National Character Area 95

Northamptonshire Uplands - 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

Gently rolling rounded, undulating hills and valleys with many long, low ridgelines and variety of landform.

Justification for selection:

  • Wide, far-reaching, uninterrupted views are available from many places both within the NCA, from one ridgetop to the next, and in many places across to surrounding low-lying clay vale areas in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
  • A small area is designated as part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
    Dominant Jurassic scarp slope of limestone and Lias clay hills capped locally with ironstone-bearing Marlstone and Northampton Sands.

Glacial boulder clay covers the northern area with sands and gravels along river valleys.

Justification for selection:

  • The underlying geology of limestone and Lias and the superficial deposits of boulder clay give the area its smooth, gentle undulating character.
  • The distinctive yellow-orange coloured ironstone, historically quarried locally, gives the settlements their highly distinctive character and allows the geology to be read, making a major contribution to the sense of place.
  • The sands and gravels along the valley of the River Nene have been heavily exploited and offer opportunities for wetland restoration.
  • The variable soils are derived from the underlying geology and have influenced local land use, particularly agriculture and woodland cover.

Rivers rise and flow outwards in all directions forming the main watershed of Middle England. The Upper Nene Valley, with flat flood plains and gravel terraces divides the Northamptonshire Heights to the north from the Cherwell/ Ouse plateaux, the ‘Ironstone Wolds’ to the south.

Justification for selection:

  • The many river valleys separating the ridges include the headwaters of four major rivers, the Cherwell, Avon, Leam and Nene, and main tributaries and smaller rivers such as Ise, Brampton, Welland, Tove, and Ouse. Water resources are heavily exploited, including for use in the two major canals (the Grand Union and Oxford canals).
  • The rivers are important visually in the landscape, with their meadows and flood plains.
  • Sand and gravel are exploited along the Nene Valley, often on land previously used as flood meadows.
  • The rivers supply several major reservoirs, including Pitsford, Rutland, Hollowell, Ravensthorpe, Daventry, Naseby, Sulby and Stanford reservoirs which form a key part of the landcover in some areas.
  • The whole of the NCA is classified as a nitrate vulnerable zone, with measures in place to reduce phosphate and nitrate inputs to the watercourses in order to improve water quality.

Sparse woodland cover, but with scattered, visually prominent small broadleaved woods, copses and coverts, particularly on higher ground.

Justification for selection:

  • Woodland cover is sparse with 3,966 ha giving around 4 per cent cover, though many areas give the impression of being well- wooded as a result of the combination of the many small woods, the tall hedgerows with their frequent mature hedgerow trees and the extensive parkland areas with their large numbers of open-grown trees and copses. Together these form a discontinuous woodland network.
  • The small area of ancient woodland (272 ha), some of which is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), is particularly important in an area with little other semi-natural vegetation. Some woods support large stands of bluebells, adding to their visual interest.
  • Dutch elm disease had a major visual impact on woodland and hedgerow trees and there are opportunities to replace lost trees with other species.
  • Many of the woods are highly visually prominent, located on top of hills or slopes, and they are more frequent in an arc from Badby to Woodend in the south of the NCA.
  • The distinctive small woods, coverts and copses derive from the strong cultural tradition of hunting in the area, which is still actively pursued by such well known hunts as the Pytchley and the Grafton.
    A mixed agricultural landscape: open arable contrasting with permanent pasture with large, mostly rectangular enclosed field patterns surrounded by distinctive, high, often A-shaped hedgerows mostly of hawthorn and blackthorn, and many mature hedgerow trees, mostly ash and oak. Drystone walls of ironstone and limestone are common in some areas.
  • The predominant pattern is of Parliamentary enclosure with large rectilinear fields imposed on an up and down landscape with some areas of earlier piecemeal irregular enclosure.
  • The high, mature, A-shaped hedgerows derive their distinctive character from the strong hunting tradition of the area, allowing this strong cultural tradition to be read in the landscape. The majority of hedgerows are in good condition, but in some areas, notably where arable farming predominates, there is evidence of declining condition and loss of both hedgerows and hedgerow trees.
  • Soils are variable but the area is predominantly classed as Grade 3 agricultural land with some Grade 2 particularly in the river valleys. This enables a wide range of cops to be grown. Grass is still the most frequent landcover, with cereals, rape, root crops and cash crops on arable land. Arable is more common in the southern half of the NCA. Sheep are the main livestock, with cattle, including a recent localised increase in native breeds such as Hereford and Dairy Shorthorn in some areas.
  • Miscanthus is a new feature in some areas, altering the colour and texture of the landscape.
  • Small remnants of unimproved grassland remain and other areas of semi-improved grassland occur along the wide road verges bordering the numerous small lanes, providing valuable habitat and connectivity for species within the landscape.
  • Farmland birds add movement and biodiversity interest, particularly in the south-west of the NCA where nationally important concentrations occur.

