National Character Area 127

Isle of Wight - 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

A diverse coast with many geological features, cliffs, sandy beaches and south coast ‘chines’ supporting a unique array of dinosaur remains and other fossils of international importance.

Justification for selection:

  • There is a nearly complete exposure of the Cretaceous Period (formed between 126 million and 65 million years ago).
  • To the north of the Island are slumping cliffs, platforms cut in the beaches by fossil seas and more recent features such as estuaries, spits, shingle bars and reefs.
  • On the south of the Island are landscape features such as the Isle of Wight monocline (the huge fold that buckled the rocks from the Needles to St Catherine’s Point) and small scale features such as the ‘chines’ (impressive ravines formed by streams incising through sandstone rocks to the sea shore), cliffs, sea caves and stacks.
  • The dramatic land slipped Gault and Upper Greensand picturesque landscape of the Undercliff (with its own south facing micro climate, scenic beauty and the accolade of being the most populated rotational landslide complex in north-western Europe).
  • There are internationally and nationally important habitats and species, including maritime cliff and slope, coastal and flood plain grazing marsh, lowland heathland, estuaries, saline lagoons, intertidal mudflats, coastal sand dune, intertidal flats and seagrass beds and coastal vegetated shingle, which support internationally important numbers of wintering waterfowl, important breeding gull and tern populations and various rare invertebrates and plants.
  • Internationally important exposures of Lower Greensand and Wealden Series rocks, rich in remains of dinosaurs and other fossils, are found on the cliffs on the south-west and south-east coast of the Island. The Isle of Wight is the most important location in Europe for dinosaur bones and one of the most important places worldwide.
  • The chalk cliffs at Culver and between Compton Bay and the Needles are of national importance for the study of the geological period in which the calcium rich remains of microscopic marine plants were laid down on the floor of a deepening sea.
  • The younger rocks in the north of the Island, also of international importance, are exposed in soft eroding cliffs, such as those at Hamstead and in quarries. These rock exposures and the fossil mammals, plants and insects contained in them, provide an opportunity to understand the environment of the Island some 60-30 million years ago.
  • The clays, sands and silts of the Palaeocene, Eocene and Oligocene periods (formed between 65 million and 30 million years ago) are a feature of the Hamstead Heritage Coast and part of the Tennyson Heritage Coast (Alum Bay to Totland).
  • Other features include the vertical multi-coloured Bracklesham Group sandstone strata at Alum Bay and the fossil rich Wealden Group clays at Brook Bay and Yaverland.

A strong sense of history reflected in a wealth of historical landscape features such as prehistoric burial mounds, former medieval deer parks, and Victorian country houses and parklands.

Justification for selection:

  • There are flint workings dating from Palaeolithic times, while the open downland and heathland date back to the woodland clearance of Neolithic and in particular the bronze-age and iron-age periods.
  • Ceremonial sites such as The Longstone at Mottistone, burial mounds on chalk downland and sandstone hills, and structures such as churches and religious houses, are widespread, along with Roman Villa sites, medieval planned towns, Tudor and Jacobean manors and farmsteads.
  • Enclosure of downland, heathland, open farmland, common and waste took place in a piecemeal fashion over a long period of time, but particularly from the Tudor period into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, giving rise to historic boundary features such as hedgerows, ditches, hedge banks, wood banks, and stone walls and associated field patterns.
  • Many earthworks were used to demarcate boundaries relating to medieval parishes, manors and other land holdings and can still be seen in the landscape today.
  • More recent features and sites are associated with defence such as beacon sites, lighthouses, castles, forts and Second World War structures.
  • Good survival of post-medieval vernacular buildings, including stone manor houses and farmhouses, reflect the Island’s varied geology.
  • A network of highways, byways, paths and tracks many of which are now public rights of way.
  • Industrial archaeology sites include quarries, old salt pans, brickworks through to rocket testing.
  • Designed parkland landscapes and ornamental gardens are associated with grand houses such as Appuldurcombe, Northcourt, Nunwell and the Royal Palace at Osborne House.
  • Overall there is an abundance of Scheduled Monuments.

A wide variety of woodland including broadleaved, copses, large plantations, scrub and hedgerows.

Justification for selection:

  • Limited, wind-swept, scrubby vegetation on the higher downs is combined with grazing and extensive arable cultivation.
  • Woodland cover varies; small copses, relict wood pastures and large plantations characterise the north of the Island, while ancient hanger woodlands and plantations are found in the south. Ancient woodland is also found along the coast. In places large woodland blocks, conifer and broadleaved, form dominant features in the landscape.
  • Several of the Island’s chalk and neutral grasslands and ancient woodlands have been damaged ecologically as a result of conversion to commercial forestry plantations.

Small scattered farmsteads and narrow enclosed winding lanes.

Justification for selection:

  • The majority of the Island is covered by irregularly shaped fields, variable in size from small in the north on the clay to medium and larger on the slopes of the chalk ridge.
  • Small enclosed fields are found in the north of the Island.
  • Hedgerows are the predominant boundary feature throughout the Island with variations in field size and pattern, and ancient species rich hedgerows are widespread.
  • Ancient routeways, many still used today, form part of the habitat mosaic of the Isle of Wight. The routes have been used for centuries and form an important part of the landscape, ecology and history of the Isle of Wight.
  • The routeways provide an extensive network of roads and paths allowing access to some of the most intimate and tranquil parts of the Island.

