National Character Area 2

Northumberland Sandstone Hills - Analysis: Ecosystem Services

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on a selection of the key provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem goods and services for this NCA. These are underpinned by supporting services such as photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, soil formation and evapo-transpiration. Supporting services perform an essential role in ensuring the availability of all ecosystem services.

Bodiversity and geodiversity are crucial in supporting the full range of ecosystem services provided by this landscape. Wildlife and geologically-rich landscapes are also of cultural value and are included in this section of the analysis. This analysis shows the projected impact of Statements of Environmental Opportunity on the value of nominated ecosystem services within this landscape.

Further analysis on landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities section.

Natural Capital

Further information on Natural Capital within this NCA is contained in the Natural Capital and Key Ecosystem Services section.

The Northumberland Sandstone Hills NCA provides a wide range of benefits to society. Each is derived from the attributes and processes (both natural and cultural features) within the area. These benefits are realised through the ‘ecosystem services’ that flow from the ‘ecosystem assets’ or ‘natural capital’ of a place.

Natural capital means ‘the elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions’ (Natural Capital Committee, 2017).

Ecosystem Services Main Beneficiaries

The below map displays the main beneficiaries of each ecosystem service identified within this NCA and neighbouring NCAs. These range from being of international importance to local importance. Some services have not been assessed within all NCAs, and therefore in some NCAs are displayed as “N/A” (not applicable).

 

Main Beneficiaries Map

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Ecosystem service analysis

The following sections show the analysis used to determine key Ecosystem Service opportunities within the area. These opportunities have been combined with the analysis of landscape opportunities to create Statements of Environmental Opportunity. Please note that the following analysis is based upon available data and current understanding of ecosystem services. It does not represent a comprehensive local assessment. Quality and quantity of data for each service is variable locally and many of the services listed are not yet fully researched or understood. Therefore analysis and opportunities may change upon publication of further evidence and better understanding of the inter-relationship between services at a local level.

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

Provisioning Services

Food provision

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Soils
  • Semi-natural habitats
  • Watercourses Livestock

State – This area is important for livestock production. 89 per cent of the land is grass and uncropped land which support 232,400 sheep and 24,400 cattle.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Despite its modest altitude the topography and poor soils of this area has dictated a farming pattern of extensive livestock rearing. Arable cultivation (9 per cent of NCA area) increased post-war but there has been a more recent trend towards returning fringe farmland to grass.

Warmer, drier summers as a result of climate change may cause a shift towards more arable farming in the lowlands to increase fodder production for livestock. This could increase the risk of soil erosion, particularly on steeper slopes.

The retention of viable livestock farming in the NCA is important both to the local economy and for the maintenance of the characteristic landscape and habitats. Locally sourced food can play an important role in supporting tourism in the area, and in the process help encourage a locally sustainable green economy.

Opportunities – Seek to support farmers and land owners in the production of food in ways that optimise productivity whilst maintaining biodiversity, historic features and landscape character.

Supporting sustainable levels of grazing through agri-environment schemes, and particularly encouraging grazing of the uplands by cattle, is important for maintaining a viable livestock farming industry and managing the small-scale mosaic of upland habitats.

Ensure agri-environment schemes are used to best effect to conserve and enhance wildlife-rich habitats and support the production of traditional food products such as lamb, mutton, beef and game using methods that sustain a healthy moorland environment, marketing them with reference to the special landscapes that their production helps to maintain.

Ensure that future land management changes to increase food production also improve the resilience of habitats and species to climate change, minimise carbon emissions, increase carbon sequestration and improve water quality and storage where possible.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Food provision
  • Water availability
  • Genetic diversity
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Biodiversity

Timber provision

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Soils
  • Existing woodland
  • Large-scale commercial plantations such as Harwood and Thrunton

State – Woodland covers 14,195 ha of the NCA (19.5 per cent) of which at least 10,217 ha (14 per cent of NCA area) consist of coniferous plantations. (The actual area covered by plantations is probably greater than this as this figure does not include new planting or recently felled areas.)

Small- to large-scale plantations are scattered throughout the area and a large proportion of the woodland is within the Forestry Commission estate.

Harwood and Thrunton are large-scale commercial plantations, areas of which are still being planted.

Broadleaved woodland is predominantly associated with rivers, scarp slopes and some of the large country estates.

The timber haulage industry is dependent on the four key transport routes that pass through this NCA.

There are currently three sawmills and three woodfuel suppliers.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – As woodland cover is already relatively high the potential for expansion without impacting on either moorland habitats or farmed land is probably limited.

Many of the conifer plantations are now reaching maturity and some are being felled. Kyloe, Harwood and Raylees have been designated as red squirrel reserves and are also important for nightjar.

Conifers can acidify watercourses so any new planting should consider the impacts on these. Felling can also impact on water quality through sedimentation and operations should be conducted in such a way as to minimise this risk.

There are opportunities for the enhancement of conifer plantations on the summits and upper slopes through woodland restructuring schemes and replacement planting with broadleaves, especially along the edges, along rides and adjacent to watercourses. This would reduce the visual impact of these geometric blocks on landscape character.

Additional measures to include improved access provision and recreational facilities should also be encouraged where appropriate.

Encourage the removal of coniferous woodland where it impinges on adjacent landscapes such as river valleys or features such as craggy outcrops and significant archaeological sites. The removal of small discordant blocks of conifers, particularly on heather moorland where the restoration of moorland is feasible, with compensatory planting in more appropriate locations would strengthen landscape character, provide opportunities to restore open upland habitats, and strengthen the fragmented broadleaved woodland resource.

Opportunities – Encourage woodland management that will increase timber and woodfuel production whilst creating habitats for wildlife and enhancing the landscape.

Encourage further removal and restructuring of conifer plantations through felling and broadleaved planting to benefit landscape character and biodiversity, taking opportunities created by felling to restore grass and heather moorland where appropriate with compensatory planting elsewhere.

Where appropriate, provide opportunities to increase access provision and recreational facilities, such as new footpaths and bridleways, as part of changes associated with woodland management practices.

Encourage the regeneration of semi-natural woodland, juniper scrub and wood pasture, diversifying the age structure of the woodland and strengthening landscape character. This could contribute to local provision of wood fuel whilst strengthening habitat networks, stabilising soil, reducing soil erosion and potentially assisting with water quality along watercourses.

Continue to manage designated reserves and buffering areas for red squirrels, controlling grey squirrels, avoiding the clear-felling of areas and avoiding re-planting with large-seeded deciduous species.

Providing areas suitable for nightjar within managed plantations.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Timber provision
  • Biomass energy
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity

Water availability

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • High levels of precipitation
  • Extensive areas of semi-natural habitat
  • Reservoirs
  • Rivers and streams including Till, Aln, Coquet, Font and Wansbeck

State – A small part of the north-western extent of the NCA overlies the Fell Sandstone Aquifer which has been assessed as ‘no water available’ (Till Abstraction Licensing Strategy, Environment Agency, 2013). Groundwater is predominantly abstracted from the aquifer to provide the public water supply for northern Northumberland. Industrial and commercial use is licensed for a much smaller proportion of water.

