National Character Area 1

North Northumberland Coastal Plain - Key Facts & Data

Landscape and nature conservation designations section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Twenty-fours per cent of the NCA (8,938 ha) is within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Twenty-four per cent of the NCA (9,112 ha) also lies within the North Northumberland Heritage Coast. These generally overlap, but the Heritage Coast recognition extends further north than the AONB and south into the South East Northumberland Coastal Plain NCA (Natural England, 2010).

Relationship with the coast

The adjacent coastline is covered by the following Shoreline Management Plans:

  • Northumberland and North Tyneside: Scottish border to the River Tyne

The adjacent coastline includes the following Marine Plan – Marine Character Areas (MCAs):

  • Rural Northumberland and Coastal Waters


Designated nature conservation sites

The NCA includes the following statutory nature conservation designations (Natural England, Special Protection Areas; Special Area of Conservation; Ramsars; National Nature Reserves; Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Nature Reserves, 2021):

Please note: (i) Designated areas may overlap (ii) all figures are cut to Mean High Water Line, designations that span coastal/marine areas below this line will not be included.

Condition of designated sites

All designated sites within England are covered by Sites of Scientific interest (SSSI) units. The condition to these SSSI units within the NCA are as follows (Natural England, Sites of Special Scientific Interest Units, 2021):



Landscape and nature conservation designations map for NCA1

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Landform, geology and soils section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Elevation

Elevation ranges from sea level along the coast to a maximum of 183m at Shilbottle. The average elevation of the landscape is 45m above sea level (Natural England, 2010).

Landform and process

This NCA is a low lying, gently undulating coastal plain overlain with glacial till and peat deposits but with intrusions of Whin Sill geology producing dramatic and characteristic landforms inland and offshore. Along the coastline there are a series of contrasting rocky headlands, sandy coves and bays, and wave cut platforms, with sandy beaches backed by sand dunes further south. There are extensive intertidal mud flats, tidal sands and salt marsh around Lindisfarne, and other rocky islands offshore are also a feature (North Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area Description).

Bedrock geology

The landscape is underlain by sedimentary rocks of the Carboniferous age, which consist of repeated successions of limestones, shales and sandstones with local deposits of thin coals. Intruded into the Carboniferous rocks is a group of roughly horizontal sheets of igneous rock collectively known as the Whin Sill. This forms striking cliffs and rocky offshore islands. (North Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area Description, Natural England, 2010).

Superficial deposits

Inland, boulder clay deposited by ice sheets covers much of the area. Raised beaches formed as a result of the relative rise of land following the melting of ice at the end of the last glacial period, at Bamburgh and Holy Island. Other glacial features include crag and tail features at outcrops of Whin Sill for example at Spindlestones. Windblown sands form dunes on Lindisfarne and along Alnmouth Bay, while inshore currents create coastal mud and sand flats (North Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area Description).

Designated geological sites

The NCA includes the following geological sites (Natural England, Geological and Mixed Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 2021):

wdt_IDNCA_IDNAMENCAAreaHaInterest typeArea (ha) 2021Percent of NCA (2021)Count
2361NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Geological6.80.01
2371NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Mixed1,029.52.75
2382NORTHUMBERLAND SANDSTONE HILLS72,694.6Geological45.40.14
2393CHEVIOT FRINGE51,591.3Geological17.10.02
2404CHEVIOTS36,487.9Geological165.00.52
2414CHEVIOTS36,487.9Mixed3,488.99.61
2425BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Geological85.70.18
2435BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Mixed35.80.01
2446SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Geological7.20.02
2456SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Mixed5,569.25.74

Soils and agriculture classification

The characteristic soils of the North Northumberland Coastal Plain are primarily slightly stony clay loam soils which support productive mixed and arable farming. In some areas such as Lucker and Ellingham there are lenses of more gravelly/sandy soils and on the coast extensive sand dune systems occur.

There are 6 main soilscape types in this NCA: slightly acid loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage, covering 32 per cent of the NCA; slowly permeable seasonally wet acid loamy and clayey soils (31 per cent); slowly permeable seasonally wet slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey soils (19 per cent); freely draining slightly acid loamy soils (8 per cent); loamy and clayey floodplain soils with naturally high groundwater (4 per cent) and sand dune soils (3 per cent) (Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area Description, National Soils Research Institute Soilscape Maps).

The main grades of agricultural land in the NCA are broken down as follows (as a proportion of total land area) (Natural England, Provisional Agricultural Land Classification, 2019):

Most of the NCA is Grade 3 agricultural land, with areas of Grade 2 around the Tweed valley in the north, and in pockets along the coastal strip, in particular inland of Bamburgh and Seahouses.



