National Character Area 146

Vale of Taunton and Quantock - Detailed Statements of Environmental Opportunity

This section expands on the Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity and provides further detail on each of the Statements of Environmental Opportunity.

SEO 1

SEO 1: Conserve and promote the geology and geodiversity of the Vale of Taunton and Quantock Fringes, including the Jurassic Coast, the suite of national and local geological sites and the distinctive relationship between geology, coastal geomorphology, soils, landform and land use, promoting opportunities for recreation in the area and interpretation of the unique features.

For example by:

  • Conserving, managing and enhancing the nationally and locally important geological and geomorphological sites and features which represent the characteristic Jurassic and Triassic sequences of the area, many of which are exposed at the coast through active cliff movement.
  • Ensuring that the natural function of coastal geomorphological processes is unimpeded and that intervention measures are adopted only where essential, for example in front of Hinkley Point nuclear power station.
  • Providing high-quality interpretation and engagement activities to local people and visitors to Somerset’s Jurassic Coast in order to highlight its importance on an international and local scale.
  • Managing the coastal strip and hinterland to ensure that new or existing developments neither impact upon the setting or visual coherence of the coast or pose a future threat to continued unimpeded natural processes.
  • Developing and providing interpretation for sites which illustrate the relationship between underlying geology and soils, thus providing a link with historical and present biodiversity, land use and management, and aiding interpretation of the wider landscape.
  • Ensuring that measures are taken to maintain the favourable condition of the geological Blue Anchor to Lilstock Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which runs the length of the coast, and that the sites of local geological importance are appropriately managed and, where possible, accessible for study.
  • Protecting important features for geological/geomorphological interpretation from inappropriate changes in land use, for example planting woodland on cliffs, changing farming patterns and development of tourist infrastructure.
  • Seeking to ensure that this resource is available as an accessible scientific and educational asset to study stratigraphy, palaeontology and the relationship between geology, biodiversity and landscape.
  • Implementing the findings of the Shoreline Management Plan.
  • Providing ongoing high-quality access to the coast, maintaining multi- user paths and improving connectivity between settlements, both within and outside the area, using and extending the existing network of public rights of way between Minehead and Brean Down and links to and from the South West Coast Path National Trail, and ensuring that inland linkages to the public rights of way network are maintained and, where appropriate, enhanced.
  • Developing new permissive access, where appropriate, to historical and geological sites and other areas of interest as part of a cohesive network of inspiring access provision.
  • Maintaining the England Coast Path National Trail and its corridors to the highest standards of management and visitor experience while taking account of dynamic cliff systems in order to provide the focus for both environmental connectivity and a corridor of interest of cultural, historical and environmental significance.
  • Continuing to develop detailed understanding of coastal geomorphological processes in order to inform development and planning, particularly around Minehead and Watchet, and the provision of tourist infrastructure along the coast.

SEO 2

SEO 2: Protect, manage and enhance the distinctive farmed landscape, while creating a balance of productive mixed farmland and diversity of habitats and associated species. Create and enhance connecting corridors of hedgerows, orchards, calcareous and flood plain grazing marsh, small woodlands, and hedgerow and riverside trees, and manage parkland and other habitats such as coastal habitats including intertidal salt marsh and mudflats for their contribution to sense of place, and their positive role in reducing soil erosion, enhancing water quality and managing coastal erosion. Promote connecting corridor linkage with the Blackdown Hills, Exmoor and the Quantock Hills.

For example by:

  • Assisting the maintenance of distinctive farming patterns across the area, including current field patterns bounded by thick hedgerows with trees.
  • Understanding the systemic changes which may be occurring in the agricultural system of the area, and working with farmers, land managers and communities to positively shape the way in which land is managed into the future, innovating and diversifying to maintain the agricultural economy while simultaneously preserving and positively enhancing the physical, ecological and historic landscape that is so highly valued by local people and visitors alike.
  • Helping land managers to develop profitable and sustainable agricultural systems in order to provide sufficient stock to effectively graze this National Character Area’s (NCA’s) large areas of semi-natural grassland.
  • Identifying opportunities for managing, restoring, creating and reconnecting areas of habitat including limestone grassland, lowland meadows, coastal and flood plain grazing marsh, pockets of heath, small areas of woodland and parkland in order to strengthen the connectivity of these habitats across the area, thereby providing a resilient network and supporting species movement, and for the benefits that the habitats will bring in managing soil erosion and water quality and flow, for example planting in the Upper Tone catchment.
  • Identifying opportunities for managing, restoring and creating areas of traditional orchards and parkland to retain veteran trees, reinforcing current patterns of these habitats across the area and supporting species movement (for example, bats), and for the benefits that the habitats will bring in managing soil erosion and water quality and flow and maintaining character.
  • Understanding and promoting the ecosystem services provided through specific management by land managers and seeking financial mechanisms which reasonably reward and incentivise those practices.
  • Maintaining, restoring and sympathetically enhancing the network of small woodlands that are typical of the area, particularly at the fringes of the uplands, utilising their potential for wood fuel and helping to manage soil erosion, in order to encourage more into active management, and to provide hunting grounds for species such as bats.
  • Maintaining and reinstating hedgerow management, including laying and coppicing existing hedgerows on slopes and in valley bottoms, to retain these important landscape features for the future and to safeguard their role in supporting the biodiversity of the area, especially for bats, particularly in and around Hestercombe House Special Area of Conservation (SAC); assisting in the reduction of soil erosion by slowing the cross-land movement of soils, nutrients and water (encouraging coppice residues to be used as a source of low-carbon fuel); and planting new hedgerow trees where appropriate and where they do not restrict open views.
  • Encouraging land use which maintains long views along the coast and across the area from adjacent uplands.
  • Protecting the contrasts in character between low and high vale and coast by using their defining characteristics to inform new development, land management, access opportunities and woodland creation initiatives, particularly through the use of agri- environment schemes.
  • Maintaining and promoting biodiversity interest which extends into the marine environment, including mudflats found offshore and on the edge of the Severn Estuary SAC, which extends into this area.
  • Creating woodland in appropriate locations to help to reduce the impact of Hinkley Point power station where this may help to improve the setting and ecological networks.
  • Conserving, maintaining and enhancing the coastal habitats within the NCA of coastal and flood plain grazing marsh, maritime cliff and slope, intertidal sand and mudflats, fen, marsh and wetland habitats.
  • Promoting sustainable recreation at the coast to avoid erosion and damage to semi-natural habitats, including the natural cliff and cliff- top vegetation.
  • Increasing public appreciation and understanding of semi-natural habitats and key species in the NCA through appropriate education and interpretation.