The River Till is part of the River Tweed Special Area of Conservation and abstractions, which are predominantly for crop irrigation in the Cheviot Fringe NCA, are therefore currently licensed by Natural England.

Summer abstraction from the River Till is consented up to the sustainable level and no additional water is currently available during the summer months. Surface water abstractions are likely to move to ‘no water available’ when the Environment Agency become responsible for licensing the Till (Till Abstraction Licensing Strategy, Environment Agency, 2013).

The majority of the NCA is covered by the Northumberland Rivers Abstraction Licensing Strategy. The most dominant use (86 per cent) of licensed water is for public water supply, with agriculture and industry accounting for less than 7 per cent each. The remaining proportion is used for power generation purposes, but this amounts to very little (Northumberland Rivers Abstraction Licensing Strategy, Environment Agency, 2013).

Many isolated properties are not connected to mains water and rely on springs or boreholes for their water supply.

The rivers Aln, Coquet and Wansbeck have ‘water available’. The River Font has ‘limited water available’.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – There are concerns that there may be insufficient groundwater available to meet future demand. The Fell Sandstone outcrop plays an important role in aquifer recharge because much of the area is free from superficial deposits and consequently precipitation directly recharges groundwater levels. The extensive semi-natural habitats in this area are important for water infiltration and storage, increasing the opportunity for groundwater recharge.

The ability of a catchment to maintain a constant flow rather than experience flood and drought episodes is improved by healthy soils and peat and wetland ecosystems with good vegetative cover, which improves infiltration of rainfall.

The Till and Aln predominantly provide water for crop irrigation whilst the Rivers Coquet, Font and Wansbeck and the Fell Sandstone Aquifer provide public water supply.

Climate change is likely to result in more intense precipitation events with warmer, drier summers in the long term, and future demand for water both for crop irrigation and public water supply is likely to increase.

High levels of unsustainable abstraction create low flow levels that negatively impact on biodiversity and water quality so the amount of water licensed for abstraction may need to be reduced.

It is imperative that water is used sustainably and land management practices are employed which will increase water infiltration both in this and downstream NCAs.

Opportunities – Seek opportunities to restore semi-natural habitats such as blanket bog, wet heath, mires, flushes, wet woodland and grassland to improve water storage capacity whilst reducing flood risk and soil erosion, improving water quality, climate regulation, habitat networks and ecosystem resilience to climate change.

Improve sustainable use of water and sympathetic land management practices such as storage reservoirs constructed to form positive features within the local landscape and increase biodiversity interest, and water conservation measures in new development.

Encourage good soil management such as avoiding poaching, overgrazing, compaction, and encouraging extensive grazing, to promote good soil structure and optimise infiltration of rain water into the aquifer.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Water availability
  • Biomass energy
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Pollination
  • Pest regulation
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Biodiversity

Genetic diversity

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service – 

  • Chillingham wild cattle
  • Local and traditional livestock breeds

State – The wild Chillingham cattle are a rare breed that has been genetically isolated for hundreds of years in the enclosed park at Chillingham Castle. It is one of only two herds of wild white cattle in the UK, the other being on the Crown Estate in Scotland.

This is an important area for rearing hardy hill livestock. There were 232,400 sheep and 24,400 cattle in 2009 (Agricultural June Census Survey, Defra, 2009).

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – The Chillingham cattle herd are not domesticated and are wild animals. Their behaviour may therefore give some insight into the behaviour of ancestral wild cattle. Their historic origins and genetic isolation make them an important and valuable asset and a tourist attraction.

The wider area is grazed by hardy local breeds of sheep such as Cheviots and Northumberland Blackface sheep which are particularly well-suited to the climate, vegetation and topography of this area. This area is also grazed by hardy and native breeds of cow such as belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus cattle. Promotion of these could be used to support a sustainable local green economy by encouraging local produce from traditional breeds.

Opportunities – Maintain and expand the herd of Chillingham wild cattle, providing information and interpretation to improve understanding of their historic and genetic interest.

Encourage the use of traditional breeds for conservation grazing, particularly promoting the use of native cattle breeds for grazing the upland slopes and heathland.

Support farmers in attempts to capitalise on the environmental value of local breeds and their heritage/genetic value.

Encourage the promotion and development of supply chains and markets for high quality local produce from traditional breeds, encouraging a green economy that supports local tourism.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Genetic diversity
  • Food provision
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity

Biomass energy

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Existing woodland cover

State – The existing woodland cover (19.5 per cent) offers high potential for the provision of biomass, either through bringing unmanaged woodland under management or as a by-product of commercial timber production.

Yield potential for miscanthus is generally low, while in contrast, the yield potential for short rotation coppice (SRC) is high in the northern half and eastern side of the character area.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – There are opportunities to increase wood fuel provision through bringing unmanaged woodland under management, as a by-product of commercial timber production, and through planting of new woodland for flood risk management.

There are already some wood fuel suppliers and saw mills in this NCA. Access will be important but this has the potential to provide environmental benefits such as restoring, expanding and linking woodland habitat and stabilising soils, whilst providing social and economic benefits. However, with the low population and scattered settlement pattern, the local demand is likely to be low.

The impact on semi-natural habitats and landscape character of planting SRC limits potential sites to river valleys, and any planting would need to respect the existing scale and pattern of woodland planting there. For information on the potential landscape impacts of biomass plantings within the NCA, refer to the tables on the Natural England website.

Warmer and wetter climatic conditions and an increasing demand for biomass in the future may lead to a shift towards planting miscanthus but this would be out of keeping with the area’s strongly pastoral nature.

Opportunities – Manage existing woodlands to improving age structure, diversity and long term survival, providing local sources of wood fuel.

Seek opportunities to expand existing woodlands and create new woodlands, particularly on lower slopes and in river valleys, enhancing the fragmented network where this fits with landscape character and will not adversely affect historic features. Planting along rivers and on scarp slopes will have the added benefit of stabilising soils and reducing run-off.

There may be opportunities to plant SRC along the eastern side of the NCA but the impacts on semi-natural habitats and landscape character, and the increased risk of soil erosion associated with cropping would need to be carefully considered.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Biomass energy
  • Timber provision
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Pollination
  • Pest regulation
  • Sense of place/Inspiration
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity

Regulating Services

Climate regulation

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Soils with high carbon content
  • Woodland
  • Grassland

State – Soil carbon levels are high (20-50 per cent) across much of this NCA, associated with the large tracts of upland heath.

Soils under the 14,195 ha (19.5 per cent of NCA area) of woodland within the NCA areas will also be relatively high in carbon, as will soils under grassland, and the woodland itself will provide carbon storage.