Rivers and associated wetland habitats.

Justification for selection:

  • The Medina and Yar rivers rise near the south coast and flow northwards to the Solent through deep gaps in the central chalk ridge.
  • The main rivers are the Medina and the Eastern Yar, both rising as chalk springs from the Southern Downs and gaining flow as they cross the Lower Greensand.
  • Public water supply comes from surface and groundwater sources including the three major aquifers which are on the Island and the Rivers Test and Itchen in Hampshire.
  • There are threats to the extent and connectivity of associated wetland habitats of these rivers.
  • South flowing streams arise from the base of the chalk ridge to cut the Island’s distinctive ‘chines’ in the south-west.

Expansive views from open scarp, hill tops and beyond.

Justification for selection:

  • The sea and sky are dominant in many views.
  • High chalk cliffs provide views across to Dorset and Hampshire Coast and South Downs.
  • The elevation of the downs provides panoramic views.

A suite of semi-natural habitats that add to both local landscape character and biodiversity supporting a diverse range of iconic and sometimes rare species.

Justification for selection:

  • A wealth of rich and varied habitat types with a strong maritime link including chalk grassland, neutral meadows, ancient semi-natural broadleaved woodland and relict heathland and acid grassland.
  • Ancient woodland, heathland, unimproved grasslands, marshes and creeks are the Island’s key semi-natural habitats.
  • The Island is also home to a rich variety of important species, some of which are unique to the Island or are thriving due to the buffer provided by the Solent. This includes a number of key species, such as red squirrel, dormouse, Glanville fritillary butterfly, field cow-wheat, early gentian and wood calamint.
  • The warm southerly aspect of many of the chalk grasslands provides conditions that support large populations of nationally uncommon invertebrates such as the Adonis blue butterfly. The Island’s chalk grassland is also a national stronghold for the internationally rare early gentian and supports a wide range of orchids.
  • The Isle of Wight is one of the few places in England where red squirrels still thrive in their native habitat of semi-natural broadleaved woodland, although they have also colonised the more recent conifer plantations.

Sense of place maintained by vernacular architecture and predominantly pre-20th-century settlement and development patterns.

Justification for selection:

  • Simple vernacular cottages built from local materials are typically found in western and southern villages such as Brading and Shorewell. Local brick buildings are common and indicate a strong Victorian influence within the towns.
  • Local limestone and sandstones are the main traditional building materials although differing geologies give rise to variations. These stone buildings have dominated the older ‘church and manor’ settlements which are scattered across the landscape such as Carisbrooke Castle and Godshill Church.
  • Grand Regency town houses are traditionally found on the Island’s coastal towns of the Island such as Ryde and Sandown contributing to the Island’s sense of place.
  • Victorian villa architecture and exotic ornamental planting is prominent at Osborne House, the seaside palace where Queen Victoria lived with Prince Albert and their nine children.
  • A few ancient buildings are roofed with a combination of limestone slabs and tile upper courses reflecting urban expansion patterns which have spread into former agricultural land. Thatched roofs are also prominent on a range of buildings throughout the Island.
  • Settlement patterns vary, and include small villages and dispersed settlement, medieval planned towns, post-medieval towns, 19th-century seaside resorts and 20th-century development.
  • Springline settlement and other settlement patterns directly related to landscape and landform, highlighting how Islanders took advantage of sources of fresh water, shelter from prevailing winds and/or were linked with the local church and manor.

Rights of way, open access land and other recreational opportunities.

Justification for selection:

  • The Island has 799 km of public rights of way providing very good foot and cycle access to the countryside, and links with urban areas.
  • Open access land covers 4 per cent of the Island, and is largely associated with the grassland of the chalk ridge, including the Tennyson Trail in the west stretching from the Needles to Carisbrooke, with its far-reaching views.
  • Seaside resorts of Ventnor, Ryde, Alum Bay and Blackgang Chine offer more traditional family recreation.
  • The Solent is one of the busiest sailing waters in the world, especially in the annual Cowes Week regatta.
  • Isle of Wight and Bestival music festivals are some of the most popular in England.
  • The Isle of Wight Walking Festival takes place annually in May and includes over 300 walks; spanning two weeks, it is one of the largest walking festivals in the UK.
  • The Island’s farmland, downs, woodlands, coasts and estuaries also provide opportunities for recreational activities include cycling, horse-riding, sailing, surfing, windsurfing and fishing.

Large town of Newport and main towns of Ryde, Cowes, East Cowes, Sandown and Shanklin are all on the coast. Western and southern parts of the Island are rural in character with small towns, villages, hamlets and farmsteads.