SEO 3

SEO 3: Protect and manage the area’s historic environment including its rich heritage of hill forts, Roman remains, ridge and furrow, manor houses and vernacular architecture, parkland and distinctive field patterns, engaging both visitors and local communities in understanding how the interaction of human and natural factors has shaped the farmed landscape of today.

For example by:

  • Encouraging arable reversion to grassland where appropriate, and sensitive scrub removal where current landcover and use threaten the integrity of important historic earthworks and remains.
  • Managing the levels of grazing on historic features to prevent poaching and erosion damage, while also ensuring that scrub encroachment is prevented.
  • Maintaining the dispersed settlement pattern of hamlets and isolated farmsteads and manor houses, further characterised by fine churches, a strong vernacular architecture and a small network of roads, and using opportunities to interpret these features in order to help people to understand the relationship between historic settlement patterns and the farmed landscape today.
  • Ensuring that the wealth of heritage assets, including above-ground and buried archaeological features such as earthwork remains, Roman remains, manors, parkland and traditional farm buildings found across the area, are protected, conserved and enhanced, and are effectively and traditionally managed where necessary.
  • Conserving and enhancing parkland and orchards to maintain these features in the landscape and ensure continuity through planting and management.
  • Conserving and interpreting archaeological earthworks and sub-surface archaeology, while recognising the potential for undiscovered remains.
  • Using an understanding of the area’s traditional and historical architecture and its distinct patterns of settlement in order to inform the appropriate conservation of historical buildings, and to plan for and inspire any environmentally beneficial new development which makes a positive contribution to local character.
  • Promoting access for all to the natural environment across the area, managing access in a way which balances the desire of people to enjoy and experience the area while preventing damage to assets; making the most of natural, historical, inspirational and tranquil places that are available to all, particularly incorporating sustainable multi-user access to and from the England Coast Path National Trail and from major developments such as in Wellington, Taunton and Minehead.
  • Encouraging the continued use of local stone as a building material in new developments, any works to existing buildings and conservation projects to further conserve and enhance the scenic beauty of the area.
  • Maintaining the diversity of geology and traditional buildings which contributes to the NCA by using, promoting and encouraging locally sourced materials and skills for building repair and construction.
  • Recognising that appropriate local sourcing of traditional building stone can enhance geodiversity by creating new temporary or permanent exposures or by improving existing ones.
  • Promoting, through engagement, people’s understanding of the combined effect that multiple historic features and farm and settlement patterns have on landscape character and the importance of their conservation and presentation.
  • Bringing all heritage assets within the NCA into sympathetic management, seeking communities’ engagement in the process of restoring and maintaining their heritage, and explaining English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk register.
  • Protecting cropmark enclosures, watermeadow remains and areas of known archaeological interest that are at risk from ploughing by reverting to pasture.
  • Maintaining the setting of the numerous manor houses and parkland along the Quantock fringes, investing in new and innovative uses to ensure their continued presence in the landscape.
  • Continuing to sympathetically manage and promote features such as the Taunton and Bridgwater Canal and the heritage railway near Minehead to retain their contribution to sense of place and importance in the history of the area and as recreational features.
  • Promoting sustainable tourism initiatives, such as the heritage railway, that target a broad range of visitors and reduce car dependency, particularly in and around Minehead, Taunton and Wellington, accommodating high visitor numbers while conserving the landscape and its tranquillity.
  • Providing high-quality interpretation and engagement activities to local people and visitors to the area about geodiversity and how it has influenced the development of the landscape and historic vernacular and in particular features such as Somerset’s Jurassic Coast.