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – Peaty soils cover 37 per cent of this NCA and have the potential to store significant volumes of carbon but their capacity to act as carbon stores and sequester further carbon depends on the peat and associated habitats being in good hydrological and biological condition.

High levels of carbon will also be stored in other soils under undisturbed, semi-natural habitats such as permanent grassland and woodland.

It is anticipated that climate change and future increases in demand for food provision may result in a shift from pastoral to more arable land use in this NCA. This would increase soil disturbance, and combined with drying out of peat soils, would lead to significant loss of stored carbon.

Sensitive land management and restoration measures such as grip-blocking should help to avoid further release of stored carbon to the atmosphere and could restore some of the carbon storage capacity and sequestration ability of the blanket bog and peat soils.

Trees and woodland shading watercourses will help regulate conditions for aquatic species under a changing climate by reducing water temperature and thereby maintaining available oxygen levels. Trees and woodland in all locations also sequester carbon, help to regulate the impacts of severe weather events and provide potential sources of wood fuel.

Opportunities – Ensure that peat soils and associated habitats which are in good hydrological and biological condition remain under optimal land management regimes.

Seek opportunities to restore areas of blanket bog and wet heath through sustainable land management practices and programmes of work to re-vegetate bare areas and encourage establishment of sphagnum to achieve a healthy and functioning acrotelm, so that the peat does not oxidise and active peat formation is encouraged.

Encourage woodland management and planting, particularly alongside streams and rivers, where it would also benefit water quality, flood alleviation and biodiversity, but without detracting from the landscape, historic environment and recreation opportunities.

Encourage extensive low-input grazing regimes on managed pastures and leys to reduce applications of artificial fertilisers and maintain carbon within the soils.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Climate regulation
  • Timber provision
  • Water availability
  • Biomass energy
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Pollination
  • Pest regulation
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Biodiversity

Regulating coastal erosion and flooding

No information available.

Regulating water quality

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • High rainfall
  • Rivers and streams
  • Extensive semi-natural vegetation

State – For information regarding the current state of water quality within this NCA, refer to the Environment Agency(Draft river basin management plan maps).

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Elevated levels of nitrate, sulphate, potassium and volatile compounds detected in the Fell Sandstone groundwater unit are thought to be due to diffuse pollution from agriculture, localised industrial contamination, surface water contamination from mine water discharges and some contribution from non-mains drainage and mains sewer leakage.

There are also issues of diffuse pollution from agricultural land for a number of the rivers. The Till, Aln and Coquet rivers all fall within a Priority Catchment designated under Defra’s Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative. Diffuse pollution is being addressed through Catchment Sensitive Farming and agri-environment schemes, employing measures which reduce soil and nutrient run-off from agricultural land.

Flooding of the sand and gravel quarry at Caistron has previously caused water quality issues but this is now being addressed.

The water quality of the rivers Tweed, Till and tributaries and Coquet is essential to the survival of the Atlantic salmon, sea trout, otter, brook and river lampreys, water vole, water crowfoot, and rich invertebrate fauna which are found there, as well as for the continuing reputation of these rivers as nationally important game fisheries. In addition to being a concern for local biodiversity, adverse effects on fish stocks and other wildlife could have a negative impact on the local economy if visitor numbers are affected.

More extreme rainfall events as a result of climate change are likely to increase the risk of sediment and nutrient run-off, which could cause increased hydraulic scour and eutrophication effects. Warmer summers may raise water temperatures causing greater incidences of algal blooms and concentration of pollutants.

Good farming practices to help reduce the risks of pollution in the NCA will therefore become even more important. These include maintaining good soil structure, minimising bank erosion by stock, minimising sediment run-off from arable fields, minimising pollution from sheep dips and appropriate timing and application of manure and fertiliser.

Clear-felling of conifer plantations has the potential to cause a release of silt into water courses through surface run-off; operations must be conducted in ways to minimise this risk.

Invasive species such as Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and signal crayfish are problematic in the lower stretches of the Till, Aln and Coquet catchments. Continuing to monitor and control these species is critical to ensuring the continued good ecological status of these watercourses.

Opportunities – Work with the farming community to promote best practice in soils, nutrient and pesticide management. This will include encouraging farmers to improve facilities for the storage of slurry and manure, sufficient to cope with more extreme weather conditions, and carefully managing stock movements and controlling riparian grazing to avoid poaching and erosion of the banks of watercourses. Matching nutrient inputs to needs will reduce nutrient run-off.

Where cropping takes place, promote the use of in-field margins, headlands and winter cover crops, especially on sandy soils on slopes, and manage the timing of operations to avoid compaction and protect soil condition.

Manage and extend areas of permanent grassland, scrub and woodland along watercourses.

Seek opportunities to reduce pollution from industrial and mine water discharges to benefit watercourses and the Fell Sandstone aquifer and ensure gravel extraction adjacent to Coquet does not impact on water quality.

Seek opportunities to improve management of non-mains and mains drainage and sewage.

Restore areas of bare peat and encourage moorland management that ensures good vegetative structure and hydrologically functioning habitats to aid water infiltration and minimise soil erosion.

Ensure good forestry practice is followed to minimise siltation from felling operations.

Continue to monitor and control the spread of invasive species in the watercourses.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating water quality
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity

Regulating water flow

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Geology
  • Soils
  • Semi-natural habitats

State – The main rivers within the NCA are the Till, Aln, Coquet, Fallowlees Burn and the headwaters of the River Font.

Only a small, rural stretch of the River Till lies within the NCA and associated flood risk to people and property is therefore low (Till and Breamish Catchment Flood Management Plan Summary Report, Environment Agency, 2009).

Flooding is a risk along the length of the River Aln and has been reported since 1770 but damage has been limited to bridges and agricultural land within this rural NCA.

The physical characteristics of the River Coquet catchment, with its steep headwaters draining upland heather and peat moors in the Cheviot Hills, mean that it responds quickly to rainfall leading to a rapid onset of flooding. The main settlement at risk of flooding from the River Coquet within the NCA is Rothbury. Downstream flood risk exists in Felton (Mid Northumberland NCA) and Warkworth (South East Northumberland Coastal Plain NCA).

The stretches of the River Wansbeck and River Font in this NCA are predominantly rural with a low risk of flooding. There is, however, significant risk of flooding downstream around Morpeth (Mid Northumberland NCA) (Wansbeck and Blyth Catchment Flood Management Plan Summary Report, Environment Agency, 2009).

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – The Environment Agency’s preferred approach to managing this flood risk includes avoidance of inappropriate development in the floodplain of the Coquet and Aln, promotion of sustainable land management practices that reduce the amount and rate of runoff and erosion, new woodland planting along riparian zones, and investigation of measures such as floodwater storage in gravel pits upstream of Rothbury and in designated areas on the Wansbeck (North East Northumberland Flood Management Plan Summary Report, Environment Agency, 2009; Wansbeck and Blyth Catchment Flood Management Plan Summary Report, Environment Agency, 2009).

