National Character Area 119

North Downs - Detailed Statements of Environmental Opportunity

This section expands on the Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity and provides further detail on each of the Statements of Environmental Opportunity.


SEO 1: Manage, conserve and enhance the distinctive rural character and historic environment of the North Downs, including the long-established settlement pattern, ancient routeways and traditional buildings. Protect the tranquillity of the landscape and sensitively manage, promote and celebrate the area’s rich cultural and natural heritage, famous landmarks and views for future generations.

For example by:

  • Conserving the downland settlement pattern of nucleated villages, irregular fields and scattered farmsteads linked by a network of narrow, winding lanes and characteristic sunken ‘hollow ways’ through appropriate planning policies and development management, and in particular promotion of Kent Downs and Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) design guides.
  • Protecting from damage the rich and varied heritage of historic buildings, settlements and sites dating from the prehistoric period onwards, including iron-age hill forts, defensive coastline installations and traditional farmsteads, and improving management, access to and sensitive interpretation of historic features.
  • Improving management of historic parklands and any associated key habitats such as ancient and veteran trees, ancient woodland and species-rich grassland. Works such as successional planting, coppicing or reversion of arable back to grassland should be prioritised and informed by assessment of the historic design and significance of parkland.
  • Conserving and appropriately managing ancient trackways such as the North Downs Way National Trail which links Dover and Guildford, and the Pilgrims’ Way which links Canterbury and Winchester; and working across sectors to promote and strengthen the network through high- quality interconnecting routes, increasing the benefits of these routes for biodiversity, health and local businesses.
  • Using AONB design guidance and understanding of the area’s traditional and historic architecture, and its distinct local materials (flint, chalk, brick, timber and tiles) and patterns of settlement, to inform appropriate conservation and use of historic buildings, and to plan for and inspire any new development which makes a positive contribution to local character.
  • Seeking opportunities to minimise the impact of new developments, including visual intrusion, disturbance and noise, on the tranquillity and beauty of the countryside. Green infrastructure planning should be maximised for its multiple benefits and best practice should be shared locally.
  • Working in partnership with Kent Downs and Surrey Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to identify management opportunities in accordance with their respective management plans (Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan 2009-2014, Surrey Hills Board, 2009; Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan 2009-2014, Kent Downs AONB Unit, 2009).
  • Seeking to increase awareness and maximising the potential of the various historic, natural and cultural assets, improving access to and interpretation of sites and features, including the world-renowned White Cliffs of Dover, as a platform for enhanced education and to enthuse local communities, linking them with their local geology, wildlife and cultural and historic environments. At the same time there is a need to recognise and manage the impact of increased visitor numbers on sensitive sites.


SEO 2: Protect, enhance and restore active management to the diverse range of woodlands and trees of the North Downs, for their internationally and nationally important habitats and species, cultural heritage and recreational value and to help to deliver climate change mitigation and adaptation. Seek opportunities to establish local markets for timber and biomass to support the active management of local woods, while recognising the contribution to sense of place, sense of history and tranquillity.

For example by:

  • Supporting the sustainable re-establishment of coppice management to appropriate areas of woodland, where this will improve biodiversity interest while providing a local resource including wood fuel.
  • Seeking to work in partnership to aid co-ordinated conservation management, particularly where there are woodlots. Managing all woodlands as single entities aimed at benefiting the whole wood, its biodiversity, its contribution to landscape character, and the provision of community and other benefits where appropriate.
  • Supporting existing markets and encouraging new markets for the products of native woodland underwood and timber. This will provide the market driver to encourage and maintain viable and sustainable woodland management.
  • Encouraging the positive management of open habitats and spaces, such as rides and glades, for their landscape, biodiversity and cultural benefits, especially where they will support rare species, such as Duke of Burgundy fritillary. Maintaining an appropriate balance of well-structured woodland and transitional and open habitats will produce a mixed structure of tree species and stand age, benefiting biodiversity.
  • Working to increase public understanding and appreciation of the importance of woodlands, including the impacts of harmful activities and inappropriate management. Utilising the woodland resource for education, appropriate recreation and research, furthering our understanding of the role of woodlands in a changing climate.
  • Ensuring that the North Downs Woodland and Mole Gap to Reigate Escarpment Special Areas of Conservation attain and retain favourable conservation status as an element of the Natura 2000 network. Also, ensuring that the woodland Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in favourable condition and that local sites are in positive management.
  • Protecting and expanding the existing urban tree resource, recognising its multiple benefits, including its role in climate change mitigation.
  • Targeting the expansion and re-linking of existing semi-natural woodland, benefiting biodiversity and landscape, where it can re-connect isolated woodland blocks and help to prevent soil erosion and nutrient run-off (where this does not result in loss of existing important habitats such as chalk grassland). Taking into account future climate change, looking to enhance the coherence and resilience of woodlands, hedgerows, trees and other habitats to create robust networks of woody and open semi-natural habitats.
  • Creating new areas of broadleaved woodland, where it accords with the landscape character of the area, helping to maintain tranquillity while providing a local recreational resource and further source of wood fuel and high-quality timber products.
  • Encouraging conservation management of game woodlands as promoted by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and sharing best practice locally, as shown in the Kent Downs AONB game management guidance.
  • Recognising and managing the risks of tree diseases and woodland pests, taking co-ordinated conservation action to safeguard the woodland resource, and considering the close vicinity to the continent from where diseases can spread.
  • Conserving ancient and veteran trees within the landscape for the benefit of species that depend upon them, and for their heritage value and contribution to a sense of place. Planning and implementing a programme to develop the next generation of hedgerow trees and future veterans, choosing appropriate species and taking into account their resilience to climate change.
  • Ensuring that populations of deer are managed to reduce the damage caused to the natural regeneration of woodland (and woodland flora). High populations will have major impacts on ancient woodland flora and coppice management.


