National Character Area 118

Bristol, Avon Valleys and Ridges - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


The Bristol, Avon Valleys and Ridges National Character Area (NCA) encompasses the City of Bristol with its historic port, and the surrounding area including the Chew and Yeo valleys, Keynsham, Clevedon, Portishead and parts of the Cotswolds and Mendip Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The area is characterised by alternating ridges and broad valleys, with some steep, wooded slopes and open rolling farmland. It is flanked by the Somerset Levels and Moors and the Mendip Hills to the south, the Cotswolds to the east and the Severn and Avon vales to the west, which largely separates it from the Severn Estuary except for a small stretch of coastline between Clevedon and Portishead. It has a complex geology, being rich in geomorphological features such as the dramatic Avon Gorge, and there are many designated exposures and rich fossil beds. The varied settlement pattern has been influenced by the geology and geomorphology and the expansion of the City of Bristol at its centre. The M5 motorway runs up the western edge and the M4 skirts across the north of Bristol, with Bristol Airport to the south. Although the urban area covering this NCA is significant at over 21 per cent, much of the surrounding rural landscape is farmed.

The area is rich in history, from the evidence of Neolithic activity in the long barrows, through the Roman port at Sea Mills, to the more recent industrial history of mines and mills and the wealth of the port at Bristol. The Chew Valley Lake, which supplies water to Bristol, is designated a Special Protection Area for its internationally important numbers of shoveler ducks and nationally important numbers of gadwall, tufted duck and teal. The Mendip Hills AONB extends into the NCA to include the Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes. Species-rich grasslands and ancient woodlands are a feature of the area, with the ancient woodland and limestone grassland habitats of the Avon Gorge supporting many rare and unique species, including the Bristol whitebeam. The cultural ecosystem services in this NCA provide a strong sense of history. Biodiversity and geodiversity are nationally and internationally important. Food provision, especially dairy farming, is particularly prominent around the Yeo Valley, and water availability, water quality and regulation of water flow are all important ecosystem services in this NCA. Pressure from development and population expansion within this significantly urban area is a serious challenge, particularly in retaining the character of rural villages and avoiding widespread suburbanisation and increased traffic.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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


Conserve and manage the distinction between small rural settlements and the densely urban City of Bristol, the urban fringe transitional zone and the commuter settlements; and ensure that new development is sensitively designed to contribute to settlement character, reduce the impact of the urban fringe and provide well-designed green infrastructure to enhance recreation, biodiversity and water flow regulation.


Protect and manage the strong sense of history and many historical assets ranging from prehistoric barrows to the mining legacy, as well as the Avon Gorge and the many varied geological exposures within this geologically significant landscape, to enable recreation and access, education, tourism and continued enjoyment of the heritage of the area.


Conserve and sustainably manage the gentle clay vales and limestone ridges and downs of the rural agricultural landscape and enhance the network of semi-natural habitats, linking them together to create a coherent and resilient ecological network, enabling ecosystems to adapt both to climate change and for the benefits to landscape, biodiversity, water flow, water quality, soil quality, soil erosion, rural heritage and culture.


Protect and manage the landscape, heritage and biodiversity associated with the Avon River corridor, other river valleys and lakes, planning for a landscape-scale enhancement of wetlands, wet woodland and semi-natural grasslands along river flood plains for the benefits to biodiversity, climate regulation, water quality and flooding mitigation.