National Character Area 93

High Leicestershire - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Summary

High Leicestershire National Character Area (NCA) rises out of the clay of the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Vales on the western and southern sides and above the lowland plains of the Soar, Wreake and Welland valleys and the Vale of Belvoir. To the north and east the area abuts the Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire Wolds NCA, rising steeply out of the Wreake Valley, but with a more gradual transition towards the Vale of Catmose and Rutland Water towards the east over limestone lowlands. This landscape of broad, rolling ridges and secluded valleys has a quiet, remote and rural character with small villages and scattered farms. The predominantly rural character of the area comprises undulating fields with a mix of pasture on the higher, sloping land and arable farming on the lower, flatter land. Fields are divided by well-established hedgerows, with occasional mature hedgerow trees. A network of narrow country lanes, tracks and footpaths connect across the landscape interspersed by small thickets, copses and woodlands. Extensive views from the higher ground reveal a pattern of small attractive villages, hamlets and farm buildings set within an agricultural landscape, with traditional churches acting as distinctive features of the settlements.

Only a very small percentage of the NCA is classified as ‘urban’: the eastern edge of Leicester (including the suburbs of Thurmaston, Syston and Queniborough) and Uppingham, the only market town in the area, located close to the A47 which cuts horizontally across the middle of the NCA. The A6003 and B6047 provide the major north-south routes.

The area is important for agriculture, with a mix of arable farming in the lowlands and pasture on higher ground. The NCA also hosts important species such as otter, barn owl, yellow wagtail, skylark, lapwing, grey partridge and tree sparrow. The area contains less than a hectare of Rutland Water which has Special Protection Area and Ramsar designation. The reservoir also provides a recreational and biodiversity resource including habitat for birds such as the osprey. There is also an important water resource at Eyebrook Reservoir which has seen a marked increase in its recreational use, especially cycling. Past industries relating to geodiversity in the NCA include quarrying for iron ore at various localities; current industries include quarrying for sand and gravel near the Wreake Valley and for cement at Ketton. Local stones have been used extensively for building in the NCA, mainly Lincolnshire Limestone and the ironstone of the Marlstone Rock Formation.

The historic character of this area is also very important, in particular its ancient woodlands, deserted villages, veteran trees, historic parklands and areas of archaeological interest, including numerous sites of remnant ridge and furrow and the relatively complete large areas of Midland open field systems which are of national significance. There is a strong historic and cultural connection to the keeping and riding of horses and field sports. The long history of countryside management for game has done much to preserve the character of the area.

The NCA is facing significant challenges concerning the protection of its quiet, remote and rural character, as the city of Leicester is developed. At the same time, this provides potential to encourage urban communities to enjoy the quiet recreational opportunities available in the NCA.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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

SEO 1

Protect and appropriately manage the strong visual and historic character of this varied and sparsely settled rural landscape of broad rolling ridges and wide secluded valleys – maintaining the settlement pattern and features of High Leicestershire, in particular its areas and features of archaeological and heritage interest, including the field patterns, ridge and furrow, ancient woodlands, country houses and village churches – to enhance sense of place and history so that the area can be enjoyed by all for its tranquillity.

SEO 2

Sustainably manage the moderately fertile soils, arable crops, livestock, grassland, woodlands, coverts and spinneys that contribute to sense of place while maintaining viable food production, enhancing biodiversity networks and encouraging farmland birds and mammals and rarer arable plants.

SEO 3

Manage and enhance the recreational assets, such as the rights of way network, country parks such as Burrough Hill and waterbodies such as the Eyebrook Reservoir, and improve access to these assets and the open countryside from the city of Leicester and surrounding rural communities, to maintain a sense of place, enhance soil and water quality and have a beneficial effect on people’s health and wellbeing.

SEO 4

Manage, conserve and enhance the woodlands, hedgerows, streams, rivers and field ponds – including the rivers Chater, Gwash and Eye Brook, their tributaries and the Eyebrook Reservoir – to enhance biodiversity and soil quality and improve water quality, flow and availability.