National Character Area 90

Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge - Landscape Change

The full NCA Profile landscape change page, is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Monitoring Landscape Change

Drivers for change
The Bedfordshire Greensand is a ridge composed of farmland, parklands and historic architecture, small settlements and patchwork of semi-natural habitats such as lowland heathland and lowland acid grassland habitats which could become prone to bracken invasion due to increasing temperatures possible change in species composition as a consequence of drought. Further expansion of surrounding large villages and towns threatens the intrinsic character of many of the historic settlements.

Monitoring landscape change
This section is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Additional information on landscape change

Landscape change reported in 2014

Recent changes and trends (reported in 2014)


  • There has been a decline in amount of grassland within the NCA although the rate of decline has slowed. In contrast the popularity of owning horses has led to an increase in the number of pony paddocks, especially between Stockgrove and Woburn. There has been a general shift away from cereal production to mixed cropping, with an increase in oilseed rape, although wheat is still the main crop, and from lowland cattle to sheep in the Ivel valley. Horticulture and market gardening in the Ivel Valley and Potton areas has also declined.
  • There has been some localised agricultural intensification and farm amalgamation leading to larger field sizes and hedgerow/field tree removal, particularly in the Ivel Valley, which has blurred the distinction with the adjacent Claylands in this part of the NCA.
  • The Ridge creates a big impact on landscape character, particularly on northern escarpment where it is in stark contrast to woodland/grassland but the dominance of estate management in some areas such as around Southill and Woburn has mitigated this change compared to adjacent areas.
  • There is not much livestock farming on the Ridge. The most numerous livestock are sheep, the numbers of which increased by 10 per cent between the years 2000 and 2009; during the same period, pig farming decreased dramatically here but the numbers of cattle remained stable. The area of uncropped land or land under grass increased during this time.

Boundary features

  • There is evidence of neglect in relation to hedges. Historic field patterns have been neglected and become fragmented through field expansion, particularly in the river valleys. Much hedgerow had been lost historically but, as with the grasslands, this decline has slowed.
  • Between 1999 and 2003, Countryside Stewardship capital agreements for linear features included fencing (11 km), hedge management (11 km), hedge planting and restoration (37 km) and restored boundary protection (14 km). The estimated boundary length for the NCA is approx 1,678 km. Total length of agreements between 1999 and 2003 is equivalent to about 4 per cent of this total.

Coast and rivers

  • There has been work on the banks of the River Ivel at the Riddy near Sandy to alleviate flooding risk. Much straightening and deepening has been carried out where the Rivers Flit, Ouzel and Ivel pass through the area and hard engineering work has taken place in response to flood protection issues around Flitwick, The Ivel and Flit were both navigable in downstream sections – the last few kilometres of the Flit are known as the ‘Ivel Navigation’.
  • Although small, there were mills at Flitwick, Clophill, Shefford, Clifton (outside NCA) and the channels were modified during their construction. There are also modifications at Chicksands, where the Flit runs into and out of a lake.

Historic features

  • Some historic features, including parkland, are showing signs of neglect.
  • There are limited Countryside Stewardship agreements for the management of historical landscapes. In 1918 about 14 per cent of the NCA was historic parkland. By 1995 it is estimated that 29 per cent had been lost. About 51 per cent of the remaining parkland is covered by a Historic Parkland Grant, and about 8 per cent is included within an agri-environmental scheme. It should also be noted that about 79 per cent of historic farm buildings remain unconverted and most are structurally intact. Historic local churches are defining landscape features.


  • In addition to local Greensand stone being quarried and used in construction including walls, bridges, churches and houses, the area has been a centre for the extraction of a number of nationally significant, but rarely occurring Minerals.
  • High quality sands, used for making glass, have been extracted from Leighton Linslade.
  • At Woburn Sands and Clophill, there are deposits of the uncommon fuller’s earth (reworked bentonite clay) which have been used in cleaning wool during the production process and in paper manufacturing.
  • Some former quarries are now being restored to wetland, agricultural, recreational or residential after use.

Semi-natural habitats

  • The most extensive annual Countryside Stewardship agreements in 2003 were for lowland pastures on neutral/acid soils (245 ha) and regeneration of grassland/semi-natural vegetation (53 ha). There were also annual agreements for enhancing existing lowland heath (30 ha).
  • Lowland heathland and lowland acid grassland habitats have been reduced in extent by conifer plantation and neglect leading to scrub invasion. Areas remaining are now relatively small and fragmented. The RSPB, Greensand Trust and Wildlife Trusts are reversing this trend with acid grassland and, to a lesser extent, with heathland.

