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High Taw Farmland

high taw farmland landscape picture

Centred on a watershed in the very heart of Devon at the junction of numerous character areas, this typical Devon farmed landscape comprises lush green pastoral farmland, visually dominated by the brooding mass of Dartmoor to the south. Rounded hills covered in hedged fields are separated by secretive valleys where rivers meander along their tree-lined courses. There is a strong perception of time-depth, with the landscape reflecting thousands of years of human history from the Neolithic to the present day. The landscape presents a rich tapestry of medieval features, including churches, villages, farms, field boundaries and narrow lanes with ancient wayside crosses.

  • Context

    dca33-high-tawThis is an extensive area of undulating farmland between Dartmoor and the Taw and Torridge Valleys. The town of Okehampton lies to the south-west of the area. To the south is a narrow band of the Moretonhampstead Moorland Fringes, with Dartmoor beyond.  To the west (beyond the Okemont River) are the Broadbury Ridges and High Torridge Culm Plateau. To the north the area merges with the Torridge Valley, the High Culm Ridges and the Taw Valley; while to the east there is a gradual transition to the Crediton Rolling Farmland, the Yeo, Culm and Exe Lowlands and the Yeo Upland Slopes.

  • Constituent Landscape Character Types

    Constituent LCTs: 1F: Farmed Lowland Moorland and Culm Grassland, 1G: Open Inland Plateaux, 3A: Upper Farmed and Wooded Slopes, 3C: Sparsely Settled Valley Floors, 5A: Inland Elevated Undulating Land
    Part of NCA: 141: The Culm

  • Distinctive Characteristics

    • Underlain by Carboniferous mudstone, siltstone and sandstone rocks, giving rise to loamy brown soils, often shallow and/or poorly drained, with a narrow band of Permian sandstones running east from Sampford Courteney, giving the landscape a ‘Devon Redlands’ influence.
    • Steeply undulating landform forming a complex patterns of rounded hills separated by valleys.
    • Drained by Rivers Okement (a tributary of the Torridge) and Taw flowing northwards across the area through steeper valleys with narrow floodplains.
    • Frequent small and irregularly-shaped blocks of woodland, particularly in the southern part of the area, with copses on damp ground in the north; lines of riparian and hedgerow trees reinforcing the well-treed appearance.
    • Mainly of relatively poor agricultural quality, with pasture and some arable use (particularly around North Tawton) on higher quality land.
    • Scattered traditional orchards, particularly around Stampford Courtenay.
    • Variable field shapes and sizes reflecting different phases of enclosure (e.g. curvilinear medieval boundaries and more regular ‘Barton’ farmsteads); fields divided by hedgebanks, which tend to be lower in the northern part of the area.
    • Pockets of semi-natural habitat, including woodland, watermeadows, wetlands and Culm grassland.
    • Long history of settlement, including evidence of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman and medieval periods.
    • Visible medieval features: square-towered churches that provide focal points and orientation in the landscape, chapels, wayside crosses, Milsom Castle and deserted villages.
    • Widely scattered farms, occasional clustered villages, and the larger market town of North Tawton.
    • Local vernacular tradition of stone and rendered cob for farmhouses and outbuildings, with modern and less locally-distinctive buildings on the edges of larger settlements.
    • A30 through the southern part of the area; elsewhere a network of winding lanes, often enclosed by high hedgebanks with long views where hedgebanks permit.
    • Generally a very limited rights of way network and little common or access land.
    • Visually dominated by the mass of Dartmoor, which forms the southern horizon.


  • Special Qualities and Features:

    • Quiet, timeless, relatively remote rural character, particularly away from the A30 and larger settlements.
    • Visually attractive countryside within views northwards from Dartmoor National Park.
    • Dark night skies in the eastern half of the area, away from Okehampton and the A30.
    • Species-rich unimproved grassland SSSIs at Staddon Moor, Gilmoor and Moorlands (Stampford Courtenay); meandering river channels with waterside trees also offer important wildlife habitats.
    • Ancient semi-natural woodland at Rook Wood and Western Copse near North Tawton; CWSs including streamside woodlands and wetlands; RIGSs covering geological exposures at Zeal Monachorum, Exborne, and along the river Okement at Jacobstowe.
    • Mainly within the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
    • Many SMs, including numerous prehistoric ceremonial sites (barrows and a henge) and a line of Roman forts and camps running near Okehampton, North Tawton and Lapford; the line of the Roman road which linked them is still traceable in the field patterns.
    • Wood House – renowned ‘Arts and Crafts’ style house and grounds by the influential landscape architect Thomas Mawson – listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens
    • Conservation Areas covering the historic cores of North Tawton, Sampford Courtenay, Jacobstowe, Zeal Monachorum, Bow, Coldridge and South Tawton.
    • The Tarka Trail recreational route running north-south through the area.

Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:

  • Past and Current

    • Loss of hedgerows and hedgebanks (particularly in south and east) due to neglect or conversion of pasture to arable; localised poor management of woodland and copses.
    • Loss of orchards in the northern part of the area.
    • Farm diversification (e.g. fisheries and equine businesses), with impacts on landscape character.
    • Invasive water-borne weeds such as Himalayan balsam, knotweed and hogweed taking over native riparian vegetation.
    • Residential developments on the edges of villages and towns which are not in keeping with the traditional built form.
    • Visually-intrusive industrial developments (particularly around North Tawton) that are out of scale with their surroundings.
    • A30, with its associated bridges, cuttings and embankments, highly visible from the southern parts of the area (particularly at night due to light spill), reducing tranquillity.
    • The introduction of intrusive and unsympathetic road signage to discourage speeding motorists.
    • Live applications for large scale wind farms.

  • Future

    • Uncertainty over future changes in agricultural funding and grants, potentially affecting grazing levels and the repair of features such as traditional hedgebanks.
    • Climate change affecting seasonal growth patterns; increasing flood, storm and drought risk; and introducing new pests and diseases.
    • Continued demand for renewable energy schemes, including wind farms, biomass crops and domestic-scale renewables which have a cumulative effect on landscape and vernacular character.


  • Overall Strategy:

    To protect the rural, undeveloped quality of this pastoral area. The area’s archaeological and historic features are protected, and its semi-natural habitats such as watermeadows, woodland and unimproved grassland are well managed and extended. Sustainable agriculture is supported, and traditional features such as hedgebanks are well-maintained. The views to and from Dartmoor National Park are protected and enhanced. Opportunities are sought to minimise the visual impacts of the A30 and existing localised development.  Means of public access into the countryside are enhanced.


  • Protect

    • Protect the existing settlement pattern of scattered farms, small villages and occasional larger settlements; ensure that any new development is sensitively designed and sited to fit with the character of the landscape and existing buildings.
    • Protect archaeological and historic features with suitable management and interpretation if appropriate.
    • Protect the rural, undeveloped quality of the area and views from Dartmoor.
    • Protect the water quality of rivers, and adhere to the Biosphere Reserve Management Plan.
    • Protect the area’s dark night skies, seeking to reduce light pollution from Okehampton and the A30.

  • Manage

    • Manage farmland to retain its traditional pastoral use.
    • Manage hedges and hedgebanks to encourage species diversity, and repair or replant gaps as necessary; encourage planting and maintenance of hedgerow trees.
    • Manage field boundaries and road verges as wildlife corridors, especially in areas where arable agriculture is locally dominant.
    • Manage and retain traditional orchards, and areas of semi-natural habitat such as unimproved grassland and wet pasture to maximise their biodiversity.
    • Manage woodlands and copses (using traditional techniques such as coppicing) to maximise their age structure and species diversity; create links between small woods, copses and field boundaries.
    • Manage invasive water-borne weeds through appropriate methods of control or eradication.
    • Manage in accordance with North Devon Biosphere Reserve guidelines.

  • Plan

    • Plan to improve the rights of way network and increase areas of accessible countryside.
    • Plan to introduce green infrastructure links between Okehampton and its surrounding countryside, to improve connectivity and provide a framework for any future sustainable development of the town.
    • Plan to improve linkages between semi-natural habitats such as woodland and unimproved grassland, including the reinstatement of lost field boundaries.
    • Plan to encourage reversion of conifer plantations to broadleaved woodland or wet heath as appropriate at maturity and felling, avoiding damage to areas of known archaeology; strengthen historic character through replanting of woodlands shown on historic maps.
    • Plan with the highways authority means to reduce signage without jeopardising road safety.