What is a National Landscape?

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The Howardian Hills National Landscape is a nationally important landscape, recognised in law for its distinctive character and beauty.

National Landscapes are legally designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). On 22 November 2023 AONBs across England and Wales became known as National Landscapes but the formal designation, and the legal status, remain the same. Each National Landscape is a living working landscape with a dedicated team of staff working in partnership with others to conserve and enhance the area.

The name National Landscape reflects the national importance of these areas: the vital contribution they make to protect the nation from the threats of climate change, nature depletion and the wellbeing crisis, whilst also creating greater understanding and awareness for the work that they do.

There are 46 National Landscapes, covering 14% of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They include moorland, farmland, coast, forests, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves, a Geopark and International Dark Sky Reserves. They are the UK’s nearby countryside – 66% of people in England (44 million) live within 30 minutes of a National Landscape.

Native broadleaf woodland with bluebell ground flora in spring

About the Howardian Hills

The physical geography of a landscape: the unique combination of landform, climate and geology shapes which species thrive, which industries grow, and therefore the heritage, language and culture of the individual place. The Howardian Hills is no exception.

The landscape is underlain by a complex limestone bedrock geology. Since prehistoric times the work of climate, natural and human processes have created a distinctive area characterised by soft, rolling hills with a tapestry of arable fields, pasture and woodland. With its far-reaching views and intimate valleys, the Howardian Hills waits to be explored.

Humans have always been drawn to this landscape leaving a remarkable heritage to be discovered. This ranges from Bronze age burial mounds (tumuli), Iron Age dyke systems, medieval castles and monasteries to large country houses with their 18th century designed parklands.

The owners of Castle Howard, Hovingham Hall, Newburgh Priory, Nunnington Hall and Gilling Castle estates have influenced the landscape of the Howardian Hills over many centuries. Attractive and individual villages are dotted throughout the 79 square miles of the Howardian Hills, offering exciting local food, accommodation and an excellent base for exploring.

The Howardian Hills supports a range of wildlife, including calcareous grassland (featuring the rare knapweed broomrape), beautiful woodland flowers in spring, an assemblage of endangered farmland birds (skylark, yellowhammer, and tree sparrow) and the more commonly seen barn owl and brown hare.

Special Qualities of the Howardian Hills

An Unusual Landform

The Howardian Hills has a complex geology, dominated by Jurassic limestone. The structure of the bedrock has resulted in steep ridges and varied soil types. During the last ice-age the deeply incised Kirkham Gorge was formed, which is of great scientific importance.

A Richly Varied Landscape

The landform consists of an intricate network of ridges, hills and valleys. These are clothed with a mosaic of woodland, rolling arable fields, small-scale pasture, fens, hedges and walls, formal parkland and scattered settlements.

A Landscape Of High Visual Quality

The variety of landform and land use produces a contrast in scale, colour, texture and form. The settings of the historic houses, woodlands, the broad sweeping views and the unspoilt farming landscapes and traditional building styles have a special aesthetic appeal.

An Important Wildlife Resource

The River Derwent, which flows through the eastern Howardian Hills, is nationally significant for its unusual geomorphology and outstanding wild plants and animals. Other habitats of national importance include fens and significant remnants of Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland.

A Remarkable Heritage

The Howardian Hills has a concentration of archaeological and historic features, ranging from Iron Age earthworks on prominent hilltops to the castles and monasteries of the medieval period. The numerous grand houses and designed landscapes have a dramatic effect upon the landscape.

Get in touch!

If you are interested in finding out more about the special qualities of the Area, or the work being done to protect and conserve these qualities, please get in touch!

Image Credit: Section 1 – Bluebells in Bulmer Hag woodland, Harry Kingman

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