National Character Area 25

North Yorkshire Moors and Cleveland - 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


Upland plateau landscape underlain by sandstone and mudstones.

Glacial deposits of till, sand and gravel creating undulating land primarily on the coast.

Dissected by a series of dales, often broad and sweeping, others steep-sided and narrow, in particular in the Tabular Hills.

Justification for selection:

  • The changes in underlying geology of the NCA are reflected in the building materials used for vernacular, residential and farm buildings as well a dry stone walls and other features associated with the farmed landscape, and therefore have a strong influence on character.
  • The North York Moors National Park Authority 2004 survey of special qualities of the North York Moors identified the “special landforms from the Ice Age” as a key element, in particular the western edge and Newtondale.
  • Glacial features such as the inland cliff on the western edge provide ready examples of the shaping force of nature in the landscape. Glacial features such as Newtondale and Forge Valley are important. The glacially formed inland cliff of the western edge is unique in England.
  • Glacial deposits are dissected by a series of dales, often broad and sweeping, others steep-sided and narrow, in particular in the Tabular Hills.
  • Windy pits are a unique feature caused by fissuring of limestone.

One of the highest stretches of cliffs in England, punctuated by sandy or rocky bays.

Justification for selection:

  • The coastline of the NCA has been recognised as one of England’s most beautiful and undeveloped coastlines and designated as the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast.
  • The Special Qualities of the National Park include “majestic coastal cliffs and sheltered harbours”, “distinctive coastal headlands” and “exceptional coastal geology”.
  • The coastline provides some of the most important geodiversity features in Yorkshire, revealing past geological evidence of international significance, of value for education and scientific research.
  • The contribution that the geological exposures of the cliffs make to understanding geodiversity is reflected in the long standing ‘Dinosaur Coast’ project currently run by Scarborough Museums Trust.

Extensive moorland habitats create a sense of space, expansiveness, openness and tranquillity, with panoramic views over moorland ridges, dales, the surrounding lowlands and the sea.

Justification for selection:

  • The moorland on the high plateaux is perhaps the defining feature of the NCA and is a landscape of active grouse management and sheep grazing. This is the largest continuous expanse of heather moorland in England, the majority within the North York Moors National Park.
  • The importance of moorlands within the NCA is recognised by their UK and European designations. The majority of the moorland area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (UK Wildlife and Countryside Act), a Special Area of Conservation (EC Habitats Directive) and a Special Protection Area (EC Birds Directive).
  • The high level of woodland cover is important to the character of this NCA. The semi-natural habitats which fringe the moorlands include important grassland areas and support iconic species such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly.
  • 56 ha of calcareous grassland and 42 ha of fen, marsh and swamp within the NCA have been designated as SSSI in recognition of their botanical value. A survey in 2011 has revealed further significant areas of alkaline fen making this NCA one of the most important areas in England for the habitat.
  • The large extent of land that has never been cultivated – moorland plateau, rough grassland and steep valley sides – and has seen little development retains a very well-preserved archaeological record with high densities of remains spanning from pre-history to modern.
  • The North York Moors National Park Authority 2004 survey of special qualities of the North York Moors identified the following as key elements: “wide sweeps of open heather moorland”; “strong feeling of remoteness”; and “tranquillity”.
  • Moorlands are of considerable importance for the mosaics of moorland vegetation – dry heath, wet heath, blanket bog, ghyll woodland and flushes – for breeding birds, especially golden plover and merlin, and for extensive prehistoric remains.
  • Below the moors ancient semi natural woodland, coastal habitats, some grasslands and fens are also priority habitats, and create more intimate and varied landscapes. The River Esk is a UK priority habitat.

Extensive conifer plantations are a feature especially on the Tabular Hills in the south east and north of Pickering need to be improved to make a positive contribution to the landscape and biodiversity, and to provide recreational opportunities.

Justification for selection:

  • 21 per cent of the NCA is made up of woodland, but approximately half of this is coniferous plantation and does not form an effective part of the habitat network.
  • The network of ancient semi-natural woodland and plantations on ancient woodland sites in south west, as well as veteran trees and in field/field boundary trees needs to be improved to make a positive contribution to the landscape and biodiversity, and to provide recreational opportunities.
  • Plantations on ancient woodland are on an important feature in the south west of the area.

Upland valleys characterised by pastoral farming with clear demarcation between the enclosed fields, farm settlements and moorland, accentuated by colour contrast.

Justification for selection:

  • The special qualities of the National Park include “great diversity of landscapes” and “sudden contrasts associated with this”.
  • The NCA is a contrast of wide, open moorland with a wild and remote feel and intimate pastoral and wooded valleys with a more sheltered, managed character.
  • There are some notable examples of parkland and wood pasture with important populations of veteran trees such as Duncombe Park National Nature Reserve and Tripsdale SSSI.
  • There are mosaics of largely improved grasslands, semi-natural broadleaved woodland, fast-running rivers, fens and flushes, and bracken on the slopes, with hedges and veteran trees in lower lying dales.

Nucleated settlement within the upland dales and along the coast with small fishing villages distinctive; dales contain scattered farmsteads (several 16th- and 17th-century longhouses) and strong historic patterns of dry stone walls enclosing small pastures. Many of the settlements in the south are linear villages.

