National Character Area 62

Cheshire Sandstone 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

Prominent sandstone ridge

Justification for selection:

  • The prominent sandstone ridge with outcrops and bluffs over 100 m high comprising Triassic sandstone and conglomerate, exemplified by Beeston Crag and Raw Head geological SSSI, provides expansive views.
  • In contrast to the surrounding plain, the ridge provides a locally rare sight of solid rock, evoking a sense of place and providing important sites for education and scientific research.
  • Outcrops of sandstone are the source of local building stone and historically, copper was mined in the Bickerton Hills.
  • The sandstones erode to form sandy, gravelly, free-draining soils that support heathland and woodland.

Strong mosaic of broadleaved mixed woodland.

Justification for selection:

  • A strong mosaic of broadleaved mixed woodland with ancient woodland contributes to a sense of place and tranquillity, particularly around the areas of Frodsham and Kelsall in the north, Delamere in the centre and the Peckforton Woods in the south, with blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland such as at Alvanley Cliff Wood, Warburton’s Wood and Well Wood SSSI.
  • The Mersey Forest is planting new community woodlands, strengthening the wooded character of the NCA and contributing to the recreational and experiential qualities of the area.
  • Some post-medieval conifer plantations and pines are common in the woods, plantations and along hedgerows and roadsides.
  • Large blocks of commercially managed conifers occur on gravelly soils to the south-east.

A regular pattern of hedgerows and walled field boundaries.

Justification for selection:

  • A regular pattern of hedged fields, with scattered mature hedgerow trees and sunken lanes.
  • Hedgerows give way to drystone walls on the ridge and there are examples of traditional Cheshire-style painted iron railings with curved tops throughout the area. Mainly pastoral on higher ground with some areas of arable.
  • A regular pattern of enclosure with straight boundaries dates predominantly from reorganisation in the 18th and19th centuries but this is set within a broad framework inherited from earlier phases of enclosure including some ancient irregular fields.

Dispersed livestock farms on steeper slopes with arable farming predominating lower down.

Justification for selection:

  • Low density dispersed livestock farms with some dairy.
  • Arable use on the less-steep, lower slopes.
  • Permanent pastures of poor quality extend over the ridge. Gently undulating, elevated areas occur to the east of the sandstone, with thin and infertile soils.

Meres, mosses and field ponds.

Justification for selection:

  • Meres and mosses occur at the lower elevations and extend into the surrounding NCA. Collectively, they comprise the largest group of lowland lakes in England and are known as the West Midlands Meres and Mosses- designated SSSI, SAC and Ramsar sites for their internationally important assemblages of flora and fauna, and deposits of peat.
  • There is a high density of infield ponds, a characteristic shared with the neighbouring NCA that owes its existence to both glacial activity and the historic extraction of marl as an agricultural soil improver.

Rivers, streams and canals

Justification for selection:

  • The NCA is drained by the rivers Gowy and Weaver that rise in the Peckforton Hills which are a local The rivers contribute to the Weaver/Gowy catchment that supplies water for public, industrial and agricultural uses.
  • The Shropshire Union Canal crosses east-west. Once an important trade route, the canal is now a recreational asset.
  • The River Weaver has been straightened (canalised) in places to improve navigation (the Weaver Navigation Canal), leaving the original line of the river as a quiet backwater that now hosts valuable habitats.

Castles, follies and the remains of iron-age forts.

Justification for selection:

  • Historic features punctuate the These include castles such as Peckforton, Beeston and Maiden Castle, the remains of early iron- age hill forts, burial mounds and ring ditches.
  • Iron-age hill forts were connected by a trackway following the higher land that now forms a long-distance footpath, the Sandstone Trail.

Dispersed settlement pattern – buildings built of distinctive brick and local building stone with some timber-framed.

Justification for selection:

  • Basic settlement pattern of dispersed farmsteads, hamlets and small villages dating predominantly from the medieval period.
  • Red brick and plain clay tiles or Welsh slate are the dominant building materials for farmhouses and farm buildings.
  • Farmhouses and cottages are often timber-framed.
  • Hedgerows give way to drystone walls of red sandstone, particularly on the ridge, where the geology has been exploited.

Rights-of-way network that links the population centres with rural areas, offering relative tranquillity.

Justification for selection:

  • The Shropshire Union Canal was once an important trade route linking Birmingham and the Black Country with the Mersey and is now a popular recreational resource for pleasure craft and walkers along the towpath.
  • The Sandstone Trail – a long-distance footpath along the top of the ridge, stretching for 55 km and offering elevated views across and out of the NCA.
  • The Weaver Navigation Canal was built for the transportation of salt from the mines in Cheshire and is now used widely by pleasure craft.
  • Route 70 of the National Cycle Network also crosses the area.

Landscape opportunities

  • Manage core nature conservation sites such as SAC, Ramsar sites, SSSI, NNRs, LNRs and the Local Sites network, to improve their condition and connectivity within the landscape, to enhance character, and to create a coherent, more resilient habitat network while providing opportunities for volunteering, education and community involvement.
  • Conserve and protect rock outcrops for their contribution to landscape character and educational value in studying past climate and geo- morphological processes, and for their cultural and historical significance.
  • Maintain and buffer the areas of ancient semi-natural woodland by creating and managing transitional scrub communities between woodland and adjoining habitats to benefit biodiversity and landscape connectivity.
  • Increase the diversity of tree species in new plantations to help increase the resilience of woodland to the effects of pests, diseases and climate change.
  • Manage historic parkland and ancient woodland, with veteran trees, throughout the NCA. Encourage successional planting of native mixed species to maintain the structural diversity and strengthen landscape and historic character.
  • Create areas of semi-natural habitats in arable agricultural systems by planting species-rich field margins and providing habitat for farmland birds
  • Conserve existing orchards and encourage the reinstatement of traditional orchards for the benefits to biodiversity and genetic diversity through the cultivation of traditional varieties
  • Conserve and restore drystone boundary walls and appropriately manage and restore traditional hedgerows with typical species, to benefit soil protection, biodiversity and sense of place
  • Protect and restore the wetlands of the meres and mosses for the benefit of landscape character, people, wildlife and the historic environment.
  • Create new or extend wetland landscapes and habitats to increase connectivity and reconnect rivers to their flood plains to benefit water flow and biodiversity
  • Enhance the visual and ecological continuity and character of river corridors and their tributaries through positive management, for example facilitating natural regeneration and where appropriate, planting of riparian trees and vegetation that can provide woody debris and shade for wildlife and people.
  • Protect further loss and degradation of heathland and, where appropriate, create new, thus reducing fragmentation and enhancing the habitat mosaic within the landscape to benefit biodiversity and climate regulation.
  • Conserve, enhance and improve interpretation of historic assets in the wider landscape including above- and below-ground archaeology and historic sites and buildings for their educational, cultural and historic significance
  • Create new or extend public rights of way and permissive access, including circular routes, to improve the connectivity between settlements and core sites, encouraging physical activity and improving health and well-being for all abilities and user-groups
  • Create new access to woodlands as part of woodland management, increasing the opportunities for quiet recreation and to experience tranquillity, while ensuring this does not compromise sensitive habitats and bio-security, and encouraging visitors away from over-popular sites
  • Create new woodland in urban areas, contributing to green infrastructure; planting blocks of trees to screen settlements and roads from the surrounding landscape and planting street trees to provide shade, mitigating the effect of the urban heat island, increasing water infiltration rates and purifying the air.