensive grazing at appropriate levels.
- Manage farmland to provide habitat for cirl bunting and arable plants by supporting wildlife friendly mixed farming systems.
- Plan for the impacts of climate change on the coastline, allowing natural processes to take place whilst considering how habitats and the South West Coast Path can be expanded or relocated to account for coastal squeeze.
- Plan future urban growth adjacent to this area to limit visual impact and seek ways to reduce current night light spill into this landscape particularly in the north.