One drawback of floodwater storage on the Wansbeck and other rivers, however, is that it may detrimentally affect the native white-clawed crayfish which are found there.

The Coquet is identified within the Forestry Commission’s Woodlands For Water initiative and it is hoped that new broadleaved planting schemes along its banks and on the flood plain could help slow down the flow of water thereby reducing flooding events at Rothbury and further down river.

The Coquet in particular is a very dynamic river which still has a natural and dynamic morphology. This is critical to its biodiversity and geomorphological interest and key to the landscape character of the area.

The risk of major flood events is likely to increase with climate change and there is a major opportunity to significantly enhance the regulation of water flow by restoring and creating multi-functional wetlands within the main river corridors and encourage the river systems to operate naturally.

Opportunities – Restore and enhance blanket bog and heathland habitats, securing sustainable grazing and burning regimes and encouraging programmes of work to restore hydrology and ecology to achieve good vegetative cover of bryophytes and heather, thus increasing water retention capacity and impeding water flow off the moors.

Seek opportunities to extend floodplains and create flood storage areas along valleys, and manage to expand areas of wetland habitats, particularly meadows and wet pastures.

Allow river systems to operate naturally, encouraging dynamic processes and extending wetlands to diffuse the energy of floodwaters.

Promote good soil management on farms such as avoiding poaching, over-grazing, compaction, and encouraging extensive grazing, to improve infiltration of rainwater into agricultural land.

Seek opportunities to restore and expand broadleaved woodland, particularly along riparian zones and in the flood plain of the Coquet, to improve water interception and storage and stabilise the banks of watercourses.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating water flow
  • Water availability
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Biodiversity

Regulating soil quality

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Geology
  • Soil types
  • Semi-natural habitats
  • Land management

State – Almost half of the agricultural land is recorded as ALC Grade 5 (very poor quality), with the remainder comprising mainly Grade 4 (poor quality) and Grade 3 (good to moderate quality.

There are 9 main soilscape types in this NCA: slowly permeable seasonally wet slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey soils (covering 28 per cent of the NCA), slowly permeable wet very acid upland soils with a peaty surface (27 per cent), slowly permeable seasonally wet acid loamy and clayey soils (14 per cent), freely draining very acid sandy and loamy soils (10 per cent), very acid loamy upland soils with a wet peaty surface (9 per cent), freely draining slightly acid loamy soils (7 per cent), freely draining slightly acid sandy soils (1 per cent), loamy soils with naturally high groundwater (1 per cent), and raised bog peat soils (1 per cent).

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – The loamy and clayey soils (42 per cent) may suffer compaction and/or capping as they are easily damaged when wet. This may lead to increasingly poor water infiltration and diffuse pollution as a result of surface water runoff.

Management measures that increase organic matter levels can help reduce these problems.

The upland soils with a peaty surface (27 per cent) are at risk of loss of organic matter through climate change and soil erosion. Measures should be encouraged that retain water in situ and potentially raise water levels, ensure good vegetative cover and avoid over-grazing, trampling or damage by mechanised activities.

The freely draining very acid sandy and loamy soils (10 per cent) are generally easily worked though inherently infertile and some soils are susceptible to poaching.

Opportunities – Manage moorland habitats to ensure good vegetation cover and peat formation through encouraging sustainable levels of grazing and heather burning.

Ensure the management of pastures and meadows encourages the build-up of organic matter, for example through extensive grazing regimes which will also reduce the risk of poaching.

Encourage careful timing of mechanised activities and stock movement to avoid compaction of wet soils.

Promote informed infield nutrient application and the use of green manure crops and winter stubbles in arable rotations to replace nutrients and bind soil.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating soil quality
  • Food provision
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Biodiversity

Regulating soil erosion

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Soils with a peaty surface, freely draining acid loamy soils and sandy soils
  • Semi-natural vegetation
  • Land management practices

State – The soils in 55 per cent of this NCA are at risk of erosion.

The slowly permeable wet very acid upland soils with a peaty surface (27 per cent) are at risk of erosion and carbon loss when they dry out. In common with the very acid loamy upland soils with a wet peaty surface (9 per cent) they are easily damaged by over-grazing or mechanised activities, particularly when soils are wet.

The freely draining very acid loamy soils (10 per cent), freely draining slightly acid loamy soils (7 per cent) and freely draining slightly acid sandy soils (1 per cent) can erode easily on steep slopes during storm events, especially where vegetation is removed or where organic matter levels are low after continuous cultivation.

Raised bog peat soils (1 per cent), although permeable and having a generally low risk of water erosion, may erode where cultivated land is susceptible to flooding. There is also a possible risk of wind erosion where surfaces are bare.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – Soil erosion of the peaty soils is not currently a significant problem but measures should be encouraged which retain water in situ and retain vegetation cover to ensure it does not become one, particularly as climate change is likely to result in warmer, drier summers which will exacerbate the problem.

Erosion of sandy soils under arable cultivation on the scarp and dip slopes is, however, a serious problem in this NCA. Some erosion is caused by wind but predominantly by water run-off. Measures such as reducing the intensity of cultivation, using low ground pressure tyres, increasing the use of in-field margins, planting winter cover crops and reversion to permanent pasture should be encouraged. In some cases a change in land-use to woodland should be considered, consistent with the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission Woodland for Water Project.

The majority of the NCA falls within the Tweed, Aln, Coquet and Coastal Streams Priority Catchment designated under Defra’s Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative and land management measures will be supported which reduce run-off of soil from arable fields (Catchment Sensitive Farming Funding Priority Statements 2010/11, Defra). There is a need to address the impacts of diffuse pollution on the River Till/ Tweed SAC, River Coquet SSSI and the Fell Sandstone Aquifer.

Opportunities – Opportunities should be sought to decrease the frequency and intensity of cultivation on vulnerable slopes, encouraging the use of low ground pressure tyres, promoting the use of in-field margins and headlands, and planting winter cover crops. Reversion to permanent pasture should be encouraged where appropriate, to protect the freely draining acid sandy and loamy soils, and in some cases change in land-use to woodland should be considered.

Encouraging the restoration and reinstatement of hedgerows (where these are the typical field boundaries in valley bottoms) should reduce wind erosion as well as improving the valuable network of wildlife corridors.

Securing sustainable grazing and burning management of moorland should reduce the risk of erosion of peat soils; good vegetative cover on blanket bog and heather moorland will reduce sediment run-off. In some places active restoration through measures such as grip blocking may be required.

