National Character Area 149

The Culm - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


The rolling ridges and plateaux of the Culm extend across north-west Devon and north-east Cornwall, reaching from the foot of Dartmoor in the south-west and the edge of the Cornish Killas in the west, to the spectacular Atlantic coast of cliffs and sandy beaches in the north. North-eastwards they meet the Exmoor landscape and stand high above the Devon Redlands. The open, often treeless, ridges are separated by an intricate pattern of small valleys forming the catchments of the Rivers Taw, Torridge and Mole. This is largely a remote and sparsely populated landscape.

The geodiversity of the area is of national importance. Dramatically folded rocks – seen particularly around Hartland – allow access to and interpretation of the geodiversity, and create a distinctive coastline. The exceptional beauty, tranquillity and wildness of the coast are reflected in its designation as both the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a Cornwall AONB, and recognition as Heritage Coast. The UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve forms a focus for the wealth of biodiversity found across the area. Similarly, this rich resource is reflected in the designation of four Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) within the area: the Tintagel-Marsland-Clovelly Coast SAC and the Culm Grasslands SAC. Dunsdon National Nature Reserve (NNR) provides access to and interpretation of the internationally important Culm grassland habitat.

The area is a popular visitor destination, providing many leisure and recreation opportunities. The South-West Coast Path National Trail provides access to dramatic cliffs and remote coves. Clovelly and Hartland Point are examples of popular coastal destinations. Inland, a more tranquil, pastoral landscape provides for quiet leisure and recreation, walking, cycling and riding. Influenced by the Atlantic climate, impermeable geology and clay soils, the area produces lush grasslands and, subsequently, notable volumes of meat and dairy produce. Biodiversity, geodiversity, tranquillity and a distinct sense of place are key components of the landscape. Changes in climate, localised development pressures – most prominently wind energy development – and changes in agricultural practices and regimes, are most likely to result in changes in this otherwise deeply rural, pastoral landscape.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

See the Statements of Environmental Opportunity section for more details on the headlines listed below.


Seek to maintain, enhance and join up the distinctive and internationally important areas of Culm grassland, with their simple patterns of fields, hedgebanks, woodlands, rivers and tributaries, and their strong links to past land use and settlement. This will bring benefits in terms of reducing soil erosion, improving soil quality and water availability, regulating water flow, promoting the interpretation of the historic environment, enhancing biodiversity and supporting pastoral farming.


Safeguard the rich geological record and current geomorphological processes, particularly along the internationally important coastline. Where possible, allow the unimpaired operation of natural coastal processes, resulting in the creation of new habitats, conserving and enhancing landscape character, and benefiting biodiversity and the historic environment.


Protect open views and the simple, austere character of the landscape and seascape, enhancing access to and interpretation of the wealth of natural and heritage assets, and recreational opportunities, throughout the area – including the South West Coast Path.