National Character Area 20

Morecambe Bay Limestones - 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
Morecambe Bay Limestone is a flat lowland landscape, and its high-quality habitats, especially salt marshes, may come under pressure from overgrazing without proper management. Increasing sea levels and storminess resulting in coastal and fluvial flood events may put pressure on coastal zones. Additionally, increasing demands for housing and renewable energy may alter the landscape’s character.

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)


  • Between 2000 and 2009 there was a general drop in livestock numbers with a 6 per cent drop in cattle and a 22 per cent drop in sheep numbers – the two dominant livestock types in the NCA. Most land remains as part of pastoral systems but between 2000 and 2009 there were small increase in both cereal and non-cereal arable, this is likely to reflect the move to maize and to a lesser extent whole-crop cereals as a winter feed for stock, particularly cattle.
  • Through the latter half of the 20th century many species associated with the managed agricultural landscape have declined in the NCA particularly those associated with wet grasslands and pastures, such as curlew, redshank and yellow wagtail. This decline is associated with incremental intensification in agricultural management with development such as silage production, slurry spreading, and reseeding of grasslands affecting bird breeding success.

Boundary features

  • The estimated boundary length for the NCA is about 2,838 km of which between 1999 and 2003 about 8 per cent was in management to enhance or restore its quality. By 2011 this had increased to approximately 24 per cent under agri-environment scheme management including hedges, walls and ditches.
  • In some parts of the NCA dedicated programmes have targeted formerly neglected boundary features, such as limestone drystone walls in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB, for restoration, which has led to local improvement in the extent and condition of boundary features.

Coast and rivers

  • Most of the NCA shore is salt marsh, and intertidal mud and sand flats, which are dynamic and change in distribution over time, changing the character of individual stretches of coastline and their settlements.
  • Around the river estuaries there have been local changes in salt marsh distribution resulting from both natural and man-induced movement of the river channels requiring ongoing flexible management.
  • In addition there have been some changes in the structure of salt marshes with a large increase in the extent of the invasive Spartina cord-grass in the intertidal zone since its colonisation of Morecambe Bay in the 1960s.

Historic features

  • In 1918 about 3 per cent of the NCA was historic parkland, but by 1995 it was estimated that 32 per cent of this area had been lost. In 2003 about 24 per cent of the remaining parkland was covered by an Historic Parkland Grant, and 23 per cent included in an agri-environment scheme.
  • There is a trend for barns to be converted for residential use. While most existing historic farm buildings are intact structurally, in 2003 only about 71 per cent remained unconverted.
  • Loss of historic sea defences and coastal archaeology due to increased erosion of marshes and damage to historic features through scrub encroachment and erosion is an issue in places.


  • Although the total number of sites has declined over time, quarrying continues to be a local industry with three large scale active sites, at Sandside, Over Kellet, and Holme, all quarrying limestone.
  • Except where open habitat is being maintained for biodiversity or geological interest, former quarry sites, which are present on all the main limestone outcrops, are generally developing into woodland communities.

Semi-natural habitats

  • The area of SSSI is significant at 18 per cent of land cover. Of this there has been an increase from 57 per cent in 2003 to 85 per cent in 2011 of the SSSI area in favourable or recovering condition. In addition to national designated sites there has been a considerable increase in the extent of other priority habitat under agri-environment or English Woodland Grant schemes.
  • Historically there has been a significant loss in the extent of limestone pavement due to quarrying or removal for ornamental garden features. However, since the early 1980s this loss has largely been halted through Limestone Pavement Order protection.
  • In the second half of the 20th century there were declines in woodland and grassland butterfly species with the decline of high brown fritillary, pearl-bordered fritillary and Duke of Burgundy being particularly well documented.
  • A number of specialised plants particularly those associated with low-nutrient grassland and wetland environments have also declined, and in a number of cases local extinctions have resulted.
  • Invasive non-native species are an issue in some areas, for example cotoneaster invasion of limestone habitats, and Himalayan balsam along riparian corridors.

Settlement and development

  • Since the 1960s, there has been a 35 per cent loss of undisturbed to disturbed areas associated with increased traffic and in particular the opening of the M6 and upgrading of trunk roads.
  • The slow expansion of many of the villages, particularly to the east, due to the development of housing for the retired and second homes and for people who work in Kendal and Ulverston has impacted on the local character and the social structure of settlements.