Seek opportunities to secure good grazing and cutting management of in-bye land and meadows to maintain good soil structure, improve infiltration and prevent channelling, run-off and flooding.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Food provision
  • Water availability
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Biodiversity

Pollination

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Semi-natural habitats

State – The extensive areas of heathland, particularly in the uplands of the south and west, provide important habitat for pollinating insects, as do the species-rich grasslands. While there is only limited crop production in this NCA this resource will be important for certain crop yields in the adjacent arable NCAs such as the Cheviot Fringe and the North Northumberland Coastal Plain.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Pollination by insects is important for many crops to promote seed set and fulfil yield potential but research shows their numbers have declined sharply. Ensuring the presence of nectar and pollen sources throughout the flying season and the habitat structure required for all stages of their life cycles at a landscape scale, should help to increase pollinators which will benefit crops such as oilseed rape and field beans grown on lower lying land in this NCA and in adjacent arable areas such as the Cheviot Fringe NCA and North Northumberland Coastal Plain NCA.

Changes in temperature, humidity and soil moisture as a result of climate change may decouple the phenologies of pollinators from their host plants, change exposure to pollinator pathogens and increase exposure to pesticides if summer rainfall declines. These potential impacts highlight the need for greater connectivity of habitats to allow species to shift and adapt.

Opportunities – Seek opportunities to increase connectivity for pollinators within the landscape, linking the semi-natural habitats of the uplands in this NCA with adjacent cultivated areas. Emphasis should therefore be on fringe areas and river valleys, enhancing the network of species-rich hay meadows, grasslands, woodlands, hedgerows, road verges and field margins.

Plant early-flowering species such as goat willow to aid pollinators early in the season.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Pollination
  • Food provision
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating water flow
  • Pest regulation
  • Biodiversity

Pest regulation

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Semi-natural habitats

State – The extensive species-rich and structurally diverse upland heathland habitats within this NCA will support pest-regulating species but the importance of this resource to commercial crop production is limited by distance.

Ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) is affecting ash trees in England. Ash forms a significant component of field boundaries and woodlands in this NCA.

Main beneficiary – Local

Analysis – Regulation of pest species by natural predators can be encouraged through the provision of appropriate habitats and resources; the greater the diversity and complexity of habitats the more predator and parasitoid species are likely to be supported.

Attention will need to be paid to the occurrence of ash dieback and other tree diseases which could have a significant impact on woodlands and field boundaries.

Opportunities – Seek opportunities to link the upland heathland with other semi-natural habitats in this NCA and with arable farmland through the enhancement of networks of species-rich grasslands, woodland, and field margins to encourage movement of natural enemies.

Carry out surveys of trees as required to identify any occurrence of diseases such as ash dieback, and work with landowners and managers to control spread and introduce biosecurity measures where appropriate.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Pest regulation
  • Food provision
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Regulating water flow
  • Pollination
  • Biodiversity

Cultural Services

Sense of place/inspiration

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Characteristic sandstone geology
  • Open moorlands
  • Sheltered, wooded valleys
  • Rivers and streams
  • Country houses and castles set in designed grounds and parkland
  • Low population density; isolated farmsteads and villages
  • Market towns of Alnwick and Rothbury
  • Buildings constructed from local sandstone
  • A wealth of heritage assets
  • Tranquillity and dark night skies

State – A sense of place is provided by a distinctive and strongly contrasting landscape. Sandstone hills form the distinctive skyline characterised by level tops, north-west facing scarp slopes, and craggy outcrops.

The open moorland habitats give way to scrub and broadleaved woodland on steep valley sides and scarp slopes with large, regular pastures bounded by dry stone walls. Extensive conifer blocks and shelterbelts often interrupt the pattern but provide some of the remaining strongholds of the iconic red squirrel.

The sense of place is further reinforced by the traditional vernacular of dressed sandstone, local sandstone rubble, and the use of stone and Welsh slate, in the construction of towns, villages and farmsteads.

The long history of occupation is evident in the wealth of historic features including ‘cup and ring’ marked rocks, bronze-age burial cists and iron-age hillforts, and the proximity to the Anglo-Scottish border is revealed through late-medieval defensive bastles.

Major designed parklands associated with significant castles and country houses such as Alnwick Castle, Chillingham and Cragside are found at the foot of the fells, with extensive areas of semi-natural woodland.

The area is sparsely populated with isolated farmsteads, often with distinctive tree belts, and small hamlets scattered in the valleys and on the lower slopes. These are served by the thriving market towns of Alnwick and Rothbury.

Feelings of inspiration and escapism are likely to be associated with the strong and varied landscape, especially the rugged moors with their craggy outcrops, dramatic skies, panoramic views of the coast and across the lowland fringe to the Cheviots and dark night skies.

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – The long tradition of upland farming has shaped the landscape and maintaining its viability in the future will be key to securing sustainable and sympathetic land management.

The demand for greater and cheaper food production has led to arable cultivation extending further up the slopes. Pressure to cultivate land is likely to increase in the future with the pressures of population growth and climate change.

Development pressures have remained relatively low but housing and tourism developments around Rothbury and other valley settlements show signs of expanding onto the valley sides which will alter landscape character (A Landscape Character Assessment of Tynedale District and Northumberland National Park: Final report to Tynedale District Council and Northumberland National Park Authority, Julie Martin Associates, 2007).

The increasing demand for wind energy is already resulting in significant numbers of applications for wind turbines with several wind farms already operational. There will be challenges in allowing the area to evolve, responding to changing pressures such as demand for renewable energy and increased tourism while protecting the landscape character and strengthening the sense of place.

The loss of field boundaries (stone walls with some hedgerows in the valley bottoms) through neglect and replacement with post and wire fencing is weakening landscape character.

Opportunities – Protect contrasts between the open moorlands and pastoral lower slopes and valleys.

Protect and enhance the moorland mosaics and other key habitats including pastures, hay meadows and broadleaved woodlands.

Manage conifer plantations to ‘soften’ the impact on the landscape through restructuring and increasing the broadleaved component, and seek opportunities to remove blocks where appropriate, restoring open heathland where possible.

Seek opportunities to increase grassland and wetland habitats through reversion from arable on scarp and dip slopes and in valley bottoms where appropriate.

Seek ways to support viable and environmentally sensitive upland farming.

Maintain and conserve the wealth of historic features that evidence the long history of occupation of these hills, seeking opportunities to connect local people and visitors with the history of the area.

Manage and conserve the designed parklands which are a key component of the landscape, and maintain the iconic herd of Chillingham wild cattle.

Seek opportunities to reduce the visual dominance of conifer plantations in the landscape through their removal or restructuring with broadleaved planting, but managing reserves for the iconic red squirrel.

Restore traditional buildings using local building materials and styles where possible. Ensure new and re-developments respect the historic settlement patterns, using materials in keeping with the vernacular architecture.

Maintain and restore dry stone walls, retaining the characteristic field patterns.

Restore hedgerows in valley bottoms.

