National Character Area 20

Morecambe Bay Limestones - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


Morecambe Bay Limestones National Character Area (NCA) is a lowland landscape arcing round the head of Morecambe Bay consisting of conspicuous limestone hills with prominent scars, cliffs, screes and exposed limestone pavements separated by areas of low-lying undulating farmland.

The margins of Morecambe Bay have been formed by faulted outcrops of Lower Carboniferous Limestone, forming upstanding blocks and bare limestone scars, pavements and cliffs. Lower-lying undulating pastoral areas are found between the hills and the coast, including a larger-scale rolling landscape to the west and a smaller-scale landscape that contrasts with the surrounding limestone hills to the east. The character of the landscape is shaped by underlying geology, with areas of flat open grazing marsh framed by dramatic limestone outcrops, extensive salt marshes and sand flats re-profiled by the tides, and intimate mosaics of limestone woodland and limestone grasslands. The dynamic landscape of the coastal fringe is dominated by the intertidal foreshore with extensive areas of mudflat, sand flat and salt marsh backed by low limestone cliffs, pebble beaches or manmade defences.

The NCA has frequent exposures of limestone pavement, in total covering 776 ha of the NCA, making up a significant proportion of the national and global resource. Almost a fifth of the NCA is designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest for its high-quality habitats and the species they support, including salt marshes, lowland raised bogs, limestone pavements, limestone grasslands, ancient woodlands, reedbeds, rivers and marl tarns. Sites of international importance include Morecambe Bay Pavements Special Area of Conservation (SAC) with its range of limestone plant communities and species, Witherslack 3 Mosses SAC with its lowland raised bog plant communities, the River Kent SAC with its white-clawed crayfish, Leighton Moss Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site with its bittern and other reedbed species and Morecambe Bay SAC, SPA and Ramsar site with its range of estuarine communities, notably salt marshes in the NCA, and its wintering wader and wildfowl population.

The NCA also holds important areas of coastal and flood plain grazing marsh, lowland meadows, historic parklands and orchards. The area includes Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and parts of the Lake District National Park and Forest of Bowland AONB. Over 15 per cent of the NCA is covered by woodland and this resource is continuous with the high-quality woodlands of the adjacent South Cumbria Low Fells NCA.

The majority of the NCA is managed as pastoral agricultural land with beef and sheep rearing throughout with some dairy on the better grazing marshes and drumlin landscapes. Many woodlands are actively managed for timber and wood fuel. Throughout, the NCA has a very rural character with a scattering of small settlements and only a few larger villages and towns. Settlement patterns reflect a long tradition of deriving a living from the land, with the market towns restricted to the edges of the NCA. Field sizes tend to be small with drystone wall boundaries that reflect the local geology and hedges on deeper soils and reclaimed marshes, often flanked by ditches.

With the high cover of peat-based soils and woodlands, the NCA offers an important role supporting climate regulation while offering an important contribution, through wood fuel provision, in aligning a low carbon economy with maintenance of high-quality woodlands. The quality of the landscape in the National Park and AONB landscapes, when combined with good transport links to major conurbations, also affords an opportunity to develop an economy based on the natural environment as a tourism asset as well as a social and cultural asset for local communities.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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


Protect and enhance the extensive mosaic of high-quality limestone habitats, including pavement, woodland, scrub and grassland, to create a coherent and resilient ecological network, retain a sense of place and maintain the strong relationship between the landscape and its underlying geology.


Ensure the long-term sustainable management of the nationally and internationally designated coastal zone by conserving and managing its habitats, including the extensive sand flats, salt marshes, estuarine landscapes and limestone cliffs, for their wildlife, strong sense of place, inspiration and tranquillity, their diverse range of species, their traditional fisheries, and for their ability to mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration and coastal flood mitigation.


Ensure the long-term sustainable management of the nationally and internationally designated wetland landscape and its linking, nondesignated, habitats by conserving and restoring the lowland raised bogs, fens, rivers and reedbeds for their strong sense of inspiration and tranquillity, their diverse range of species, and for their ability to mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration.


Conserve and enhance the wider landscape of the NCA as the supporting framework to its distinctive attributes, including features of the drumlin landscape, the settlement character, orchards, recreational identity and heritage features, for their individual importance and the complementary role they play in supporting the local visitor economy and providing enjoyment and education to visitors and residents alike.