Landform, geology and soils map for NCA1

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Key waterbodies and catchments section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Major rivers/canals

The following major rivers/canals (by length) have been identified in this NCA (Natural England, data informing the 2014 National Character Area Profiles, 2010):

wdt_IDREF_CODENAME_1NameLength (km)SumOfShape_Length
11NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Aln7.67,587.2
21NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Coquet5.55,516.0
31NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINWhiteadder Water2.92,904.9
410NORTH PENNINESBlack Burn11.911,853.4
510NORTH PENNINESCroglin Water10.010,042.3
610NORTH PENNINESCrowdundle Beck4.34,337.4
710NORTH PENNINESDevil's Water20.520,464.6
810NORTH PENNINESHarwood Beck9.79,740.2
910NORTH PENNINESRiver Allen4.94,889.0
1010NORTH PENNINESRiver Derwent15.315,268.4

Please note: other significant rivers (by volume) may also occur. Tidal stretches of rivers are not included, which may include some major rivers.

The lower reaches of several large rivers meander across the coastal plain from west to east. These include the Coquet, Aln, and Tweed, together with numerous smaller streams and ditches.

Water quality

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution. These can impact surface water (waterbodies and waterways located above ground) and groundwater (water bodies and waterways located below ground).

Waterbodies such as lakes can also be designated as “eutrophic waters” if the enrichment of the waterbody by nitrate pollution causes accelerated growth of algae, impacting the quality of the water and the balance of organisms within it.

The following NVZs are located within the NCA (Environment Agency, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Designations, 2021):

Water framework directive

River basin management plans cover river basin districts and describe the challenges that threaten the water environment and how these challenges can be managed and funded. The plans include the classification of water quality of surface waters and ground waters.




Click on the Water Framework Directive layers on the below map to view the corresponding river names.

Key waterbodies and catchments map for NCA1

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Trees and woodlands section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Total woodland cover

Ancient woodland is any area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD. National Forest Inventory (NFI) woodland includes all forests and woodlands (0.5 hectares and over). The total woodland cover within the NCA is as follows (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021; Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Distribution and size of woodland and trees in the landscape

Woodland cover is generally sparse and is limited to mixed coniferous shelterbelts and clumps adjacent to farmsteads and settlements. There are few hedgerow trees. Some remnant ancient semi-natural woodland can be found in the sheltered bends of the incised river valley along the lower reaches of the Coquet. The woodland resource elsewhere is limited to areas of broadleaved woodland found in the Aln and Coquet Valley, around the Howick Estate and along the Waren Burn valley (Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area Description).

Woodland types

A statistical breakdown of the area and type of woodland found across the NCA is detailed below (Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Area and proportion of ancient woodland and planted ancient woodland sites (PAWS) within the NCA (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021):



Trees and woodlands map for NCA1

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Boundary features and patterns

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Boundary features

A combination of close cropped hedgerows and post-and-wire fences form the boundaries across most of the area. In places boundaries are formed by drystone walls of local grey sandstone (Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Field patterns

Fields are predominantly large with very occasional pre-18th century irregular fields. (Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Agriculture section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

The following tables provide the most recently available statistics from Defra on agriculture within the NCA.

Farm type

The following farm types are located within this NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Farm size

The following table outlines the sizes of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm ownership

The following table outlines the ownership of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Land use

The following table outlines the types of agricultural land use within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Livestock numbers

The following livestock are farmed within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm labour

The following table outlines the types of farm labour within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Please note: (i) Some of the Census data are estimated by Defra so may not present a precise assessment of agriculture within this area (ii) Data refers to commercial holdings only (iii) Data includes land outside of the NCA where it belongs to holdings whose centre point is recorded as being within the NCA.



Note that the below map only shows agri-environment scheme coverage, and not other schemes.

Agriculture map for NCA1

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Key habitats and species section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Habitat distribution/coverage

As much of the area is devoted to arable cropping, semi-natural habitats are generally limited. Much of the coastal fringe, foreshore and off-lying islands are renowned for their range of natural habitats.

Dune complexes are found from Lindisfarne southwards, characterised by a single dune ridge system in the south, while north of Bamburgh more extensive multiple dune ridge systems occur. The Geranium sub type of rank dune grassland present on many dunes is rarely found elsewhere in Britain. On Holy Island the dunes and seasonally flooded slacks support pettlewort and the unique Lindisfarne helleborine. Intertidal habitats of sand beaches, sand banks and extensive mudflats are well developed around Lindisfarne. The rich invertebrate life, along with the extensive eelgrass beds and Enteromorpha mats support one of the most outstanding bird assemblages in the North East.

The estuaries of the Tweed, Aln and Coquet together with the offshore islands of Holy Island, the Farne Islands and Coquet Island are outstanding sites for their bird (arctic tern, common tern, purple sandpiper, light bellied brent goose) and grey seal populations.