Enhance recreation opportunities and ensure that appropriate access is provided to allow all levels of ability and interest to be able to appreciate and be inspired by the landscapes of the area.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Genetic diversity
  • Biomass energy
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Sense of history
  • Tranquillity
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity
  • Geodiversity

Sense of history

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • ‘Cup and ring’ marked rocks, bronze-age burial cairns, iron-age hillforts, standing stones and deserted medieval villages
  • Pattern of piecemeal and regular enclosure defined by dry stone walls
  • Bastles and peels as reminders of border conflict
  • Evidence of industrial heritage
  • Castles and country houses with parklands and grounds
  • Isolated farms and nucleated villages
  • Market towns of Alnwick and Rothbury
  • Buildings constructed from local sandstone

State – A strong sense of history is evident in the complex, multi-period landscapes of this NCA, reflected in the abundance of prehistoric and medieval archaeological remains; one of the most important concentrations in England.

Visible features include ‘cup and ring’ marked rocks, bronze-age burial cairns, iron-age hillforts such as Lordenshaw, Harehaugh, Doddington and Kyloe, standing stones and deserted medieval villages. The history of farming can be traced from Neolithic and bronze-age clearances, through the ridge and furrow cultivation of the medieval period to the larger and open rectilinear parliamentary enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries bounded by dry stone walls.

Reminders of the conflict and raids associated with proximity to the Anglo/Scottish border can be seen in the bastles, towers or ‘peels’ and castles found throughout the area.

There is evidence of past small-scale iron and coal mining, iron-smelting and stone quarrying activity from the medieval period onwards.

The historic character is further reinforced through the scattered farmsteads, small nucleated villages and the historic market towns of Alnwick and Rothbury with buildings constructed from local sandstone (dressed or rubble) with grey slate roofs.

The castles and country houses with their extensive estates and grounds at the foot of the fells contribute much to the character of the area and are key tourist attractions. These include Alnwick Castle with grounds laid out by Capability Brown, Cragside and Chillingham.

Abandoned railway lines of Alnwick to Cornhill and Morpeth to Rothbury.

There are 3 Registered Parks and Gardens, 225 Scheduled Monuments and 735 Listed Buildings.

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – The Northumberland Sandstone Hills contain a variety of prehistoric sites which together form some of the most interesting archaeological landscapes in England. These are of national importance and, combined with the later historic features from the medieval period and large-scale reorganisation of the 18th and 19th centuries contribute much to the sense of history of this area.

Historic features are threatened by a number of factors and activities including encroachment by vegetation and scrub, animal grazing and burrowing, forestry, dereliction and neglect.

Wetter winters and hotter summers as a result of climate change are likely to exacerbate some of these issues: changes in soil moisture may lead to erosion of protective soils and vegetation leading to erosion of historic features, increased vegetation growth may obscure features and increase maintenance requirements, increased rain and storm events may damage the fabric of historic buildings, and climatic change may cause damage or loss of veteran trees in parklands.

Changes in climate and increasing demands for food provision may also cause a shift towards arable cultivation which is likely to lead to increased disturbance of sites.

A significant number of the Scheduled Monuments are on the English Heritage At Risk Register.

Opportunities – Protect and interpret historic landscapes which often contain evidence of multi-period occupation, retaining evidence of features and thus enabling improved understanding of past activities.

Work with land managers to ensure that farming and forestry operations do not damage historic features, recognising the potential for as yet undiscovered below-ground archaeology.

Encourage management of sites to control encroachment by vegetation and erosion by animals.

Encourage the management and conservation of the historic designed parklands.

Encourage the restoration of Scheduled Monuments and traditional buildings using local building materials and styles.

Support the restoration and maintenance of dry stone walls and discourage the proliferation of post and wire fencing which may lead to a loss of enclosure pattern.

Ensure new and re-developments respect the historic settlement patterns and reflect the local farmstead vernacular in terms of building materials, scale and location.

Encourage further survey work to record the diversity and distribution of buried archaeology, earthworks and structures and encourage interpretation and educational experiences to help people understand and appreciate their significance, disseminating information to land managers and visitors alike.

Provide clear and imaginative interpretation of sites and landscapes to improve the understanding and enjoyment of the public.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Sense of history
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity
  • Geodiversity

Tranquility

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Open moorlands
  • Extensive forests
  • Sheltered wooded valleys
  • Few settlements
  • Few major roads
  • Dark night skies

State – This is perceived to be one of the most tranquil NCAs in England and 93 per cent of the area is classified as ‘undisturbed’ (CPRE Intrusion Map, 2007) (down from 98 per cent in the 1960s).

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – The open moorlands, rough crags, extensive forests, broadleaved woodland, meandering rivers, sparse settlement and dark night skies all contribute to the sense of tranquillity.

The areas perceived to be the most tranquil occur towards the centre of the NCA around Harwood Forest. The least tranquil area is Alnwick and disturbance from visual intrusion and noise tends to be associated with this town and the major roads (the A1 which runs up the north-eastern edge of the NCA and the A697 which cuts across the middle).

Otterburn Military Training Area occupies a small area of the western tip (approximately 2 per cent of the NCA area) and this, along with forestry operations and grouse shooting intrude at least locally on tranquillity.

The perceived tranquillity and wilderness are highly valued by residents and visitors alike.

Sparse settlement means the night skies are still dark; the Northumberland National Park Authority has applied (in 2013) for International Dark Skies Park status to include part of this NCA.

Opportunities – Protect the open vistas and sense of tranquillity by carefully considering the impact of new developments, including plantations, minimising the impact of structures such as wind turbines and controlling intrusion from developments including in the Otterburn Military Training Area.

Minimise the impacts of light pollution from development in this and adjacent NCAs to retain dark night skies.

Sensitively manage visitor access and recreational facilities to avoid loss of tranquillity.

Promote the calming and restorative effects that contact with tranquil and sensory environments has on people’s health and wellbeing.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Tranquillity
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Recreation

Recreation

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Open access land
  • Public rights of way
  • Long distance trails
  • Tranquillity
  • Wild open moorlands and sheltered wooded valleys
  • Forests
  • Sandstone crags
  • Reservoirs and loughs
  • Parklands and gardens
  • Castles and country houses
  • A wealth of heritage assets
  • Game fisheries

State – The NCA offers a network of rights of way totalling 699 km at a density of just over 1 km per km2 as well as a significant amount of open access land covering 15,997 ha or just over 22 per cent of the NCA.

10,683 ha of the NCA (15 per cent) lies within the Northumberland National Park.

Approximately 40 km of long distance routes pass through this area: St. Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne crosses the northern end of the NCA and St. Oswald’s Way from Lindisfarne to Heavenfield on Hadrian’s Wall runs much of the length of the NCA. The Pennine Cycle Way also runs through the NCA (local section known as The Reiver’s Cycle Route in reference to the historic border maraudings).

