National Character Area 90

Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge - Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on the landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA.

Further analysis on ecosytem services for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Ecosytem Services section.

Landscape attributes

A distinctive ridge with a north- west facing scarp slope, shaped by the underlying Greensand geology.

Justification for selection:

  • The dip and scarp landform of the Ridge results from the underlying geology.
  • The stratigraphy provides evidence of the Ridge’s geological history and of the geological history of surrounding NCAs; the strata were originally laid down horizontally but were tilted during the Alpine Orogeny (mountain-building episode). Harder rocks such as those of the Lower Greensand Group have eroded more slowly than the softer, surrounding sediments and thus stand proud from the surrounding Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Claylands NCA.
  • Views across the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Claylands NCA, and to the Chilterns NCA, from the Ridge.
  • Being visible from surrounding lands makes the Ridge a distinctive and dominant feature.

Historic landscapes including the parklands and historic architecture.

Justification for selection:

  • The rich diversity of archaeological and historic features expressed in the landscape contribute to the sense of history and act as important reminders of the area’s past, from bronze-age activity and iron-age hill forts onwards. It has areas of medieval ridge and furrow, Capability Brown designed landscapes, and several country estates.
  • The Greensand has the highest surviving percentage of historic parkland (for example Woburn, Southill, and Haynes) of any National Character Area. These estates have many veteran trees and have also strongly influenced the architecture of individual late 18th- and 19th-century farmsteads and entire villages and towns.
  • In Victorian times a model village was created at Old Warden, by Lord Onslow, with spacious thatched cottages in various architectural styles. Shuttleworth House in the village is of Italianate style. The estate also contains the Swiss Garden. A number of the remaining settlements – Ampthill, for example – contain attractive brick Georgian homes.
  • The Arts and Crafts architecture and designed parklands give the Ridge a timeless feel.
    Woodlands, ancient and modern, characterise the NCA.
  • 4,237 ha (16 per cent) of the NCA is covered by woodland including 1,419 ha (5 per cent of the NCA) of ancient woodland.
  • The Forest of Marston Vale, which is one of 12 Community Forests, covers 2,178 ha (8 per cent) of the NCA. Their vision is to increase woodland cover within their remit tenfold to 30 per cent by 2031.
  • There is commercial timber production here but it is not is a major economic sector due to its poor economics.
  • The wooded ridge line adds to the profile of this NCA and further makes it stand proud of the surrounding Claylands.
  • The Greensand Ridge has important areas of wet woodland.

A patchwork of semi-natural habitats throughout the NCA.

Justification for selection:

  • Lowland heathland, typically heather and wavy hair grass, is usually found on outcrops of Lower Greensand; lowland acid grassland is restricted to well-drained Greensand soils.
  • The acid waters rising from the aquifers support a range of wetland habitats including wet woodland, flood plain grazing marsh and acidic mires. These all have a rich assemblage of specialised species including lower plants and invertebrates.
  • The Ridge is important for many species including, on the heathland, natterjack toad, nightjar, adders and large quantities of pink. The grasslands have fescues and bents, with a range of plants such as tormentil, heath bedstraw, shepherd’s cress and clovers. Bryophytes, rare/scarce macrofungi and lichens can be a special feature. Common blue and small copper butterflies can be abundant.

A rural feel with small settlements and greenbelt.

Justification for selection:

  • The Ridge has a predominantly, quiet, rural character with attractive market towns and villages, often constructed from local vernacular stone, providing popular dormitory settlements for commuters. However, an intimate rural character remains in many areas, adding to its popularity as a place to live.
  • The influence of the estate owners has restricted the size of settlements here. This has in turn controlled the amount of 20th century development. However, the proximity of the area to major communications routes has led to the expansion of settlements around all the towns and most of the villages with a degree of ribbon development and there is pressure resulting from the proximity of transport corridors and hubs.
  • Much of the western end of the Greensand Ridge is greenbelt land but is nevertheless under pressure from development.


Justification for selection:

  • Away from urban areas and transport routes, the Ridge can be tranquil. This peace is a major factor in the enjoyment of, for instance, the Greensand Walk.

Landscape opportunities

  • Conserve and promote the area’s geological heritage including designated sites and vernacular building stone. Continue small-scale quarrying of locally distinctive stone and sand to help maintain and enhance the historic built environment.
  • Historic parklands are significant here ‘ there is a need to maintain veteran and specimen trees to retain the parklands’ character and to protect ridge and furrow and other archaeology including securing improved interpretation opportunities.
  • Protect and enhance woodlands.
  • Protect and appropriately manage priority habitats and plan to link fragmented habitat wherever possible through new habitat creation.
  • Manage development impacts, where possible obtaining improvements to biodiversity, access and greenspace, so that the structure of the area is maintained and the impacts of development on tranquillity and landscape quality in the area are minimised. Plan for multi-user networks of green infrastructure.
  • Work to minimise the effects of light and noise pollution, especially from transport routes, in rural areas.