SEO 4

SEO 4: Safeguard and manage soil and water resources, notably the rivers Tone and Parrett, as part of the wider Somerset Levels and Moors priority catchment and at the coast, working with naturally functioning hydrological processes to maintain water quality and regulate supply; reduce flooding; and manage land to reduce soil erosion and water pollution and to retain and capture carbon.

For example by:

  • Continuing to support farming at a sustainable level with grazing and cropping levels that provide food, lead to improved soil quality, reduce soil erosion, benefit biodiversity and reinforce a sense of place and current patterns of land use.
  • Using a catchment-based approach to implement measures required to reduce nutrient and sediment inputs to the Somerset Levels and Moors Special Protection Area and the Curry and Hay Moors SSSI.
  • Increasing the amount of farmland managed under principles established by the Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme for the associated benefits that this will bring in relation to water flow management and regulation, water quality and reduction in nitrate and phosphate pollution, prevention of soil erosion and increased biodiversity, which will also see positive benefits for the Somerset Levels and Moors Priority Catchment.
  • Encouraging initiatives which seek to promote sustainable agriculture while retaining a mixed farming pattern that supports the mix of habitats and species found in the area and utilising farming methods which reduce sediment run-off.
  • Maintaining and restoring hedgerow boundaries that are characteristic of the area and associated field patterns, especially where these help to control cross-land flows and prevent soil erosion and nutrient leaching.
  • Restoring and enhancing remnant wetland habitats, including coastal and flood plain grazing marsh and wet woodland, for the benefit of flood storage, water quality, landscape diversity and biodiversity.
  • Creating grassland buffer strip verges running across slopes to provide a buffer to soil erosion and nutrient run-off in areas of arable production, including the catchments of the rivers Tone and Parrett.
  • Continuing the opportunity to plan for the creation or extension of new broadleaved woodland, hedgerows and grassland habitat mosaics to provide the landscape setting for Taunton and Wellington, and robust, attractive new landscapes, thereby strengthening the ecological network throughout this NCA and adjacent NCAs, particularly along the length of the M5 corridor.
  • Enabling the recommendations for relevant implementation measures under the Water Framework Directive and Catchment Flood Management Plans.
  • Seeking opportunities to reinstate riverine habitats and connect rivers to their flood plains, for example along the rivers Tone and Parrett, to help to reduce flooding and increase water storage capacity in order to assist with reducing flood risk in Taunton and in the adjoining Somerset Levels and Moors NCA.
  • Supporting the reversion to pasture of areas of arable land on slopes and adjacent to rivers, choosing locations according to opportunities to assist biodiversity adaptation to changes in climate and improvements in reducing sedimentation issues, and managing grasslands in favourable condition through extensive grazing.
  • Ensuring continued efforts to maintain beach water quality through investment by water companies in sewage treatment plants and infrastructure and land management-based initiatives such as those which seek to reduce soil erosion, slow down and store water during high rainfall, increase water quality and enhance biodiversity.

Additional opportunity 1

Additional opportunity 1: Plan for the creation of new landscapes around settlements where development is proposed, particularly around Taunton and Wellington, the M5 corridor and Hinkley Point nuclear power station, which will strengthen local landscape character, and other appropriate development within the area. Reinforce the existing landscape structure as part of any identified growth of urban areas, hard infrastructure and other settlements, ensuring that high-quality green infrastructure is incorporated, enhancing health, access, recreation, the landscape, biodiversity and geodiversity.

For example by:

  • Ensuring that new development contributes to and enhances the character, natural beauty and tranquillity of the NCA.
  • Planting new woodland, using native broadleaved species, between and within new developments to filter views and preserve the tranquillity of the area.
  • Promoting the use of sustainable building design and construction, using traditional materials and styles wherever possible, incorporating renewable energy generation and water recycling technologies.
  • Exploring the role of short rotation coppice and other biomass crops within the framework of new development, and keeping fuel sources close to areas of demand.
  • Creating reedbeds as part of developments to filter potentially polluted water before it is discharged to rivers and at the coast.
  • Providing access opportunities and natural open spaces close to where people live linked to wider multi-modal routes.
  • Ensuring that extensions to settlements, such as those around Taunton and Wellington and their environs, are designed so that they visually and functionally integrate with the surrounding landscape and the existing urban edge. Key views to and from settlements should be retained.
  • Providing access to high-quality greenspace through well-designed green infrastructure which will benefit health and wellbeing and provide habitats that increase the permeability of the urban landscape to biodiversity.
  • Ensuring that new developments provide biodiversity enhancement rather than just mitigation, for example in enhancing the setting of Hinkley Point power station and the River Tone in the vicinity of Taunton.
  • Designing sustainable drainage systems and surface water management plans that can create new wetland features close to urban areas and new development, becoming part of a green infrastructure network.
  • Conserving the area’s traditional architecture and manors, vernacular and historical buildings in local materials such as sandstone and grey Lias, encouraging the use of appropriate styles and locally distinctive materials, and that the repair, restoration and/or conversion of vernacular buildings should be carried out with due regard to this historical interest using local and appropriate materials, styles and detailing.