There are important tourist attractions including the historic towns of Alnwick and Rothbury. Alnwick Castle and Gardens attract large numbers of visitors each year, particularly since the Castle featured as ‘Hogwarts’ in the Harry Potter films. In addition, there are other notable castles and country houses open to the public including Cragside (National Trust) and the privately owned Chillingham Castle which is famous for its wild cattle.

Whilst there are no formal trails within the large public forest estate in this NCA walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders are welcomed. Many of the crags such as those along the Simonside Hills are very popular with climbers.

The rivers Till and Coquet are nationally important game fisheries with large runs of salmon, sea trout and brown trout and many of the reservoirs and lakes are also renowned fishing locations.

Main beneficiary – Regional

Analysis – The Northumberland Sandstone Hills offer a wide variety of tourist destinations and recreational activities based upon the special qualities of this environment, providing opportunities for improving visitor’s health and well-being.

Recreational use should continue to be encouraged but any increase in levels of use will need to be managed to avoid adverse impacts on the natural assets of the area including tranquillity and biodiversity.

Forests in particular can cope with large numbers of visitors with minimal impacts on the environment and consequently forests offer good recreational opportunities for activities such as walking, cycling, horse riding and wildlife watching.

Increased usage of bridleways, particularly by bikes is already causing localised erosion. In the future hotter, drier summers and increased recreational pressure are likely to increase the risks of footpath erosion and wildfires.

Warmer, drier summers are also likely to result in reduced water levels in waterbodies used for recreation.

Species such as salmon which are sensitive to thermal stress may decline which will impact on the game fishing industry.

Opportunities – Maintain the network of footpaths and bridleways, encouraging the responsible use of the area by visitors to minimise footpath erosion and the risk of wildfires.

Support a programme of path/route maintenance where appropriate.

Conserve and promote access to the wealth of heritage assets and key sites such as castles and country houses, particularly where they act as local focal points and reinforce local distinctiveness. Access should be sensitively managed to avoid erosion of the landscape and archaeology.

Provide imaginative interpretation of the landscape and its many features (geological, historical, species and habitats), providing opportunities to interpret this legacy for the understanding and enjoyment of all.

Maintain and manage the high quality of the watercourses and waterbodies to provide good recreational experiences and the reputation of the area for its game fisheries and ensure there are no adverse effects on the landscape, biodiversity or the historic environment.

Maintain and extend access and recreational opportunities in forests and other natural environments for walkers, cyclists, horse riders, and other users, providing suitable provision for all abilities.

Ensure that tourism development is sustainable, sensitively utilises the landscape resource and brings socio-economic benefits to local communities.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Recreation
  • Genetic diversity
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Tranquillity
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity
  • Geodiversity

Biodiversity

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Sites designated for nature conservation
  • Extensive semi-natural habitats including wet heath, dry heath, blanket bog, wet pastures and woodland
  • Streams and rivers
  • Reservoirs and loughs

State – The NCA has almost 13,500 ha of known BAP priority habitats of which 12,250 ha are upland heathland.

Holburn Lake and Moss is designated as a Specially Protected Area (SPA) and a Ramsar site for its lowland raised mire habitat and large greylag goose roost.

The River Till is part of the Tweed Catchment Rivers SAC designated for species and habitats including Atlantic salmon, brook and river lamprey, otter and water crowfoot.

The River Coquet is designated as SSSI for salmon, lamprey and otter and for the oak, ash and alder woodland that is found along its banks.

Simonside Hills SAC, Harbottle Moors SAC and a number of other Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covering around 7,000 ha (10 per cent of NCA) are designated for mires, blanket bog, wet and dry heathland, calcareous grassland, meadows, woodland (particularly juniper scrub, oak, ash and alder) and birds (including hen harrier, peregrine, merlin, ring ouzel, black grouse, whinchat, golden plover, dunlin and curlew) and the invertebrate and amphibian assemblages found there.

There are a further 36 Local Sites covering 10 per cent of the NCA.

This area is important for a number of S41 bird species (NERC Act 2006), several of which use farmland habitats. Others are dependent on grassy, moorland fringe habitats, some on woodland and others on woodland edge.

Kyloe, Harwood and Raylees conifer plantations have been designated as red squirrel reserves and are also important for nightjar.

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – Conserving and enhancing the mosaic of moorland habitats, retaining and enhancing the diversity including the transitional and fringe habitats, will preserve this much-enjoyed resource as well as benefiting biodiversity and contributing to services such as the regulation of climate, water quality and flow and soil erosion, while contributing to sense of place/inspiration and recreation.

The heather moorland has historically been burned in large blocks for sheep grazing, with some management for red grouse, often resulting in large stands of uniform heather, and some wetter areas have been drained. The spread of bracken and rhododendron is an ongoing problem.

Large areas of moorland have been lost to conifer plantations. Restoring heathland following the removal of conifer blocks will help to expand and connect the upland habitats on the ridgetops and upper slopes that have become fragmented.

Managing rough grazing and pastures to provide a range of grasslands with varying hydrology, species richness and structure to support waders and other important species. Expand areas of grassland by reversion from arable, particularly on the more vulnerable scarp and dip slopes to retain landscape character and reduce erosion of sandy soils.

Warmer summers and wetter winters combined with an increase in demand for food provision in the future is likely to see greater pressure to plough out areas for arable cultivation. Climate change is also likely to result in changes in species composition with a shift from heather to grassland, and drying of peatlands and other wetlands, increasing the risk of erosion and wildfires.

The stream and river valleys harbour important but fragmented habitats such as wet pastures, herb-rich grasslands and remnant woodland. Restoring and linking these habitat fragments will improve the ability of the river valleys to act as corridors connecting adjacent upland areas like the Cheviots and lowlands to the east and west.

Much of the remnant native woodland, particularly alder, is found along the watercourses. This has historically been coppiced in some places such as the Grasslees Valley. Acid oak, ash and birch woodland occur in the valleys and on scarp slopes. Nationally important relict stands of juniper, which would once have been much more widespread, are found in a few locations such as Bewick and Beanley Moors SSSI. Restoring and extending these woodland and scrub fragments, with particular emphasis on encouraging regeneration of juniper, by achieving sustainable grazing levels and controlling invasives such as rhododendron should create coherent ecological networks which will be more resilient to climate change, whilst strengthening landscape character.

Ensuring good water quality in streams and rivers, restoring as natural a morphology as possible and controlling invasives such as Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and signal crayfish will benefit the nationally and internationally important species found there and will ensure the continuing reputation of the rivers in this NCA as important game fisheries.

Management of conifer plantations provides opportunities to improve structure and increase the deciduous component, thereby increasing biodiversity value and softening the impact on the landscape. Three of the larger plantations (Kyloe, Harwood and Raylees) have been designated as red squirrel reserves.

Opportunities – Protect, restore and extend priority habitats and designated sites and ensure appropriate management of adjacent land to increase the area considered to be in good ecological condition.

Protect and enhance the moorland mosaic by securing sustainable grazing and heather burning regimes, encouraging grazing by native breeds of cattle, controlling bracken and rhododendron, and where necessary, employing techniques such as grip-blocking.