SEO 3: Manage and enhance the productive mixed farming landscape of the North Downs and the mosaic of semi-natural habitats including the internationally important chalk grassland. Promote sustainable agricultural practices to benefit soils, water resources, climate regulation, biodiversity, geodiversity and landscape character while maintaining food provision.

For example by:

  • Working with farmers, land managers and communities to positively shape the agricultural landscape while preserving and enhancing ecological and cultural assets.
  • Restoring and strengthening the mosaic of connecting landscape and habitat features including the patchwork of smaller downland banks, hedgerows, unimproved hay meadows, pockets of heath and acid grassland, flower-rich roadside verges and uncultivated field corners, field margins and woodlands.
  • Managing and restoring existing chalk grassland habitats. Seeking to integrate chalk grassland management into the farming business to allow for extensive grazing, promoting initiatives which allow for the sustainable management of chalk grassland and help to secure best practice management of this internationally important habitat type.
  • Working with landowners to seek opportunities for arable reversion to chalk grassland in locations with the highest potential for the re-creation of this habitat and in areas where it will bring the greatest benefits. Considering arable reversion to chalk grassland where it will bring particular benefits for aquifer recharge and to assist in water quality regulation, looking for locations that maximise these benefits along with benefits for biodiversity and the landscape.
  • Conserving and appropriately managing associated chalk habitats that include rare chalk scrub and heath and calcareous flushes at the foot of the scarp, strengthening the overall mosaic of chalk downland habitats and benefiting their dependent species.
  • Working in partnership to enable the restoration of chalk grassland at a landscape scale, seeking to secure grazing where required on difficult sites, identifying and linking green hay donor and recipient sites and piloting restoration techniques. Supporting research to increase our understanding of chalk grassland habitats and species and to advance our knowledge of what is needed to create coherent and resilient ecological networks within the chalk landscape and the multiple benefits this may provide, including enhancement of landscape character.
  • Restoring and planting new hedgerows to reinforce historic field boundary patterns, especially where they: run across slopes to provide a buffer to soil erosion and nutrient run-off (important in the Great Stour Priority Catchment); follow parish boundaries or long-established rights of way (especially historic drove ways) or otherwise support the distinctive character of the landscape; and provide a link between isolated habitats.
  • Creating wide grassland buffer strips across steeper slopes and alongside hedgerows, rivers and other watercourses, particularly in areas of arable farmland, to help to prevent soil erosion and nutrient run-off and to enhance the habitat network.
  • Working with landowners to integrate arable habitats into the farming system. Encouraging the uptake of measures such as conservation headlands, low-input cereals and grassland buffer strips to optimise the multiple benefits for biodiversity, water, soil regulation and pollination services while conserving, enhancing and expanding the range of arable wild flowers. In particular, maximising opportunities for providing high- quality nesting and feeding habitat for farmland birds such as corn bunting and grey partridge.
  • Conserving and enhancing traditional orchards of the National Character Area (NCA), seeking new markets for their products and exploring potential for community orchards.
  • Working with landowners to integrate any new and novel crops into the NCA as a result of market or climatic drivers, promoting sustainable management and integrating the crops into the landscape appropriately. Seeking to monitor the impacts of changing farming practices.
  • Sympathetically managing soil and water resources to ensure the long- term productivity and economic viability of agriculture and increasing the ability of agricultural systems to withstand extreme weather and adapt to and mitigate climate change, improving water and soil quality.
  • Managing land in a way that retains the legibility of the dry valleys and associated geomorphology and seeks to retain and improve the network of geological exposures in disused pits and quarries across the area.


SEO 4: Plan to deliver integrated, well-managed multi-functional green space in existing and developing urban areas, providing social, economic and environmental benefits and reinforcing landscape character and local distinctiveness, particularly on or alongside the boundaries of the designated landscapes within the North Downs.

