National Character Area 29

Howardian Hills - 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 Howardian Hills, a varied and tranquil landscape of ridges, plateaux and valleys are subject to pressures from recreation and tourism. Increased precipitation may cause heavier flows in the Derwent Valley, leading to winter floods, soil erosion, and sedimentation. A third of the NCA is classified as National Landscape, and preserving and enhancing its unique features will remain a key aim.

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)


Countryside Quality Counts data indicates that between 1999 and 2003 there was a continuing loss of permanent and rough grasslands, and a decline in mixed farming.

  • There was a continuing loss of permanent and rough grasslands, and decline in mixed farming between 1999 and 2003. The most extensive Countryside Stewardship agreements in 2003 were for lowland pastures and regeneration of grassland/semi-natural vegetation.
  • Between 2000 and 2009 the total farmed area and total number of farms declined slightly, as did total livestock numbers. Numbers of farms in cereals or livestock increased, while numbers in dairy or pig rearing decreased.
  • There has been an increased demand for new buildings for grain stores and livestock housing, and a feed mill complex has been developed.

Boundary features

  • Within the AONB there has historically been a high uptake of countryside stewardship agreements across whole farms, which has enabled the maintenance or restoration of boundary features – between 1999 and 2003 the uptake of agri-environment grants for boundary restoration (notably hedgerow planting) was equivalent to 5 per cent of the total length.
  • Data at 2011 shows that 305 km of hedgerows within the NCA were managed under environmental stewardship; the figure for stone walls was just over 4 km (these figures are not broken down into proportion maintained or restored).

Coast and rivers

  • Under the Water Framework Directive classification, the ecological potential of the River Derwent and the ecological status of other tributaries in the NCA are both ‘moderate’. The entire NCA lies within Defra’s ‘Yorkshire Derwent’ or ‘Yorkshire Ouse, Nidd and Swale’ Priority Catchments where, reflecting the ‘moderate’ status of water quality, there are identified problems in rivers of diffuse agricultural pollution from phosphates and nitrates from areas under cultivation.
  • The spread of the non-native Himalayan balsam has created erosion and sedimentation problems along the River Derwent. The Derwent is used for boating and angling and this is regulated by Natural England consent on the SSSI.

Historic features

  • In 1918 parkland made up a significant component of the landscape (about 4.2 per cent), 41.6 per cent of which was lost in the period to 1995. 34 per cent of the historic parkland was covered by a Historic Parkland Grant in 2003 and 11 per cent was included in an agri-environment scheme.
  • The ‘Heritage at Risk’ register indicates that there are currently 82 designated monuments at risk in this NCA, and some of the smaller historic designed landscapes are considered to be at risk from agricultural improvement. Some of these historic parklands have an ongoing high standard of maintenance.


  • The Yorkshire and Humber Aggregate Mineral Resources map shows existing limestone quarries in the east of the NCA, for example the active quarry at Wath. In recent years the existing planning permissions to quarry have been reviewed and proposals for oil and gas exploration have been put forward.

Semi-natural habitats

  • Between 1999 and 2003 there was a continuing loss of permanent and rough grasslands. Unimproved limestone grassland is now rare. This may be linked to a decline in livestock numbers across all categories between 2000 and 2009.
  • Little dwarf shrub heath remains, although conifer felling has created some areas for heathland restoration, mostly on rides, as part of a more multi-objective approach to woodland management.

Settlement and development

  • Despite some development in the wider countryside and smaller settlements around Ampleforth, overall the rural character has been maintained. There was a reduction in dark night skies between 1993 and 2000, and increases in intrusion from traffic during the same period (4 per cent increase in disturbance between the 1990s and 2007).
  • There has been continued pressure for upgrading the A64, and for large new dwellings on infill sites within villages.

Trees and woodlands

  • Between 1999 and 2003 the rate of uptake of woodland grant schemes for the management of established woodlands was low, but local evidence suggested that initiatives were enhancing the woodland resource significantly. The English Woodland Grant Scheme has been used to help support significant increases in woodland management and planning and in the restoration of some key ancient woodlands areas, for example at Castle Howard.
  • The area is known for its high levels of active woodland management particularly in relation to the larger estates/woodlands.
  • The threat from pests and diseases remains high, including the potential impact of Phytopthora ramorum on larch and Chalara fraxinea on ash.

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

  • Increased rainfall, especially periods of heavy rainfall, may lead to increased ‘flashiness’ of flows, especially within the Derwent Valley, with potential for more frequent winter flooding, soil erosion and sedimentation of water courses.
  • More frequent summer droughts leading to increase in water demand for crop growth and an increase in drought-resistant species.
  • Warmer winters leading to increased tree growth.
  • Species migration and loss of small or isolated habitats.
  • A requirement for increasing renewable energy generation which could result in onshore wind turbines and increased demand for biomass growth (Defra maps show mostly medium potential for miscanthus and short rotation coppice throughout the area).

Other key drivers

  • 75 per cent of the NCA area is designated as an AONB, and the protection and enhancement of its special qualities will remain a priority.
  • Landscape-scale initiatives will present opportunities for restoration of habitat/ecological networks and mitigation of and adaptation to climate change in support of the objectives of the Natural Environment White Paper, and Biodiversity 2020.
  • There may be further opportunities to work with local geology groups to identify and designate Local Geological Sites.
  • There is likely to be continued demand for resources of limestone found along the north-eastern edge of this area, between Malton and Hovingham.
  • The possible major upgrading of the A64, realignment of overhead lines, telecommunications, review of old mineral permissions and proposals for oil and gas exploration are recurring issues presenting both challenges and opportunities to conserving the special qualities of the area (Howardian Hills AONB Management Plan 2009-2014, Howardian Hills AONB Joint Advisory Committee, 2009) including its highly tranquil character.
  • There is likely to be increased pressure for food production in the future as a result of a national drive for greater self-sufficiency in food, and potential for increased timber and biomass production.6
  • Many of the conifer plantations in the NCA are approaching economic felling age, offering considerable opportunity for restocking to a more native mix, resilient woodland, delivering multiple ecosystem services, and, in appropriate areas, opportunities for heathland restoration.
  • Spread of pests and diseases, which may impact on both native and commercial species of broadleaved and coniferous trees, thereby reducing the capacity/options for timber production and adversely affecting both biodiversity and the landscape.
  • Recently there has been an increase in the incidence of new and existing potentially devastating tree diseases affecting both native semi-natural woodlands and non-native plantation woodlands, and trees in the wider landscape. Ash, oak, larch and Corsican pine, and specimen rhododendron within designed landscapes could be at risk within this NCA.
  • Increased recreational pressures associated with the distinctive historic parkland landscape and new visitor facilities, which attract large numbers of visitors.
  • Recreational development in the wider countryside, including golf courses, caravan sites and car parking.
  • The need for affordable local housing within the AONB, and proposals for large new houses on village in-fill sites.
  • Construction of new multi-purpose farm buildings.
  • Farm diversification into a range of activities, from biofuels, to tourism.