Ensuring that there is a mature heather component to the moorland mosaic to encourage breeding hen harriers, minimising disturbance during the breeding season, and encourage extensive management of rushy pastures for roosting.

Identify areas of conifer plantation suitable for heathland restoration with compensatory planting in more appropriate places such as scarp slopes and along watercourses.

Manage grazing levels of moorland fringe and permanent pasture to provide a mosaic of grassland types and structure including rushy pasture to provide feeding, roosting and breeding sites for birds.

Seek opportunities for reversion from arable to permanent grassland on vulnerable scarp and dip slopes.

Maintain and restore where necessary and appropriate the natural morphology of the rivers, encouraging natural fluvial processes and removing structures that form obstacles to the passage of salmonids (salmon, sea and brown trout) and lamprey.

Maintain, enhance and extend the wet pastures, meadows and wet woodlands in the valley bottoms, creating corridors linking adjacent upland and lowland areas.

Protect ancient woodland sites and bring plantations on ancient woodland sites under management to restore native trees and shrubs.

Seek opportunities to manage and expand the fragmented woodland network, connecting fragments of alder (and coppicing where appropriate), ash and oak, controlling rhododendron and encouraging the regeneration of juniper scrub.

Maintain and enhance the larger areas of deciduous woodland associated with the estates of the large country houses and castles.

Seek opportunities to restructure and increase the deciduous component of conifer plantations but managing designated areas and buffering areas for red squirrel and nightjar.

In arable areas, encourage measures to support farmland birds and pollinators such as sowing wild bird seed and nectar flower mixes, cereal headlands and over-wintered stubbles, and increase connectivity with the landscape through scrub and woodland planting along watercourses, hedgerow restoration and field margin management.

Work with the farming community to encourage land management practices that reduce diffuse pollution of watercourses, particularly run-off of sediment from arable fields on slopes.

Monitor and control invasive species such as Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and signal crayfish, and ensure game fishing continues at a sustainable level.

Increase and improve the interpretation of the rich biodiversity of the area to improve public enjoyment and understanding. It may be most appropriate to locate this in tourist centres such as Rothbury and Alnwick and off-site literature as the area is a popular destination but a relatively wild upland area.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Biodiversity
  • Genetic diversity
  • Biomass energy
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulating water quality
  • Regulating water flow
  • Regulating soil quality
  • Regulating soil erosion
  • Pollination
  • Pest regulation
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Tranquillity
  • Recreation

Geodiversity

Assets/attributes: main contributors to service –

  • Distinctive sandstone and limestone geology
  • 4 geological SSSI

State – The bedrock geology of the Northumberland Sandstone Hills NCA is a mixture of sandstone and limestone.

The Fell Sandstone, which gives rise to the distinctive hills, is one of the most prominent and best-exposed rock units in the Carboniferous succession of the Northumberland Trough. Sedimentary features typical of fluvio-deltaic alluvial plain sediments are outstandingly displayed in the crags (Northumberland National Park Geodiversity Audit and Action Plan, Commissioned Report 2007).

Erosion has produced the highly distinctive series of bold ‘cuesta’ landforms; the long, conspicuous tiers of crags and bold escarpments giving rise to the distinctive skyline at Simonside and the crags at Harbottle. The sandstone gives rise to thin, acid soils which supports the characteristic heather moorland of the area.

Other areas, particularly the river valleys, are blanketed in glacial till giving rise to more fertile soils and sand and gravel resources. The Coquet is a particularly fine example of a highly dynamic and unrestricted river.

The Fell Sandstone is associated with a variety of prehistoric sites, which together form some of the most interesting archaeological landscapes in England.

Iron and later coal was worked on a small scale from the medieval period onwards but has now ceased.

Sandstone has long been quarried for building stone for use within and outside this area, for example millstones were dug near Harbottle Crags, stone for buildings in Rothbury was obtained from Pondicherry and a reddish purple siliceous sandstone for nearby Wooler and the surrounding area was quarried at Weetwood Bridge.

A number of small-scale stone quarries are still active today and extraction of sand and gravel at Caistron on the Coquet only ceased in 2012.

Main beneficiary – National

Analysis – The distinctive skylines and landforms, prehistoric features, historic quarries and sandstone buildings of this area are key to the strong sense of place. Improving interpretation of and access to the geodiversity of the area would enhance public understanding and enjoyment of the area and strengthen sense of place.

The use of local materials in construction combined with the distinctive landscape has helped to create a strong sense of place. It is important that traditional buildings and dry stone walls are maintained and restored using local sandstone. Small-scale quarrying is continuing and re-working of historic quarries may occur for matching stone in old buildings but it is unlikely that these rocks will attract significant commercial interest in the near future (Northumberland National Park Geodiversity Audit and Action Plan, Commissioned Report 2007).

Abandoned quarries are characteristic features of this landscape and provide some of the most important sites at which certain rock units may be seen, contributing greatly to the area’s geodiversity. As such three historic quarries have been designated as SSSI.

Old quarries also often provide significant biodiversity interest.

The Coquet demonstrates dynamic fluvial processes and provides fine examples of channel braiding.

It is important to ensure that any future extraction of gravel from the Coquet valley does not negatively impact on river morphology, habitats or water quality of this SSSI, and that opportunities for reclamation which provides high biodiversity value habitats are taken.

The Fell Sandstone crags, including Simonside and Bowden Doors are popular for climbing. Climbers are generally aware of the need to respect the rock faces but there are opportunities to continue to work with groups to monitor and protect sites.

Drier summers and wetter winters with more intense rain events as a result of climate change are likely to cause de-stabilisation of some geological features and increased vegetation growth may obscure features.

Increased maintenance of important geodiversity may be required in the future.

Opportunities – Protect geological features, both natural and from past workings such as quarries, and encourage research and educational opportunities.

Take opportunities presented by active quarries to record geological sections and collect representative specimens to further knowledge and understanding of the local geology.

Encourage and support the designation of local geological sites.

Improve access to and interpretation of geological sites and features and prehistoric heritage such as rock art (‘cup and ring’ marks), including designated sites and quarries, exploring and explaining the links between the geology, landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage of the area to enhance the public’s understanding and enjoyment of the area.

Maintain and restore vernacular buildings and dry stone walls using local stone wherever possible to reinforce links with the underlying geology and strengthen sense of place.

Preserve and restore natural fluvial processes and geomorphology, particularly of the Coquet.

Ensure extraction of gravel does not impact negatively on the environment, particularly the Coquet SSSI, and ensure reclamation of sites provides high biodiversity value habitats.

Continue to support the use of geological features such as crags for recreation but work with groups to monitor and protect sites.

Principal services offered by opportunities

  • Geodiversity
  • Sense of place/inspiration
  • Sense of history
  • Recreation
  • Biodiversity