Whin outcrops, with their unique flora, also occur along the coast and inland. The thin soils over this hard igneous rock carry short tufted clumps of the wild chives, the taller stems of crow garlic and bright flowers of maiden pink.

Sandstone cliffs to the north around Berwick-upon-Tweed support extensive areas of coastal grassland.

At Newham Fen, species-rich fen vegetation, including reintroduced greater water parsnip, has developed along with areas of reedbed and carr woodland.

Farmland birds such as corn bunting, lapwing, grey partridge, yellow wagtail and tree sparrow are found around the Seahouses area. These form part of a nationally important assemblage of arable birds found in this area (Malvern Hills and Teme Valley Natural Area Profile).

Key habitats

The NCA contains the following areas of key main habitats, as mapped by the national Priority Habitat Inventory (Natural England, Priority Habitats Inventory, 2021):








Key habitats and species map for NCA1

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Settlement and development patterns section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Settlement patterns

Inland the coastal plain is characterised by small nucleated settlements of early medieval origin, often located on higher ground or at river crossing points. The settlement pattern changed during the 18th and early 19th centuries, with large farmsteads and farm hamlets taking the place of several villages, with large planned 19th century estates also characteristic. Several towns and villages along the coast have developed around fishing and trade in agricultural produce, lime and coal. These include Seahouses, Beadnell, Craster, Howick and Alnmouth. The main settlements of Berwick and Alnwick (just to the west of this NCA) are linked by the north-south road, now the A1 (North Northumberland Coastal Plain Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Main settlements

Berwick-upon-Tweed is the main settlement and serves the north of the NCA and areas across the Scottish border. Other settlements include Alnmouth, Seahouses, Beadnell, Boulmer, Ellingham, Lindisfarne village and Belford. The total estimated population for this NCA (derived from ONS 2001 census data) is: 25,860 (North Northumberland Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Local vernacular and building materials

The area has a simple vernacular, usually single storey, built with grey sandstone rubble and red pantile or grey slate roofs. Larger mansions and churches show more embellishment and are built with local Fell Sandstone (North Northumberland Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).


Settlement and development patterns map for NCA1

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Key historic sites and features section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Origin of historic features

The coastal plain Now one of the earliest areas in Northumberland to be settled and exploited. Remains of a Mesolithic settlement are to be found at Howick. The monastery and later priory on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne Now the centre from which the 7th century conversion to Christianity of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms Now based. The prominent castles of the coast line at Holy Island, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth are a legacy of the cross-border warfare dating from medieval times. The walled and fortified town of Berwick- upon-Tweed Now the cornerstone of Tudor defences on the Scottish border. Coastal settlements developed through trading agricultural goods, lime and coal, along with their fishing industries, from the 16th century onwards (Countryside Quality Counts Draft Historic Profile, Countryside Character Area description).

Designated historic assets

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Listed buildings

The NCA includes the following listed buildings (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Heritage at Risk Register

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets listed within the Heritage at Risk Register (Historic England, Heritage at Risk Register, 2023):


Key historic sites and features map for NCA1

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Recreation and access section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Public access

The North Northumberland Coastal Plain is a major tourist attraction centred around the famous historic settlements of Holy Island, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and the walled town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The expansive coastal landscape and famous wildlife reserves around Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands also bring people to this area. Consequently caravan parks and holiday homes are frequent throughout the NCA.

The following areas of public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; National Trust, 2021):


Please note: Public access areas may overlap.

The following linear routes or public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; Sustrans; 2021):

Recreation and access map for NCA1

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Experiential qualities

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Tranquillity

Based on the CPRE map of tranquillity (2006) this is a relatively tranquil area, with the lowest scores for tranquillity at Berwick-upon-Tweed and along the A1 and East Coast Mainline railway corridor. The highest scores are scattered along the coastline at places including Holy Island and Budle Bay.

A breakdown of tranquillity values for this NCA are detailed in the table below (CPRE, Tranquillity Map, 2006):

Dark skies

Light pollution is a generic term referring to artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed, and can impact on people’s experience of the countryside within the NCAs. CPRE host an interactive map, depicting the light pollution and dark skies within the NCA.

Intrusion

The 2007 Intrusion Map (CPRE) shows the extent to which rural landscapes are ‘intruded on’ from urban development, noise (primarily traffic noise), and other sources of visual and auditory intrusion. This shows a similar pattern to the tranquillity map, indicating the A1, the East Coast Mainline railway, Berwick- upon-Tweed and Alnwick (which is in adjacent NCA) are areas of disturbed land.

A breakdown of intrusion values for this NCA is detailed in the table below (CPRE, Intrusion Map, 2007):

Notable trends from the 1960s to 2007 are the increase in disturbance since 1960 as a result of increased traffic along the A1 and railway traffic corridor. Relatively there still remains a large percentage of undisturbed land in the NCA, especially along the coast.