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Middle Tamar Valley


This landscape is dominated by the graceful line of the River Tamar, which flows towards the sea in a series of loops and meanders, sometimes through dramatic rocky gorges. Seen from the river, oak woods and mixed plantations clothe the hillside from ridge to water’s edge, while the woodland canopy creates a rich texture, even in winter. Within the woods, ivy-covered banks, spangled in spring with daffodils, primroses and bluebells enclose twisting lanes that weave up and down the steep slopes. The lanes connect the riverside settlements with their colourful houses, workshops and quays. A sense of history is everywhere, emanating from the old quays, abandoned mine buildings and historic estates.

  • Context

    This is a long, narrow area, following the winding path of the River Tamar in a broadly north-south direction. Its western edge is defined by the county boundary with Cornwall, but in reality the character area continues to include Cornish bank of the river. To the north is a gradual transition to the Upper Tamar Tributary Valleys; to the east the area merges with the Tamar Upland Fringe and the River Tavy Middle Valley. To the south the river channels are within the Lower Tamar and Tavy Valleys.

  • Constituent Landscape Character Types

    Constituent LCTs: 3G: River Valley Slopes and Combes, 3E: Lowland Plains, 1G: Open Inland Plateau
    Part of NCA: 151: South Devon

  • Distinctive Characteristics

    • Steep-sided valley of the river Tamar with dramatic gorge where the river cuts through granite near Gunnislake; less dramatic landforms at the northern and southern ends of the area, where there are rolling hills and wider floodplains.
    • A classic example of a ria, or drowned river valley, which flooded as sea levels rose following the end of the last ice age.
    • River Tamar tidal as far as Morewellham Quay, flowing in a winding course of incised meanders.
    • Inner meanders that support wide floodplains with improved farmland behind earth dykes, with fringing salt-marsh and reed beds.
    • Gorge sides densely wooded, with a mixture of ancient oak and ash woodland (some coppiced for fuel in the past), coniferous plantation and ornamental planting.
    • Limited agriculture on steep valley sides, but improved grassland and pasture on lower-lying area, and pockets of arable land on the higher valley slopes.
    • Tradition of orchards, horticulture and flower growing, notably on Bere Peninsula in south of the area.
    • Field boundaries generally hedged, including locally-distinctive fruiting hedgerow trees, particularly on Bere Peninsula; estate land (such as the Bedford Estate) often has a larger scale field pattern.
    • Semi-natural habitats that include salt marsh, watermeadows and rocky reefs associated with the river; and ancient woodland and rocky outcrops on valley sides.
    • Numerous features associated with the area’s former mining activities and use of river transport, including spoil tips, deserted mining complexes, limekilns, quays, and mine chimneys emerging from the valley-side woodlands.
    • Distinctive river crossings, including medieval bridges (e.g. Greystone Bridge, Horse Bridge and New Bridge) and elegant railway viaducts (e.g. at Calstock).
    • Landscaped estates (particularly in the northern part of the area) associated with Tavistock Abbey and the Bedford estate at Endsleigh, adding to the lush character and scenic qualities of the area and influencing the style of buildings.
    • Settlement limited and focussed on the river, with boats, timber workshops and quays; small hamlets and isolated farms nestling among the hills in the northern part of the area.
    • Houses that are a distinctive combination of stone, slate-hung and pastel-coloured render.
    • Roads and ‘packhorse paths’ that are steep, twisting and narrow, enclosed by high banks.
    • High levels of peace and seclusion, and the sense of a valley ‘locked in time’; the Bere Peninsula has a particular feeling of remoteness and solitude, stemming from its lack of road communications.
    • A dramatic and highly distinctive landscape due to strong landform, land use and river focus.