Justification for selection:

  • Newport is the largest town and the Island’s ‘capital’ with a population of around 23,000, providing the Island’s only large inland settlement.
  • Other coastal towns provide a strong sense of history with their distinctive architecture and Victorian associations such as the popular town of town of Sandown, a traditional seaside resort with a long Victorian Pier and extensive stretches of soft golden sands.
  • The west coast of the Island is known as West Wight and includes the ancient port town of Yarmouth, home to the Tudor Yarmouth castle and the Victorian village of Freshwater.
  • Ryde, in the east of the Island, is known as ‘Town on the Beach’ and boasts boutique and independent shops and cafes set on an expanse of sandy beach; coastal villages here include Seaview and Bembridge.
  • Brading, in the south, is one of the Island’s oldest towns, set within the Isle of Wight AONB and including Brading Roman Villa which provides insight into some of the many relics that have been found from the Roman period in the area. The Brading Downs provide some of the most spectacular views across the Island looking out across Culver Down and Sandown Bay, making the area very popular for walking and exploration.
  • Further south along the coast lies the charming town of Ventnor, a Victorian health resort set on a hill with vintage shops and a sheltered beach.
  • Cowes is located on the west bank of the estuary of the River Medina, facing the smaller town of East Cowes on the east bank. The two towns are linked by the Cowes floating bridge. Cowes is internationally famed for its sailing events.

A remote and tranquil landscape at times and in places wild and exposed providing a strong sense of tranquillity and the opportunity to experience dark skies.

Justification for selection:

  • CPRE data highlights a notable increase in disturbance with ‘undisturbed’ areas having decreased from 70 per cent in the 1960s to just under 40 per cent in 2007.
  • The CPRE map of tranquillity reveals that much of the NCA is relatively tranquil away from the coast and urban centres of Newport, Ryde, and Sandown and Shanklin and major roads. The west of the Island has more extensive areas of tranquillity than the east.
  • A sense of tranquillity is particularly associated with the undeveloped estuaries and southern chalk cliff coastline, the areas of ancient and semi-natural woodland, the areas of semi-natural grassland, and the quieter hamlets and villages.
  • The Isle of Wight has a majority of the total of the south east of England’s ‘dark skies’ and research concluded that ‘the Isle of Wight has potentially the best combination of dark skies and clear weather in the UK’.

Landscape opportunities

  • Ensure that the essential character of the landforms and processes underpinning the character of this NCA are protected from inappropriate developments or land use change.
  • Recognise the intrinsic link between geology, natural coastal processes and landscape which is crucial to the character and special qualities of the Island.
  • Recognise and implement the objectives of the Isle of Wight Local Geodiversity Action Plan and Historic Environment Action Plan.
  • Protect important geological, geomorphological and archaeological sites and assets from erosion, damage and loss due to inappropriate land management and developments that will compromise their contribution to the landscape.
  • Protect and manage all Scheduled Ancient Monuments, ensuring that those currently found on the Heritage at Risk register are given priority. Ensure that the suite of local heritage assets and features are managed to the best standard possible.
  • Manage conifer dominated plantations with a view to restoration where they occur on ancient woodland sites and wood pasture with due regard to economic forestry and recreation.
  • Actively manage existing woodlands adopting tradition methods such as coppice with standards where feasible. Continue to plant new woodland to reinforce the existing pattern of woodland cover, and provide ecological connectivity. Where planting does take place it should respect historic landscape features and/or restore former woodland/hedgerow features.
  • Restore hedge banks, small woodlands and estate landscapes to reinforce the structure and historic pattern of enclosure and land use.
  • Maintain hedgerows and restock where sparse, reflecting local styles of management and the characteristic hedgerow pattern of the area. Where appropriate plant new hedgerow trees.
  • Undertake archaeological research to better understand ancient routeways and their features in order to inform appropriate management.
  • Ensure that watercourses are reconnected with the landscapes through which they flow. Re-connecting watercourses and their flood plains is important both for ecosystems and ecosystem services, while reconnecting water courses with the settlements they flow through or close to helps people appreciate the Island’s rivers.
  • Create and allow for new saline lagoons to develop along the Solent shore of the Island provided these do not damage existing important coastal habitats.
  • Managing scrub and woodland to maintain expansive views from the elevated chalk ridge, as well as the open character of the southern arable plains and the more intimate pastoral landscape of the north.
  • Manage and restore the existing suite of semi-natural calcareous grasslands and the important associated habitats found within and around them. Increase the resilience of these sites to environmental changes by creating new semi-natural calcareous grasslands and associated habitats that extend, buffer and link them.
  • Maintain and restore unimproved neutral and acid damp pastures and meadows.
  • Enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of Island residents and visitors alike through experiential contact with the landscape, biodiversity and cultural artefacts of the Isle of Wight NCA.
  • Work with Isle of Wight AONB to help meet the ambitions of their management plan.
  • Ensure that all development is designed to a high quality, creating buildings and a sense of place that reflects and enhances local character and distinctiveness.
  • Ensure ongoing access to and space for recreation and leisure activities, both along the coast and within the secluded, enclosed river valleys.
  • Improve sustainable public access through the rights-of-way network, provision of visitor facilities, and access to and interpretation of important sites for geodiversity, biodiversity and heritage.
  • Identify and promote viewpoints that enable appreciation and experience of the tranquillity and outstanding natural beauty of the Isle of Wight landscape by people of all abilities.