National Character Area 39

Humberhead Levels - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


The Humberhead Levels is a flat, low-lying and large scale agricultural landscape bounded to the west by the low ridge of the Southern Magnesian Limestone and to the east by the Yorkshire Wolds (north of the Humber) and the Northern Lincolnshire Edge with Coversands (south of the Humber). To the north it merges into the slightly undulating landscape of the Vale of York, at the line of the Escrick Moraine, and in the south it merges in to the Trent and Belvoir Vales and Sherwood.

There are several sites of international significance for their biodiversity, designated as Special Protection Areas and/or Special Conservation Areas. These include the lowland peatlands at Thorne and Hatfield Moors, the wetlands along the lower reaches of the River Derwent, and those stretches of the tidal rivers Ouse and Trent that fall within the Humber Estuary designated site. The Derwent and the Humber Estuary are also Ramsar sites. Sandy soils give rise to lowland heathland such as at Skipwith Common, which is an SAC. Thorne and Hatfield Moors, the Lower Derwent valley and Skipwith Common are also all National Nature Reserves. The Isle of Axholme is of international significance for its extensive strip field system, while other areas reveal distinct field and drainage patterns linked to past uses and drainage of the area.

In the central areas the large geometric fields are generally bounded by ditches and the highly productive agricultural land is maintained by pumping to keep the water table down. There are challenges to maintain this level of productivity while also addressing soil quality and erosion, in particular the oxidation of peaty soils. With the lower stretches of several major rivers draining across the area into the Humber Estuary, there are significant flood management issues to address, such as finding ways of extending flood storage and floodplains, which would also open up possibilities for expanding wetland habitats. Other opportunities include working collaboratively to manage water table levels and the network of ditches. Managed realignment schemes along the upper Humber are valuable in increasing the capacity of the estuary to hold flood waters, an issue exacerbated by rising sea levels.

There are important road, rail and water routes linking industrial areas to the east with the hinterland, and towns include Doncaster, Selby and Goole. Despite these busy areas, there are some very remote and tranquil areas, notably at Thorne and Hatfield Moors and the Lower Derwent Valley. The whole area is characterised by long views and big open skies.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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


Safeguard, manage and expand the wetland habitats, including the internationally important lowland raised bogs, the floodplain grazing marsh, reedbeds, wet pastures and watercourses, to protect and enhance biodiversity, contribute to landscape character, address climate change and reduce flood risks.


Manage the agricultural landscape to retain its distinctive character and its productivity, while improving its contribution to biodiversity, the protection of vulnerable soils and paleo-environmental evidence, and the water resource.


Manage the landscape features such as semi-natural habitats and historic field patterns that reveal local variations in landscape character, often arising from underlying soils and history of drainage, to enhance people’s understanding and enjoyment of the landscape.


Protect the open and expansive character of the landscape, its cultural features and sense of remoteness, by ensuring that new development is sensitively located, accommodates green infrastructure, retains long views and makes a positive contribution to biodiversity.