Justification for selection:

  • The coastal villages and towns that cling to steep-sided valleys – including Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby – form an iconic part of the developed landscape and are popular tourist destinations.
  • In all but the lowest dales, dry stone walls form the predominant field boundary type and are generally in good stock-proof condition. They form a very strong element of landscape character with distinctive patterns in many dales for example Bransdale and Farndale. Field patterns in the south of the NCA are characteristic, retaining the outline of extensive medieval strip fields.
  • There is a low density of settlement, particularly on higher land. In many of the valleys the majority of settlement takes the form of scattered farmsteads, individual houses with small villages and hamlets in some valleys.
  • The CPRE map of tranquillity (2006) shows that the upland areas of the North York Moors are some of the most tranquil areas in the whole of Yorkshire.
  • The dales contain scattered farmsteads – several 16th- and 17th-century longhouses – and strong historic patterns of dry-stone walls enclosing small pastures.
  • Many of the settlements in the south are linear villages.

Rich sources of archaeological evidence dating back to prehistoric times. Historic buildings constructed in rubble limestone or dressed sandstone with red pantile roofs.

Justification for selection:

  • Special qualities of the North York Moors National Park include: “long imprint of human activity”, “locally distinctive buildings and building materials” and “a wealth of archaeology from prehistory to the 20th century”.
  • A sense of history is evident in the rich and extensive archaeology dating back to prehistoric times. Features include rock art, barrows, cairns, standing stones, historic tracks and ecclesiastical sites. Scarborough Castle provides the site for remains of a ring fort and bronze-working centre as well as a roman signal station.
  • A sense of how people settled and worked the land is evident in the earth works of enclosed and unenclosed farmsteads in the south and west.
  • There are 1,000 scheduled monuments within the NCA.
  • The underlying geology and local custom is reflected in the traditional building styles and materials. This can create a visual unity and connection with the past where continued in present day building.
  • There is a legacy of industrial activity including features relating to exploitation of jet, iron and alum along the coast, ironstone in the Cleveland hills and stone, coal and ironstone workings and disused railways on the moors and hillsides, with evidence of rabbit farming from post-medieval times to the late 19th century.
  • Historic buildings constructed in rubble limestone or dressed sandstone with red pantile roofs.

The Coast to Coast path, Cleveland Way and Ebor Way long distance routes cross the area, providing opportunities for both short and long distance users, and increased engagement with nature.

Justification for selection:

  • Special qualities of the North York Moors National Park include: “a rich and diverse countryside for recreation” and “an extensive network of public paths and tracks”.
  • 155 km of the Cleveland Way runs along the western side of the NCA, 47,180 (28.5 per cent) of the NCA is now open access land and there are 2,762 km of public rights of way.
  • The Cleveland Way has well established ‘easy access’ stretches on the coast suitable for people of all abilities.

Landscape opportunities

  • Conserve and protect the open moorland, extensive views, sense of tranquillity and remoteness and the contrasts between enclosed pastoral and wooded valleys and the open moorland.
  • Maintain clear links between land use and underlying geology and conserve and protect the historic walled and hedged field patterns, and the unity of building materials and styles.
  • Conserve and protect the mosaics of moorland habitats, existing woodland and veteran trees, species rich grassland, wetlands and other semi-natural habitats.
  • Conserve and protect the strong network of public rights of ways, linking key landscape features. Also the extensive archaeological evidence and historic sites.
  • Conserve and protect water resources and quality through appropriate land management practices.
  • Manage existing woodlands, including restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS).
  • Manage moorland habitats, to enhance biodiversity, extend mosaics and protect/restore peat soils.
  • Manage scrub and bracken areas to maximise wildlife value and prevent damage to/destruction of archaeology or vulnerable semi-natural habitats.
  • Manage access, to protect sensitive sites, avoid impacting on sense of remoteness.
  • Manage access for all levels of ability as well as interpretation of the landscape and the surviving historic evidence from all periods.
  • Plan for sustainable moorland management, encouraging innovative solutions to restore peat, create habitat mosaics and enhance biodiversity.
  • Plan for significant increases in woodland and wood pasture in priority areas where it is important to develop the habitat network such as on steep valley sides and moorland gills (avoiding other important habitats such as flushes/fens), and on suitable sites in areas of upland pasture, riparian zones and bracken beds, while recognising the value of open moorland landscape. Increase in field/field boundary trees.
  • Plan for continued restoration of dry stone walls and hedgerows.
  • Plan to increase the area of in-bye and lowland grassland under low intensity management to enhance breeding habitat for wading birds and restore traditional hay meadows and other species-rich grassland.
  • Plan for improved management of the internationally important alkaline fen habitat by encouraging/supporting appropriate grazing.
  • Plan to increase the proportion of the arable area that is under management for farmland birds/rare arable flora where possible.
  • Plan for the extension of habitat networks in particular for woodland in mosaic with flower-rich grasslands and scrub.
  • Plan for landscape scale biodiversity restoration, for example southern edge linked to Ryedale (Howardian Hills/CANDO area).
  • Plan for accommodating dynamic coastal processes, while ensuring no net loss of semi-natural coastal habitat by creating new habitat landward where appropriate.
  • Plan the development of local markets and niche produce to sustain high quality food production alongside delivery of environmental outcomes.