Small pockets of semi-natural vegetation with small scattered broadleaved woodlands, mires and areas of lowland meadow, flood plain grazing marsh, calcareous grassland and lowland dry acid grassland. Bluebell woods occur in places.

Justification for selection:

  • The small remaining areas of priority habitat and semi-natural vegetation provide visual interest and a variety of colours and textures in the landscape and there is scope for expansion to increase connectivity and resilience to climate change, in particular of the range of grassland habitats.
  • There are many very small SSSI designated for their biodiversity interest, but these are highly fragmented and isolated.
  • Overwintering wildfowl are an important feature of interest on the reservoirs.

Abundant and visually prominent open field systems with ridge and furrow, and frequent deserted and shrunken settlements and other archaeological features and industrial archaeology, including canals.

Justification for selection:

  • The open field systems and associated ridge and furrow and the many deserted or shrunken settlements are of national importance and are one of the most distinctive visual features of the area.
  • The area supports a wide range of both scheduled and non-scheduled features which contribute significantly to the sense of place, and has important cultural associations with the Civil War and the Wars of the Roses, with 85 Scheduled Ancient Monuments of national importance and three registered battlefield sites.
  • As well as the outstanding ridge and furrow and many medieval settlement sites, there is a wealth of sites from all periods, from Neolithic barrows, iron-age hill forts and camps, Roman villas and a Roman road (Watling Street), motte-and-bailey castles, abbeys and granges.
  • The Grand Union and Oxford canals travel the length of the NCA contributing to a strong sense of transport heritage and providing a well-used recreation asset.
  • There are areas of early piecemeal, irregular enclosure, providing variety among the more frequent 18th- to 19th-century Parliamentary enclosure patterns.

Several large historic country estates such as Cottesbrooke Hall and Althorp and many small country estates, with extensive parkland containing a great many mature and veteran trees.

Justification for selection:

  • The area contains a great many country houses and their associated parklands, gardens and estates, 15 of which are considered nationally important and are on the Register of Parks and Gardens.
  • Parkland is a key feature in the landscape in the area and the houses and park features are often built of local stone and reflect the history of the area. The historic designed parks and gardens associated with many of the houses, including some by important designers, contribute to the high level of natural beauty of much of the area but many are in declining condition.
  • The parklands and wider estates contain a great many mature and veteran trees which provide rare habitat for lichens and invertebrates and need careful management and succession planning.
  • Those houses and estates which are open to the public, such as Upton House and Canons Ashby attract large numbers of visitors, providing a popular recreation resource.

Sparse settlement of distinctive nucleated villages often on hill tops or at valley heads. Cob, ironstone and limestone in older buildings with some remaining thatch, but mostly pantile and slate roofs. Brick buildings in some villages. Extensive new developments in villages along main transport corridors and in the two towns.

Justification for selection:

  • The area has a very high level of survival of historic houses of great character, especially of 17th- to 19th-century gentry houses and farmhouses in the small villages, with more than 3,000 Listed Buildings.
  • The local styles of architecture are highly distinctive and make a very strong contribution to both sense of place and levels of natural beauty, particularly the use of local stone and cob, pantile and thatch.
  • Many recent developments have failed to reflect local building styles, materials and patterns resulting in a dilution of the distinctive settlements. There are significant opportunities to strengthen the influence of traditional styles and materials and scale of buildings in new developments, both in the villages and in the main settlements, to better reflect the local vernacular and the nucleated pattern of settlement.

A dense network of narrow lanes with wide grassy verges, often following ridges.

Justification for selection:

  • The undeveloped nature of the network of minor roads contributes to the remote rural feel of much of the area and its associated tranquillity.
  • The wide verges provide areas of semi-natural grassland; habitat for plant species and insects, which have declined elsewhere, and provide valuable connectivity with remaining areas of biodiversity value.
  • The new strategic road infrastructure developments and road upgrades have not reflected local road character resulting in a diminution of their rural nature. There are significant opportunities to ensure that any future transport developments better reflect the characteristics and scale of the area in road and rail design and mitigation.

High levels of tranquillity and an undisturbed rural character across much of the area, though it is crossed by locally visually dominant strategic road and rail corridors and recent development in the towns has reduced these attributes locally.

Justification for selection:

  • The CPRE map of tranquillity (2006) shows that away from the fringes and main transport corridors, the area still has high levels of tranquillity and these areas provide an increasingly rare opportunity to ‘get away from it all’ in this increasingly urbanised part of England.
  • The CPRE intrusion map (2007) shows that 51 per cent is still classified as undisturbed, having an undisturbed, remote, rural feel, with only 2 per cent classed as urban (the two main settlements of Daventry and Banbury) and with the 47 per cent disturbed land adjacent to the towns and the three main transport corridors which cross the area and house the M1, M45, M40, A14, A508, A45, A5, A422, A423, A425, West Coast Main Line, Great Western Railway and the Oxford and Grand Union canals, with their areas of associated industrial, warehouse and housing development.
  • Away from the disturbed areas, the NCA still has relatively dark night skies compared with the surrounding urban areas.

