National Character Area 4

Cheviots - 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 Cheviots are a remote and windswept plateau characterised by rounded hilltops, and its tranquil and wild landscape is under various pressures, including from recreation and tourism. Additionally, changes in temperature and precipitation may result in the loss of characteristic extensive semi-natural habitats and prehistoric buried archaeology, and may impact the peaty soils and their carbon capacity. Additional pressures on the landscape may come from increased demand for military infrastructure and larger developments in the south of the NCA.

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)


  • Agriculture continues to be dominated by upland sheep farming with some cattle grazing, on large farms (83 per cent are over 100 ha in size). Between 2000 and 2009 the number of sheep fell by 23 per cent.
  • Since 2005 there has been widespread uptake of the Higher Level Environmental Stewardship scheme with particular emphasis on maintaining and restoring moorland habitats through sustainable grazing and heather burning, maintaining and enhancing grassland and woodland habitats, and protecting archaeology.

Boundary features

  • There has been some decline in the management of (stone wall and hedges) over recent years and an increase in the use of post and wire fencing for new boundaries. The estimated boundary length for the JCA is 1,227 km. Only about 2 per cent of this total length was included in Countryside Stewardship agreements between 1999 and 2003. There has been limited uptake of boundary feature management through Environmental Stewardship with only 59 km of hedgerows and 55 km of stone walls included in agreements by 2011.

Coast and rivers

  • The ecological quality of the rivers and burns in The Cheviots NCA continues to be classified as ‘high’ or ‘good’ but there are some issues of diffuse pollution associated with sheep dip and nutrient run-off from fields, and bank erosion by stock.
  • Ongoing work to restore heath and blanket bog should help to slow the passage of rainfall into the rivers, reducing the risk of flooding in downstream NCAs.

Historic features

  • Archaeological features have been threatened in recent decades by wetland drainage, coniferous forestry, bracken, and wildfire but agri-environment schemes and other initiatives are being put into place to alleviate these pressures.
  • Historic farm buildings are generally intact but in common with stone walls and hedges have been largely neglected.
  • Improved animal husbandry has led to many of the traditional stone-built farmsteads incorporating modern steel-framed stock sheds used to over-winter cattle or for lambing in the spring.


  • Historically there has been small-scale stone quarrying across this area but Harden Quarry at Biddlestone is the only operational quarry now and while in the short term this leaves a scar on the landscape, in the longer term the Biodiversity Action Plan in place for its reclamation should ensure sensitive restoration of high biodiversity value habitats.

Semi-natural habitats

  • The area designated as SSSI is significant (11 per cent of the NCA) and 99.5 per cent are now in favourable condition or recovering. This covers a large range of designated features including upland heath and blanket bog, woodlands, hay meadows, riverine habitats and species, and geological features.
  • The 20th century deterioration of upland habitats, especially dry heath and blanket bog, has shown some reversal due to extensive uptake of agri-environment schemes involving reductions in stock numbers and the introduction of sustainable heather burning regimes. Restoration of degraded blanket bog is being addressed in some areas by grip-blocking.

Settlement and development

  • Due to the terrain and isolation of the Cheviots, there has been very little demand for development relating to either housing or industry in this NCA.
  • In recent years there has been a trend for the construction and upgrading of upland tracks for forestry, military and sporting use.
  • Increased usage of footpaths has led to localised erosion of the peaty soils and there is an ongoing programme of works to manage this issue, particularly focussing on stone-flagging stretches of the Pennine Way.
  • Developments in the Otterburn military training area in response to changes in military training requirements have resulted in the construction of new infrastructure and a perceived increase in noise intrusion.
  • Increases in fuel prices, the fact that many properties do not have mains electricity, and the introduction of Government repayment schemes has lead to a steady uptake of renewable energy technologies including micro wind turbines, solar panels and a high head hydro scheme.