Trees and woodlands

  • By 2003 the area of woodland covered by England Woodland Grant Scheme management agreements was about 19 per cent of the eligible area. About 49 per cent of the woodland cover is on an ancient woodland site, and the proportion of these sites covered by a Woodland Grant Scheme agreement increased from 12 per cent in 1999 to 27 per cent in 2003.
  • Local changes in the distribution of different woodland types have arisen as a consequence of programmes restocking harvested non-native plantations and plantation ancient woodland sites with native trees species, and the restoration of non-native plantations to open habitats, particularly on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • Decline in woodland condition has occurred outside of Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as a result of inadequate management and problems with grazing by deer that have prevented natural regeneration in places.

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

  • Evidence from UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCP09) shows that over the coming century the climate of North West England is expected, on average, to become warmer and wetter in winter and hotter and drier in summer (North West Landscape Framework – Climate Change Assessment, Natural England, 2010).
  • Under 2009 predictions for the medium emissions scenario by 2080: mean winter temperatures will increase by 2.6 degrees, mean summer temperatures will increase by 3.7 degrees, winter precipitation will increase by 16 per cent, summer precipitation will decrease by 22 per cent and there will be an increase frequency of extreme events (floods/droughts) (UK Climate Projections Science Report: Climate change projections, Met Office, 2009).
  • The high structural diversity of the landscape within the NCA has resulted in it being identified as being moderately vulnerable to climate change but having potentially high robustness to climate change, if adaptation processes are taken into account. In general vulnerability to climate change is highest for coastal and wetland habitats and lowest for grasslands and woodlands. This reflects both the structural diversity of the habitats and the robustness of their communities to changes in environmental conditions such as temperature and rainfall.
  • The impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, increased storminess and both coastal and fluvial flood events, will require the coastal zone to be able to adapt to these changes. This will offer opportunities to create a sustainable coastal environment where natural coastal processes are allowed to take place unimpeded.
  • Likely impacts on salt marsh are highly dependent on management. If sustainable management is in place salt marsh accretion may offset sea level change and help to buffer increased coastal energy. However, if salt marsh extent declines through over grazing limiting accretion, it is likely that associated decline in condition will reduce their capacity to mitigate climate change impacts such as coastal flooding events and their capacity to store carbon.
  • Peatlands may dry out during prolonged droughts, increasing the risks of soil erosion and wildfires, resulting in loss of habitat, stored carbon and archaeological pollen record.
  • Species associated with the NCA are likely to change as species on the northern edge of their range colonise and consolidate their presence while species at the southern edge of their range decline. However, the high structural variability of the landscape, particularly around the limestone blocks, with associated local variations in climate may help offset some losses. Habitat connectivity will be needed to address species movement and adaptation to climate change while there may be an increased need for tailored management of semi-natural habitats to ensure them can still support broad suites of specialist species.
  • The risk of the spread of invasive species and plant and animal disease, such as ash die-back may be helped by changing climate and may impact on key species such as ash and juniper. While drought impacts may also affect the composition of woodland communities.
  • Increasing demand for national food security and associated increases in food prices combined with predicted changes in rainfall, temperature, frequency of storm events and sea level may cause changes in agricultural practices, for example a longer growing season. Maintaining viable farm businesses balancing food production and delivery of other multiple benefits may require adaptation of businesses.

Other key drivers

  • Housing needs will continue to exert pressure on the landscape with planning policy focusing on development within the boundaries of existing settlements. This may impact on individual settlement character through pressure for infill development, loss of associated features such as orchards and increased prevalence of generic housing styles.
  • High property values and increased consolidation of farmland are likely to continue to exert pressure on the farmstead structure of the rural landscape with many farmsteads and associated out buildings being converted to residential complexes and the formerly associated farmland being remotely managed from other farms.
  • Colonisation and increases in populations of invasive non-native species such as cotoneaster, buddleia, grey squirrel, signal crayfish and muntjac deer may impact on semi-natural habitats and important native species.
  • Continued demand for limestone for building and road aggregate will continue to support demand for quarry sites.
  • High desirability of the area for second homes and retirement will continue to affect affordability of the area for many and risks breaking the link between local residency and intimate understanding of the management of the local landscape. Conversely the desirability of the area will maintain pressure for a conservative approach to developments potentially modifying the character of the landscape.
  • Increased leisure time among a rising proportion of the population may increase recreational demand within the area. This challenge needs careful management if sensitive sites and species are to be maintained while providing recreational opportunities that will benefit health and wellbeing.
  • Future development of the England Coastal Path will need to be sensitively managed through the NCA in order to minimise any negative impacts on the coastal corridor while creating opportunities for enjoyment of the local environment.
  • Increased pressure for renewable energy may alter character. Impacts would vary depending on the type of development and its scale with wind turbines potentially affecting views both from and within the NCA, solar panels becoming an increasing feature of settlements and wood fuel affecting the proportion of woodlands under active management.