For example by:

  • Creating high-quality, well-managed accessible natural green space within and surrounding urban areas as part of comprehensive green infrastructure planning, providing significant local recreational opportunities that meet the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard (ANGSt) while benefiting health and wellbeing and providing habitats and green space linkages, increasing the permeability of the urban landscape to biodiversity and building on existing networks.
  • Improving water quality by careful design to address the potential issues of pollution and contamination by run-off and leakage through water pathways. Creating new wetlands as part of sustainable drainage systems, helping to provide flood alleviation. In addition, creating extensive reedbeds where potentially polluted waters enter these wetlands to filter out pollutants and provide benefits for water quality.
  • Promoting the use of London’s existing frameworks to inform the design of new landscapes associated with new development and green infrastructure within Greater London, including implementation of the All London Green Grid.
  • Maintaining the existing downland character as a setting for new development (where allocated and approved), ensuring that this does not impact adversely on the special qualities of the designated landscapes, conserving the tranquillity and geodiversity of the area through planning and sympathetic design, in particular minimising light spill and traffic noise to retain the ‘undisturbed’ feel of parts of the NCA and enhancing local landscape character.
  • Promoting the use of sustainable and locally sourced materials, vernacular building techniques and styles, and existing landscape character to inform design and ensure integration with the surrounding landscape.
  • Targeted planting of woodland and trees surrounding existing and new development and major transport corridors where appropriate within the existing context, helping to provide climate change adaptation and mitigation, flood alleviation, landscape character and biodiversity benefits.
  • Identifying opportunities for community involvement in projects through design and implementation to foster ownership, involvement and support of local communities and to help to create environments which improve the lives, livelihoods and health of local people and communities.
  • Planning schemes which connect to or incorporate an existing or planned low carbon transport network, such as walking and cycling routes.
  • Developing a strategic approach to green infrastructure across the NCA and its boundaries to take account of the existing urban areas and proximity of the NCA to areas of growth, planning a network of green spaces in the urban and urban fringe areas and adjacent countryside.

Additional opportunity 1

Additional opportunity 1: Conserve and enhance important geological sites and exposures of international importance, inland and along the coastline, including the White Cliffs of Dover, in order to maintain and enhance their geodiversity and biodiversity interest, cultural significance and sense of place.

For example by:

  • Protecting, conserving and enhancing important inland geological exposures, for their geological, cultural and biological interest. In particular, raising awareness of the geological, ecological and cultural interest within the rich heritage of abandoned chalk pits and quarries throughout the area, providing links to the area’s cultural history.
  • Planning for and managing the effects of coastal change, by allowing the operation of natural coastal processes and improving the sustainability of current management practices, allowing for maintenance of the geological interest of the highly distinctive chalk cliff coastline. This will benefit the maritime cliff-ledge plant communities and breeding bird colonies, while maintaining the dramatic landscape which provides a powerful sense of place.
  • Promoting continued research into coastal geology, helping to inform future decision making.
  • Maximising the opportunities presented by the geodiversity of the NCA for education, research and tourism, in particular seeking to use the assets to engage with local communities. The geological features are an international scientific resource and can help people to appreciate the evolution of the landscape, its habitats and wildlife. Awareness of this value should be promoted, including the interrelationships between geology, wildlife and human activity, with improved access and interpretation where appropriate to inspire and enthuse.

Additional opportunity 2

Additional opportunity 2: Protect the important water resources of the NCA, including the North Downs chalk aquifer, rivers and associated wetlands, to safeguard the quality and quantity of public, private and agricultural water supplies and to bring about benefits for biodiversity, water quality and regulation of flooding.

For example by:

  • Protecting the chalk aquifer by promoting good agricultural and land management practices, helping to bring improvements to groundwater quality. Further, promoting sustainable use of water resources across sectors, protecting the aquifer from over-abstraction and safeguarding the water supply which is derived from the aquifer.
  • Adopting a landscape-scale approach and working at the catchment scale to safeguard the surface water resources of the NCA, especially those failing to meet Water Framework Directive objectives for good ecological status. Working in partnership across sectors and NCA boundaries to tackle the challenges associated with flood risk, pollution and low flows.
  • Managing, restoring and expanding the wetland habitats of the valley floors of the rivers Mole, Darent, Medway and Great Stour. Affording priority to flood meadows, flood plain grazing marsh, fen and reedbeds, and intertidal mudflats such as on the River Medway, and optimising opportunities for restoring natural river geomorphology where this is of particular benefit to biodiversity but is designed to meet the challenges of low flow conditions, and bringing rivers back into continuity with their flood plains to help to sustain these habitats for the benefit of biodiversity and the alleviation of downstream flooding.
  • Identifying opportunities for research that improves our understanding of how to respond to and plan for climate change impacts and future consumer demands, and the interrelationships between supply and demand in adjoining NCAs, including the impacts of water availability on key biodiversity sites.
  • Drawing on best practice principles such as those established under catchment sensitive farming and building on and supporting existing stakeholder groups to help to deliver a good water environment across the North Downs, benefiting biodiversity and local communities.
  • Improving linear and car-free access along river corridors where appropriate, increasing opportunities for enhanced access, recreation and community engagement.