Trees and woodlands

  • The uptake of Woodland Grant Scheme agreements for maintaining woodland outside the Forestry Commission estate increased significantly between 1999 and 2003.
  • The increase in woodland cover has continued, primarily of upland oak and ash woodlands on privately owned land, in some cases as habitat creation for black grouse: 130 ha of new broadleaf woodland has been planted on the Lilburn Estate and 200 ha in Upper Coquetdale through the Woodland Grant Scheme.
  • The main Forestry Commission owned conifer blocks have matured and harvesting has occurred in Kidland Forest since 2000.
  • The Forestry Commission granted consent in 2011 for the felling of 567 ha of mainly conifer trees at Threestoneburn Wood to restore open moorland including 232 ha of upland bog, and create 158 ha of new native woodland. Felling began in 2012/13 and will continue over the next decade. 150 ha of conifers were removed from the NCA at Wooler Common with the majority of the site restored to open moorland.

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

Climate change projections suggest increased temperatures with drier summers, wetter winters and more heavy rainfall events. This could result in:

  • Increased ‘flashiness’ and volume of flows within all river catchments with potential for more frequent winter flooding and summer drought in downstream NCAs, exacerbating issues with over-abstraction, diffuse pollution and sedimentation.
  • Summer droughts drying vulnerable soils such as peat and wetland habitats, causing increased risk and severity of wildfires and oxidisation and loss of peat. This combined with heavy rainfall events could lead to significant increases in erosion and run-off.
  • An increase in drought-resistant species and an increase in frequency and severity of pest attacks.
  • Species extinction or migration and loss of small or isolated habitats, and continued decline of biodiversity in fragmented habitats such as woodlands. Conditions may begin to favour invasive non-native species.
  • Wetter weather causing further enhancement of broadleaf woodland to wet woodland and an increase in bracken encroachment with warmer summers.
  • Possible erosion or loss of access to the significant prehistoric buried archaeology from increased winter rainfall, summer drought and encroachment by bracken.
  • Scope for new species to be used for crops and timber, but risk of increase in pests and diseases. These will require modification of silviculture systems to adapt to the changing climate, some commercial species becoming less suitable in the future.

Other key drivers

  • The increased understanding of the importance of upland peat soils for carbon storage may see increased resources being put towards protection and restoration of moorland and blanket bogs. This will also protect water quality from issues related to peat degeneration such as increased colour.
  • The need to maintain or improve water and habitat quality in the Tweed Catchment Rivers SSSI and SAC coupled with implementation of the Water Framework Directive and the Wetland Vision initiative, and combined with the need to manage flooding in downstream areas should improve ecological status of the rivers and water bodies in the area.
  • The Natural Environment White Paper (2011) calls for joined-up efforts across the conservation sector and working at a landscape scale, to establish a coherent and resilient ecological network capable of adapting to environmental change and halting losses in biodiversity. An increased focus on connectivity and resilience of habitats should lead to greater networks of habitats, a more diverse mosaic of vegetation, and larger areas of semi-natural habitat.
  • The Government’s UK Low Carbon Transition Plan (2009), Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement (2013) and the Regional Forestry Strategy for the North East of England (2005) indicate an increased rate of woodland creation over the next 15-20 years, alongside an increase in demand for timber and wood fuel. A requirement for increasing renewable energy generation could result in increased pressure for wind power, hydro power, wood fuel and biomass crops.
  • The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 and roll out of Next Generation Access communications networks may result in increased pressure to install new built structures such as communications masts and lines and new electricity supplies.
  • Defra’s Uplands Policy Review (March 2011) identifies the need to develop strong partnerships with the hill farming and moorland management sector and rural communities to deliver a wide range of public goods and environmental benefits.
  • It is likely that visitor numbers will continue to increase, with potential benefits for the local economy, but putting further pressure on habitats and infrastructure, with increased risks of footpath/bridleway erosion, demand for car parks and signage, damage to vegetation and wildfires. Further opportunities for green tourism and voluntary visitor payback could be explored in order to ensure that increased tourism has a net positive impact on the local environment and economy.
  • Training requirements at Otterburn military training area will continue to change which may require additional infrastructure and impact on.