National Character Area 99

Black Mountains and Golden Valley - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Summary

The Black Mountains and Golden Valley National Character Area (NCA) lies within the south-west corner of Herefordshire. It is one of the most tranquil areas of England, with few settlements and relatively little new development or transport infrastructure. Key challenges for the area include the fragmentation of semi-natural habitats, in particular the fragile upland habitats, and maintaining a sense of remoteness while providing a range of recreational opportunities. A border landscape, it is bounded by the Welsh half of the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons to the west, the Wye Valley and Herefordshire lowlands to the north and east and the River Monnow to the south. There is a strong sense of transition from the wild and remote beauty of the upland plateau to the cultivated intimacy of lowland England.

The highest land on the plateau has extensive upland habitat, much of which falls within the Black Mountains Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Habitats include wet heath and blanket bog with peat deposits and small flushed areas with species such as sedge-butterwort, and deer grass and cross-leaved heath. Designated sites are few; a very small part of Moccas Park, a historic deer park and National Nature Reserve, falls within the NCA, along with eight SSSI. This includes two Geological Conservation Review Sites. Woodlands are an important habitat, covering 13 per cent of the area, with much of the woodland cover predominantly along the ridges to the east.

The Golden Valley has very fertile, high-grade agricultural soils, has been intensively cultivated for centuries and is still very important for commercial agricultural. Here there are extensive areas of arable land, with many low hedgerows where the hedgerow treecover is relatively poor. There are small villages, enlarged in recent years, and some fine older buildings in red sandstone or grey limestone. A small part of Hay-on-Wye lies within the NCA, on the north-western boundary. A book town internationally renowned for its literature festival, it is the largest settlement; other settlements include a number of villages such as Peterchurch and Bredwardine and some small, dispersed hamlets.

From the Golden Valley the landscape begins its transition to the uplands. There are irregular pasture fields, often with overgrown hedgerows and mature hedgerow oaks. Small hamlets, many with low, whitewashed buildings, are interspersed with isolated farmsteads and, as the land continues to rise, hedgerow trees decrease and hedgerows become lower. There are increasingly prominent views of the abrupt moorland edge of the Black Mountains, with the outliers of Mynydd Merddin and Black Hill prominent in the east. Eventually, the field boundaries and improved pasture stop and the landscape changes to wind-swept acid grassland and moorland from which there are panoramic views across much of the Welsh Marches.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

See the Statements of Environmental Opportunity section for more details on the headlines listed below.

SEO 1

Protect, manage and enhance the open, expansive upland habitats and peat deposits of the Black Mountains to ensure that they are healthy and contiguous, protecting the important species and the soil and water resources that they support.

SEO 2

Protect, manage and enhance the upland fringes, the lower slopes and the valleys, with their mosaics of habitats including moorland, heathland, woodland, meadows and pastures, and their field patterns defined by hedgerows, to enhance ecological networks and strengthen the distinctive landscape character of the Black Mountains and Golden Valley.

SEO 3

Protect and manage the rivers Dore and Monnow, their flood plains and their associated watercourses, to maintain high water quality and to enhance their nature conservation interest, to strengthen their contribution to landscape character, to help reduce the potential risk of flooding both within the National Character Area and downstream, and to increase the recreational opportunities they provide for public enjoyment.

SEO 4

Protect, manage and enhance the qualities of tranquillity, wildness and remoteness and the area’s historic and geological assets while providing nature-based recreational opportunities that are accessible to a diverse range of people and encourage sustainable tourism.