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Plymouth Sound Eastern Plateau

plymouth sounds eastern plateau

This landscape of elevated coastal plateau and dramatic coastal scenery has a varied, indented profile reflecting the alternating bands of soft and hard rocks, the latter forming the headlands and rocky outcrops such as Mew Stone. Between the headlands are coves and sandy bays such as Jennycliff Bay and above are coastal grassland, scrub and heath with open access and dramatic views. In many cases the grain of the rock strata is apparent along the cliffs and notable rock features including wave-cut platforms and raised beaches can be readily appreciated. The coastal plateau is open and exposed having a gently rolling appearance with little tree cover; and fields have often been enlarged reinforcing the exposure of the area. In sharp contrast, the incised combe valleys and coves have a more intimate small scale character, in part due to the woodlands which thrives in these more sheltered environments. This is a well settled landscape with urban influences felt close to the edge of Plymouth as well as in villages such as Heybrook Bay, Wembury and Down Thomas.

  • Context

    dca47-plymouth-soundThis area comprises an elevated coastal plateau dissected by coastal combes, enclosed to the north by the Plymouth suburbs of Plymstock and Turnchapel. It forms the eastern headland of Plymouth Sound, which it overlooks. Its eastern edge is clearly marked by the incised mouth of the Erne estuary, beyond which lie the Bigbury Bay Coastal Plateau and (inland to the north-east) the Plymouth and Modbury Farmlands. To the south there are dramatic coastal cliffs.

  • Constituent Landscape Character Types

    Constituent LCTs: 1B: Open Coastal Plateau, 3G: River Valley Slopes and Combes, 4H: Cliffs
    Part of NCA: 151: South Devon

  • Distinctive Characteristics

    • Elevated land with a rolling topography underlain by Middle Devonian slates with the more resistant Dartmouth Slate with Staddon Grits forming cliffs of varying height and headlands and promontories.
    • Landscape drained by small streams creating valleys that drain into the sea forming coastal combes.
    • Sparsely wooded plateau with grown-out, wind-sculpted hedgerow trees contrasting with greater concentration of woodland in the sheltered combes and close to the mouth of the Erne.
    • Mixture of regular modern and Parliamentary fields of medium to large scale, with smaller fields on valley slopes.
    • Nature conservation interest associated with coastal grassland; patches of gorse, bracken and scrub on steep slopes and cliff tops; ancient semi-natural and broadleaved woodlands in sheltered locations; species rich grasslands on steeper valley sides and in small fields e.g. around Wembury.
    • Defence structures on elevated promontories overlooking Plymouth Sound are distinctive features dating from prehistory through to the Second World War.
    • Historic parkland contributing to landscape pattern along the combe valley west of Wembury.
    • Historic villages with more recent development extending across plateau landscape e.g. Wembury and Heybrook Bay and linear development along roads e.g. Staddiscombe and Wembury Road; elsewhere dispersed pattern of farmsteads.
    • Notable holiday developments including holiday centre at Crownhill Bay and camping/ caravan sites.
    • Narrow historic lanes connecting farms and becoming farm tracks towards the coast resulting in immediate coastal areas being inaccessible by car.
    • Sense of isolation, tranquillity and remoteness in places away from settlement enhanced by natural qualities of the coast.
    • Distinctive views across to Great Mew Stone and across the mouth of the estuary, with boating activity.


  • Special Qualities and Features:

    • High scenic quality reflected in the majority of area designated as part of the South Devon AONB and Heritage Coast.
    • Outstanding views across Plymouth Sound and along the coast and across the Yealm estuary – dramatic cliffs and distinctive headlands and rocky outcrops e.g. Great Mew Stone; steep wooded valley sides above estuary.
    • Notable geomorphological features; raised beaches and wave cut platforms at Wembury are designated RIGS.
    • Varied habitats including the extensive Wembury Point SSSI (valued for diversity of habitats including crevices, pools, rocky overhangs important for sea life and cirl bunting) and Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC; other SSSI and CWS designations associated with neutral grassland and coastal scrub throughout the area; important sea bird colonies on the Great Mew Stone.
    • Ancient woodland on the edge of Plymouth e.g. Jennyscombe Wood and at the mouth of the Erne.
    • SMs include historic man-made features associated with defence of Plymouth Sound including Fort Bovisand, Fort Stanford and anti-aircraft gun sites and watch house battery.
    • Langdon Court Hotel – Grade II Registered Park and Garden notable for its late 17th and early 18th century garden which remains largely unchanged and for its ancient woodland.
    • Area valued for its recreation opportunities in close proximity to conurbations – South West Coast Path extends along the cliff top and Erne-Plym Trail cuts inland connecting Plymstock with the Erne Valley.
    • Large areas of cliff-land and coastal farmland owned by National Trust (Wembury Point area and from Wembury village to the Yealm estuary).

Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:

  • Past and Current

    • Past loss of coastal grassland and 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.
    • Loss of hedgerows from the open coastal plateau resulting in large scale open character.
    • Past agricultural changes reducing habitat for farmland birds and arable plants.
    • Small-scale landscape impacts from tourism and recreation, such as litter, unauthorised camping, and traffic on narrow lanes.
    • Growing demand for facilities such as golf courses (Staddon Heights), caravan parks, holiday accommodation, visitor attractions and equine development (e.g. Marine Centre at Wembury and pony trekking).
    • Peace and tranquillity interrupted by high volumes of visitors in summer months.
    • Development of masts on the plateau in exposed locations e.g. Staddon Fort and Wembury Point.
    • Growth of settlement altering historic settlement pattern and village form.
    • Urban fringe land uses associated with growth of Plymouth, although much concealed by woodland and topography.
    • 20th century defence structures with imposing presence e.g. Staddon Fort and Brownhill Battery
    • Light spill from Plymouth resulting in loss of dark night skies

  • Future

    • Uncertainty over future funding of agricultural grants and subsidies, potentially affecting farm viability and management of landscape features such as hedgerows and the viability of coastal habitat management and extension through grassland reversion projects currently in progress.
    • Changes in seasonal weather patterns and introduction of new species, pests and diseases resulting from climate change, potentially affecting agriculture and habitats such as woodland and coastal grassland.
    • Increased demand for communications masts on higher ground as well as for domestic and community-scale solar panels and small wind turbines, with cumulative impact on landscape.
    • Growth in renewable energy sources, including biomass crops, 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 and potentially disturbing wildlife
    • Future growth of settlements further intruding into the coastal plateau landscape.
    • Increasing demand for tidal energy from estuaries in response to government targets, potentially affecting the area around the Plymouth South and Erne Estuary mouth.
    • Increased recreational use of area, threatening viability of farming systems and grazing of wildlife habitats.


  • Overall Strategty:

    To protect the area’s outstanding coastal scenery including the openness and views across Plymouth Sound and along the coast. Ancient and semi-natural woodlands are well-managed and historic man-made features associated with the sea and defence 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. Existing development is better integrated into the landscape and new development is sensitively located. The area’s popularity as a tourist destination is managed to provide further sustainable recreational opportunities and interpretation of the area’s history and natural heritage whilst ensuring landscape character and wildlife interest is managed and strengthened.


  • Protect

    • Protect the open and largely undeveloped character of the cliffs, avoiding the siting of new development and vertical structures on prominent skylines immediately above or along the coastline.
    • Protect the open emptiness of the coastal plateau and the strong horizontal emphasis of this landscape, avoiding new development that might undermine these qualities.
    • Protect the character of the landscape’s expansive sea views.
    • Protect and appropriately manage the landscape’s archaeological heritage, particularly features associated with defence; provide sensitive interpretation explaining strategic importance of this area.
    • Protect the landscape’s wild and highly tranquil qualities by promoting sustainable tourism and recreation which benefits the local economy throughout the year.
    • Protect and sensitively interpret the coastline’s outstanding geological and geomorphological features and raise awareness of the dynamic nature of the coast.
    • 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; retain green lanes and tracks to ensure significant parts of the coast remain inaccessible.

  • Manage

    • Manage the landscape’s valued ancient woodlands controlling alien species; consider species of greater resilience to climate change in any new planting; revive traditional woodland management (including coppicing), promoting 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.
    • Manage nationally important coastal habitats, including maritime grassland, by supporting a continuation of extensive grazing at appropriate levels and re-linking sites, where appropriate maintaining a balance of mixed farming; restore remnant coastal heath where possible.
    • Continue to provide habitat for farmland birds, including cirl bunting, by supporting wildlife-friendly mixed farming systems.
    • Manage the landscape’s popularity for recreation – encourage the use of existing facilities whilst providing sustainable transport options and green infrastructure links to the surrounding settlements.

  • Plan

    • Plan for climate change impacts on the coastline, allowing natural processes to take place whilst considering how habitats and the South West Coast Path can be further expanded or relocated to take account of coastal squeeze.
    • Plan for the future expansion of Plymouth and other smaller settlements, incorporating new and existing development into the landscape through appropriate siting, woodland planting and development of green infrastructure networks.
    • Plan to reduce light pollution from roads and settlements and increase the darkness of night skies.