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West Torridge Upland Farmland

An undulating, agricultural landscape with a strong sense of history and long management. The extensive woodlands, hedgerows and parklands give the area a pastoral character and a verdant, settled quality. Its historic character is enhanced by the stone bridges, linhays, medieval castles, square church towers and prehistoric barrows which are features of the landscape. The lanes are winding and enclosed by colourful flower-rich hedgebanks, but through gaps in the hedgebanks the views from high ground are long and open, stretching away to Dartmoor.

  • Context

    dca63-west-torridgeThis area comprises elevated farmland to the west of the Torridge Valley, and includes the upper, western reaches of the River Torridge. The boundary with the Torridge Valley is defined by changes in landform and vegetation. To the south (beyond the upper reaches of the River Torridge) is the High Torridge Culm Plateau, and to the west and north there is a gradual transition to the more extensive forests and areas of unimproved grassland of the Western Culm Plateau.

  • Constituent Landscape Character Types

    Constituent LCTs: 2D: Moorland Edge Slopes, 3A: Upper farmed and Wooded Valley Slopes, 3C: Sparsely Settled Farmed Valley Floors, 3G: River Valley Slopes and Combes, 5A: Inland Elevated Undulating Land, 5D: Estate Wooded Farmland.
    Part of NCA: 149: The Culm

  • Distinctive Characteristics

    • Underlying Culm measures geology of siltstones, sandstones and mudstones creating a strongly undulating landform; also extensive ball clay deposits around Merton.
    • Numerous small streams (often spring-fed) including the upper reaches of the River Torridge, which have incised shallow valleys.
    • Well-treed, particularly in the southern part of the area where estate planting is an influence; frequent copses, interlinking hedges, small woodlands, occasional in-field veteran parkland trees, and occasional blocks of plantation.
    • A generally pastoral landscape on medium-quality soils, but with areas of arable agriculture on better quality soils.
    • Strong field patterns of medieval and post-medieval origin, generally older and more sinuous around villages and on valley sides; fields often enclosed by species-rich Devon hedges with flower-rich banks.
    • Variety of semi-natural habitats, including species-rich Culm grassland, valley mire, wet woodland and damp meadows associated with tributary valleys and springs.
    • Prehistoric and medieval features that contribute to sense of place and give a long-settled character.
    • Historic features such as linhays (animal shelters), white finger posts at crossroads, and square church towers (e.g. Sheepwash) forming strong landmark features between the rolling hills.
    • Historic parkland estates, particularly in the south of the area.
    • Dispersed historic villages and hamlets clustered on hilltops; scattered farmsteads linked by a network of winding rural roads and steep sunken lanes crossing watercourses on stone bridges.
    • Occasional straighter roads and green lanes across higher ground (often associated with prehistoric barrows) indicating ancient routes across the landscape.
    • Strong local vernacular of whitewash and white/ cream rendered cottages with painted window and door frames and slate roofs; some buildings of exposed local stone with red brick detailing.
    • Mostly a managed, working landscape, but with patches of gorse on higher slopes giving some areas an upland feel (e.g. around Abbots Bickington).
    • Ball clay works at Marsland Moor that locally create an industrial character; much of the area is not accessible by main road, and therefore feels remote and quiet.
    • An open landscape with important vantage points and uninterrupted vistas from higher ground; views across to Dartmoor from the Sheepwash area; and unusual views of tree-tops in surrounding valleys.


  • Special Qualities and Features:

    • Panoramic views across and into the Torridge Valley and distant views of Dartmoor; area also forms a key backdrop to views from a wide area.
    • Generally high levels of tranquillity (locally-reduced by the presence of main roads) and very low levels of light pollution, resulting in starlit skies.
    • SSSIs at Langtree Common Moor (unimproved Culm grassland) and Dunsland Park (outstanding variety of lichens); also numerous grassland, woodland and wetland CWSs.
    • Entire area part of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
    • RIGSs at geological exposures near Shebbear.
    • Extensive ancient semi-natural woodlands, particularly on valley sides in the upper reaches of the River Torridge, where they assume a linear form.
    • Medieval strip field system and associated hedgebanks around Sheepwash.
    • Historic parklands, including Heanton Satchville, Buckland Filleigh and the National-Trust owned Dunsland, with parkland trees providing a rich habitat for lichen, invertebrates and uncommon species of bats.
    • SMs that include several prehistoric barrows, medieval castles at Durpley and Woodford Wood, and a moated site at Grange Farm (Merton).
    • Conservation Areas covering the cores of historic villages such as Merton and Sheepwash.
    • Part of the Tarka Trail recreational route, as well as green lanes and small commons that provide opportunities for recreation.

Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:

  • Past and Current

    • Lack of management (particularly coppicing) of small, privately-owned woodlands and spread of invasive exotic species.
    • Lack of recent planting in parklands to replace over-mature specimen trees.
    • Farm amalgamation and modernisation, with large agricultural buildings often occupying prominent positions (e.g. large dairy enterprises around Sheepwash).
    • Hedgerow removal and widening of farm gateways in arable areas, poor management of hedgerows resulting in reduced wildlife value, loss of stockproofing, and reduced scenic quality.
    • Farm diversification e.g. equine businesses and alpaca farming, changing landscape character.
    • New buildings that are not always sensitively sited or designed.
    • China clay working and landfill on Marland Moor is locally visually-intrusive and introduces an industrial character to this part of the area.
    • Electricity transmission lines running across the centre of the area.

  • Future

    • Uncertainty over levels of future agricultural funding and grants, potentially affecting viability of livestock farming, continued management of marginal areas with high biodiversity value, and management/ repair of agricultural features such as linhays and hedgebanks.
    • Potential change in ownership of parkland estates, affecting their character and management.
    • Climate change affecting growing seasons, weather patterns and storm frequency, potentially affecting farming practices, parkland trees and woodlands.
    • New pests and diseases (such as Phytophthora pathogens) affecting trees and other habitats.
    • Continued demand for renewable energy, including wind farms, solar arrays, bio-energy crops and domestic-scale renewables, with potential cumulative effects on the landscape.
    • Future increase in recreation facilities such as campsites as a result of continued farm diversification.


  • Overall Strategy

    To protect the landscape’s historic character, agricultural traditions and parkland influence. The historic features of the landscape, including parkland, buildings and archaeological sites are protected and well-managed. Sustainable agriculture is supported, and sites with particular biodiversity importance such as Culm grasslands and woodlands are well-managed and linked. The area’s exceptionally dark night skies and its open views are protected.


  • Protect

    • Protect (and restore where appropriate) historic features such as church towers, linhays, finger-posts and bridges.
    • Protect historic field patterns, particularly the preserved strip fields around Sheepwash.
    • Protect local vernacular styles and avoid settlement spread along ridgelines; any new development should respect traditional styles and forms, whilst incorporating sustainable design.
    • Protect important local views and vistas, encouraging the screening of intrusive developments (e.g. farm buildings) with trees where possible.
    • Protect the local winding road network and its associated flower-rich banks, resisting unsympathetic highways improvements or signage.
    • Protect the area’s dark night skies through (for example) resistance to street lighting schemes.

  • Manage

    • Manage semi-natural habitats such as Culm grassland and wet meadows, including through appropriate grazing; encourage farms to manage these ‘marginal’ areas as integral parts of their farming systems.
    • Manage ancient and estate woodlands through traditional techniques such as coppicing and control grazing levels by deer and livestock to encourage longevity and ground flora.
    • Manage the distinctive character of veteran trees and parkland estates, including retention of older trees to form wildlife habitat; pollarding where appropriate; planting of replacement trees; and extensive management of park grasslands to prevent damage to tree root systems through nutrient enrichment and compaction associated with agricultural activities.
    • Manage existing plantations, seeking to enhance their biodiversity value, and explore opportunities for reversion to woodland and grassland habitats on maturity and felling.
    • Manage archaeological sites and their settings, ensuring appropriate levels of grazing and management of visitor pressure; provide interpretation where appropriate.
    • Manage hedgebanks and hedgerows, encouraging locally distinctive species.
    • Manage in accordance with the North Devon Biosphere Reserve guidelines.

  • Plan

    • Plan to improve screening of ball clay works and other intrusive developments.
    • Plan to link and extend semi-natural habitats such as woodland, unimproved grassland and wetlands.
    • Plan to plant replacement parkland trees as many existing specimens are reaching maturity; encourage open-grown trees within the wider countryside.