Settlement and development

  • Development pressure has been concentrated along the urban fringe at the edges of existing settlements both within and outside of the NCA. Encroachment of settlement to the edge of the Greensand Ridge particularly in the southwest around Leighton Linslade and northeast around Sandy has impacted on rural character. Although the rate of development outside the urban and fringe areas is moderate, local development has also impacted on the character of Sandy, Upper Caldecote, Potton, Flitwick, Ampthill and Leighton Buzzard where ribbon development has merged settlements.
  • Leighton-Linslade, within the Ouzel Valley, is the only major urban area of the Ridge. It is based on the sand industry and has strong rail and road links. Flitwick has seen rapid recent growth.
  • The major transport corridors that transect the area have a negative impact on its predominantly quiet, rural character and are a barrier to access.
  • Large areas of the western end of the NCA are within greenbelt land; this is under pressure from development around e.g. the towns of Flitwick and Ampthill.

Trees and woodlands

  • Trees and woodlands including parkland are significant features of the landscape, although there is evidence of some neglect. Of the existing woodlands, approximately one-third (by area) is ancient semi-natural woodland sites that are being maintained, with around half now being covered by a Woodland Grant Scheme. There is a mix of deciduous and conifer plantations and on balance a gradual move towards an increase in broadleaved woodland has taken place.
  • Between 1999 and 2003 an area equivalent to 2 per cent of the 1999 total stock was approved for new planting under a Woodland Grant Scheme agreement (76 ha). There have been over 400 ha of Woodland Grant Scheme agreements for improved access since 1999; however, the area of parkland within a Countryside or Environmental Stewardship agreement for managing historic landscape is limited.
  • The Forest of Marston Vale, one of the 12 Community Forests, is working to increase woodland cover within their boundaries tenfold to 30 per cent by 2031.
  • A ‘Working Woodlands Centre’ is being developed at Maulden Wood to promote business and enterprise associated with woodlands, education and awareness-raising.
  • At Flitwick Moor, a rare example of mire and wet woodland, management continues to control water levels and the encroachment of scrub and to prevent the spread of non-native species such as Himalayan balsam.
  • In other places along the Greensand Ridge, areas of former conifers and scrub are being restored and managed as traditional lowland heath and lowland acid grassland (e.g. at RPSB Sandy Lodge where a historic hill fort has been revealed).

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

  • Climate change may bring more extreme weather which could have an impact on the NCA. There may be drier summers and wetter winters, larger storms or an increase in droughts.
  • Some of the urban areas are susceptible to flooding and are therefore vulnerable to extreme weather resulting from climate change.
  • The agricultural landscape may change as farmers adapt to changes in weather or water availability by producing new crops. A longer growing season may lead to winter cropping and a loss in winter stubble with a consequent loss of food sources for farmland birds.
  • The semi-natural grassland and heathland of the NCA would be susceptible to increasing periods of drought with possible change in species composition as a consequence. In addition warmer winters might make acid grassland and heathland prone to invasion by bracken.
  • The area’s woodlands particularly those on drier soils may be at increasing risk of fire. Species change may occur as trees from southern Europe that are more tolerant of drought conditions, such as the Holm oak, out-compete native trees.
  • In addition climate change may make trees more vulnerable to disease such as Chalara fraxinea (ash dieback). Warmer winters may allow pathogens and their vectors to increase their range.

Other key drivers

  • The ease of accessibility of the area to major commuting routes has led to the expansion of most of the larger villages and towns within and adjacent to the Greensand Ridge, a trend which appears to be continuing and changing the intrinsic character of many of the historic settlements.
  • There are potential visual impacts from the long, open viewpoint on the ridge as considerable development is planned for the surrounding claylands.
  • Future mineral extraction may put pressure on the area’s semi-natural habitats, although there may also be opportunities to restore old sites to habitat.
  • Greater demands on agriculture to produce higher yields could put pressure on the remaining areas of semi-natural grassland and other semi-natural habitats. It may also lead to deterioration in water quality, through the run-off of soil nutrients and increased use of herbicides and pesticides.
  • Tourism and leisure continue to create pressure on Woburn, Shuttleworth, Rushmere, Ampthill, and the Lodge. Further may be caused by the new Center Parcs, due to open in 2014, unless it can be designed and managed to reduce the impact on the surrounding landscape.