Little publicly accessible land but a wide range of other opportunities for recreation.

Justification for selection:

  • Only 0.6 per cent of the NCA is classed as publicly accessible with very little open access land.
  • Many named long distance walking routes and a network of rights of way for walking, cycling and horse riding.
  • Award-winning country parks such as Brixworth and Daventry.
  • A large number of historic houses, gardens and estates are open to the public offering high quality visitor experiences to enjoy the history of the area, visit gardens and walk in the grounds.
  • Two historic canals offer opportunities for enjoying industrial heritage, boating, walking, fishing and wildlife watching.
  • Pitsford and other reservoirs offer wildlife watching, fishing and boating.
  • A small part of the NCA lies within the Cotswolds AONB offering opportunities to enjoy the high level of natural beauty.

Landscape opportunities

  • Protect the gently rolling, rounded, undulating hills with their many long, low ridgelines and the great variety of landform, varied geodiversity
  • and heritage features, its fragile but valuable parkland, woodland and hedgerow mosaic and the high quality long-distance views.
  • Conserve, restore and enhance the extensive areas of remnant historic parkland, both registered and non-registered and their veteran and mature trees, to protect their heritage, landscape and biodiversity interest, encouraging a co-ordinated approach between conservation organisations and farming organisations to ensure that plans respect the historic integrity of parkland design as well as the biodiversity opportunities and the needs of farming practice.
  • Protect both scheduled and non-scheduled archaeological features where known, and encourage appropriate management of the outstanding features including the open field systems, ridge and furrow, deserted settlements and shrunken ends of villages.
  • Protect, manage, enhance and expand the network of broadleaved and ancient woodlands and wood pasture, restoring structural diversity, re-introducing active coppice management, where this will enhance woodland habitat and wildlife interest, strengthening hedgerow networks, particularly where hedgerows connect areas of woodland, and encouraging the planting of a wide range of tree species to increase resilience to climate change and novel diseases.
  • Maintain restore and recreate hedgerows and ironstone or limestone walls using local stone and the Midlands style of hedge-laying, and maintaining the distinctive A-shaped, high, thick hedgerows with their many standard trees, to maintain habitat connectivity and cultural influence of farming patterns in the landscape.
  • Protect the mixed farming regime and encourage the retention of remaining pasture and reversion to pasture in parkland, enhancing the remaining areas of high quality unimproved grassland by linking and buffering them with lowland pasture, hay meadows and grass margins, and manage lowland grassland to prevent fragmentation.
  • Encourage appropriate management of the wide, grassy road verges to ensure these local features are retained in the landscape and encourage volunteer surveys to establish whether management is appropriate.
  • Manage arable cropping patterns and arable cultivation to encourage rare arable plants and the range of farmland birds and mammals.
  • Encourage the retention or use of traditional grazing stock such as the Hereford and Dairy Shorthorn, which contribute to landscape character and the ability to read the farming heritage of the area in the landscape.
  • Manage and enhance the network of streams and rivers, to maintain them as distinctive features in the landscape and enhance their riparian habitats and wildlife interest, while restoring, expanding and re-linking wetland habitats, and bringing rivers back into continuity with their flood plains.
  • Enhance the old workings of gravel extraction sites along the Nene Valley and plan to restore new extraction sites once exhausted, creating new wetland habitats and providing access and recreational opportunities.
  • Plan a strong landscape framework as a context to potential modern development and expansion around Daventry and Banbury and the main transport corridors, ensuring that new development does not have a negative impact on landscape character. Consider the visual impact of modern development, particularly from urban intrusion, and manage road improvements where possible to maintain the existing character of the rural road network.
  • Encourage new development and extensions where proved necessary and repair work to existing historic buildings that reflect the local building styles, materials and detailing and maintain heritage significance.
  • Ensure on-farm developments respect the original form, style and materials of adjacent farmsteads, retaining and encouraging sympathetic restoration or conversion of redundant buildings which respects their particular local character, vernacular styles and materials.
  • Protect the remaining strong senses of remoteness and tranquillity in areas away from the main settlements and transport corridors, by controlling development and use of night-time lighting, especially on the higher ground.
  • Manage and replant the areas of mature, amenity tree planting sheltering villages, using a wide range of species to build in resistance to novel tree diseases and to ensure retention of these elements of the landscape.
  • Provide easily accessible sites of wildlife, historical and geological interest for both educational and public use and encourage appropriate interpretation of the qualities of the landscape, the importance of its historic buildings and parkland and archaeological features to improve people’s understanding and enjoyment of the history and time-depth of the area.
  • Encourage volunteers to undertake tasks such as surveying and conserving the wildlife, historical and cultural interest of the area to increase enjoyment and understanding of its qualities.
  • Within the area of the NCA which lies in the Cotswolds AONB, encourage the use of the finer grained information in the Cotswolds AONB Management Plan and the Cotswolds AONB Landscape Strategy and Guidelines to ensure that landscape opportunities are maximised in ways that do not conflict with the purposes of designation.