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High Torridge Culm Plateau

This open landscape of pastoral farmland, rough ground and forests has an elemental, empty character, dominated by wet, unenclosed moorland, including Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor in the distance. The colours of the moorland – yellow gorse, purple heather and golden grasses – contrast with the dark green of coniferous plantations and the patchwork of brighter green pastoral fields. The Lew valley has a softer, more enclosed and intimate character, but is not easily accessible. Occasional clustered villages are linked by straight lanes flanked by rush-filled ditches.

  • Context

    dca34-high-torridgeThis area comprises a relatively flat plateau of land, dominated by Culm grassland, coniferous forests and some pastoral agriculture. It is located between the higher land of the Broadbury Ridges to the south and the West Torridge Upland Farmland to the north (beyond the upper reaches of the River Torridge). To the west is a gradual transition into the Upper Tamar Tributary Valleys and the Western Culm Plateau. To the east (beyond the River Okement) is the High Taw Farmland.

  • Constituent Landscape Character Types

    Constituent LCTs: 1F: Farmed Lowland Moorland and Culm Grassland, 3C: Sparsely Settled Farmed Valley Floors.
    Part of NCA: 149: The Culm

  • Distinctive Characteristics

    • Underlying Culm Measures geology of siltstones, sandstones and mudstones, but with localised outcrops of volcanic lava.
    • Gently undulating plateau topography, with numerous small streams – often rising at springs or bogs – flowing through shallow valleys.
    • Lew Valley (south of Hatherleigh) more wooded, with the river Lew winding across a wider floodplain.
    • Extensive coniferous forests planted on areas of former grassland and heath; much smaller, linear deciduous woodlands alongside streams and occasionally along lanes.
    • Poorly-drained, low quality soils that limit agricultural use to improved grazing, usually on valley sides and around the edges of the area; extensive tracts in the centre of the area that remain unimproved.
    • Field boundaries generally regular, indicating relatively late enclosure from moorland and common; fields generally edged with square-cut low beech hedgebanks with few hedgerow trees.
    • Extensive areas of the rush pasture, fen meadow, grassland, heathland and mire communities which together comprise Culm grassland, supporting flowers, grasses, butterflies and ground-nesting birds.
    • Individual and clustered prehistoric bowl-barrows that add time-depth to the landscape.
    • Scattered farms (often down long access tracks) and occasional clustered historic villages.
    • Roads generally straight, often flanked by rush-dominated roadside ditches; A3072 runs east-west across the area; characteristic white wooden finger posts
    • Long views dominated by Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor and a sense of openness.


  • Special Qualities and Features:

    • Popular viewpoint on Hatherleigh Moor looking southwards across to Dartmoor.
    • Sense of remoteness and wildness, especially in areas of open grassland.
    • Pockets of high tranquillity away from the A3072 and villages; dark night skies throughout the area.
    • Extensive areas that are nationally or internationally designated for their Culm grassland habitats, including Hollow Moor and Odham Moor SSSI and SAC, one of the largest continuous areas of species-rich unimproved Culm grassland in Devon.
    • Hannborough Quarry geological SSSI – a rare example of an exposed outcrop of volcanic lava.
    • Occasional ancient semi-natural woodlands, including Rutleigh Woods in the Lew valley.
    • Prehistoric barrows designated SMs, including a barrow cemetery at Sandymoor Cross.
    • Medieval strip field system and associated hedgebanks around Black Torrington.
    • Conservation Area covering the historic core of Hatherleigh and historic buildings throughout the area.
    • Plantations with public access and visitor facilities; numerous recreational fishing lakes.
    • Cycle route following disused railway line through Whiteleigh Plantation and Tarka Trail recreational route crossing the eastern side of the area.

Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:

  • Past and Current

    • Coniferous plantations on heathland and grassland areas leading to a loss of Culm grassland habitat and changing the character and appearance of the landscape.
    • Past enclosure and drainage of Culm grasslands for agricultural use, fragmenting Culm grasslands.
    • Inconsistent and/or inappropriate grazing patterns on remaining areas of Culm grassland, resulting in under-grazed areas scrubbing-up, whilst over-grazed areas become reduced to a uniform grass sward.
    • Localised appearance of neglect as a result of ongoing decline in the agricultural economy – for example loss and gappiness of hedgerows, derelict farm buildings and general farm ‘clutter’.
    • Equine land uses leading to subdivision of fields by fencing.
    • Tourism related farm diversification schemes (e.g. fishing lakes; garden centre) introducing new elements into the landscape.

  • Future

    • Uncertainty over future agri-environment funding, potentially affecting viability of farming on ‘marginal’ land such as Culm grasslands and moors, and further neglect of features such as hedgerows.
    • Longer growing seasons and increased periods of drought (as a result of climate change) potentially affecting Culm grasslands and wetland habitats.
    • Potential increased woodland planting in upland areas to improve water filtration/ quality/ storage and carbon sequestration.
    • Continued demand for renewable energy schemes, particularly wind turbines on high ground.


  • Overall Strategy:

    To protect the landscape’s traditional farming systems which are integral to the survival of rare Culm grassland habitats. Open ridgelines are kept free of development and characteristic landscape features (such as white wooden finger posts) are retained. Opportunities are sought for sustainable recreation in the area. Coniferous plantations are well managed, and their existing and future potential to contribute to native grassland habitats is explored.


  • Protect

    • Protect farming and land management traditions, continuing to support local farmers to graze the Culm grasslands and lowland moors as an integral part of their faming systems.
    • Protect the existing sparse settlement pattern and ensure that development associated with larger settlements (e.g. Hatherleigh) does not affect the character of the area.
    • Protect the open views and undeveloped character of the area, having regard to its high skylines and cross-boundary visibility.

  • Manage

    • Manage areas of Culm grassland (including wet pasture, heath, grassland and scrub habitats) through locally-appropriate grazing and burning regimes whilst protecting their high wildlife importance.
    • Manage hedgerows, especially where they have been gapped up with fencing; promote planting of locally-distinctive beech in hedgerows.
    • Manage roadside rush-dominated drainage ditches and verges.
    • Manage existing plantations for sustainable timber production and wildlife interest, creating new green links to surrounding semi-natural habitats; explore their use as recreational spaces away from more sensitive surrounding habitats.
    • Manage archaeological sites, introducing low-key interpretation where appropriate.

  • Plan

    • Plan for the expansion of fragmented Culm grassland sites to create an intact green network where underlying geology and soil conditions allow.
    • Plan to re-create moorland habitats on plantation sites when conifers reach maturity and felling.
    • Plan to re-open disused railway lines as recreational routes.
    • Plan to explore opportunities to improve footpath access to river valleys.