  • Special Qualities and Features

    • Exceptionally high scenic quality, reflected in AONB designation.
    • High levels of tranquillity and dark skies, particularly in the upper reaches of the area, beyond the influence of Plymouth.
    • Tidal stretch of River Tamar (Morwellham southwards) designated SSSI and within the Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC, with high salinity and rare rocky reefs occurring far inland; area south of Halton Quay also within the Tamar Estuaries Complex SPA, an internationally important bird habitat.
    • Other geological SSSIs at former mine sites (e.g. Devon Great Consuls mine) where unusual species have colonised spoil tips; CWSs including valley-side woodland, valley floor and wetlands.
    • Extensive blocks of ancient woodland on valley sides and occasional surviving orchards, particularly clustered around Sydenham Damerel and on the Bere Peninsula.
    • RIGSs covering geological exposures along the Tamar banks and in former quarries on valley sides.
    • Area part of Devon and Cornwall Mining Landscape WHS, reflecting long history of mining tin, lead, silver lead, copper and arsenic and presence of mine buildings, chimneys, tips and quays used to transport material; some mines e.g. Great Consuls and Gawton are SMs.
    • Morwellham quay restored as an industrial museum and tourist attraction.
    • Several defensive sites overlooking the valley, including  Castle Head Promontory Fort near Dunterton and Iron Age settlement in Dunterue Wood (both SMs); medieval bridges e.g. Horse Bridge also designated SMs.
    • Endsleigh Estate landscaped by Humphrey Repton listed Grade I on Register of Historic Parks and Gardens; extensive parkland with ornamental planting, riverside walks and drives.
    • Conservation Areas at Weir Quay and the historic cores of Bere Alston and Bere Ferrers.
    • Strong artistic associations, Turner’s painting Crossing The Brook (1815) having encouraged development of the area for tourism, day trippers initially coming by paddle steamer, then by train.
    • Tamar Valley railway line continues to provide easy access into the area from Plymouth.
    • Good network of public rights of way, Tamar Valley Discovery Trail, and new Tamar Trails with summer ferries providing additional river crossings.

Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications

  • Past and Current

    • Decline in farming, horticulture and river-based industries with consequent effects on landscape patterns and features.
    • Division of former estates resulting in changes in farm and woodland management.
    • Invasive water-borne weeds such as Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and Giant hogweed changing the species composition of river margin habitats.
    • Scrub growth impacting on mine sites, and lack of repair of abandoned mine buildings leading to collapse of chimneys and other structures.
    • Settlement expansion and unsympathetic buildings diluting the traditional settlement form and character of the area.
    • Increased levels of traffic on narrow lanes and bridges, particularly in the summer months.
    • Light pollution from Plymouth affecting the quality of night skies.
    • Significant loss of orchards, particularly around Sydenham Damerel and Bere Alston.

  • Future

    • Development pressure, particularly given the proximity of the area to Plymouth and its railway connections with the city.
    • Continued expansion of tourism in the area, putting strain on roads and infrastructure.
    • Uncertainly over future levels of agricultural funding potentially affecting traditional grazing patterns on marginal land, watermeadows and grazing marsh.
    • Continued loss of locally-distinctive orchards.
    • Changes in sea levels and salinity affecting estuarine habitats and species, and potentially increasing flood risk, but offering opportunities for habitat creation.
    • Demand for hydro-electric power generation schemes; domestic-scale renewables could also have a cumulative impact on the built fabric of the area.


  • Overall Strategy

    To protect the landscape’s scenic quality as part of the Tamar Valley AONB, as well as its distinctive character, strong sense of place, and natural and cultural heritage features. The rich landscape and habitat diversity of the river channel, floodplain and valley side woodlands is flourishing. The area’s river-transport and internationally-significant mining heritage is protected and understood. Locally-distinctive orchards and horticultural land uses are supported and well-managed. Settlements are thriving and retain their distinctive character.


  • Protect

    • Protect internationally-designated estuarine and wetland habitats associated with the river.
    • Protect intact and well-managed ecological corridors and the balanced mix and age structure of woodlands coupled with low intensity land use.
    • Protect the distinctive character of settlements and ensure that any new development is small in scale and reflects local vernacular styles and materials.
    • Protect the internationally-important mining heritage – including scrub control, interpretation, access, and stabilisation of abandoned buildings – and implement the World Heritage Site Management Plan.
    • Protect current and former quays and encourage use of the river for transport.
    • Protect and encourage locally distinctive fruit trees in hedgerows.
    • Protect and manage remaining orchards.
    • Protect high levels of tranquillity and dark night skies in the northern part of the area, resisting development which would reduce them.

  • Manage

    • Manage valley-side woodlands and encourage planting/ replanting with native broadleaved species.
    • Manage valuable riparian and valley floor semi-natural habitats by encouraging retention of wetland habitats, and controlling invasive plants.
    • Manage grazing land, especially by the river, to prevent invasion by scrub and invasive plants.
    • Manage parks and gardens in private ownership to retain their scenic quality, biodiversity value and historic importance.

  • Plan

    • Plan to re-establish traditional orchards and flower-growing within the area, possibly through community projects; new orchards should fit with the historic landscape character of the area, re-using the earthwork ridges of former orchards where possible.
    • Plan for a long-term programme of structural repairs to built features associated with the area’s mining heritage.
    • Plan to re-create intertidal habitats where possible.
    • Plan for the reversion of coniferous plantation to deciduous woodland at maturity or felling.
    • Plan to reduce levels of light pollution from Plymouth.