National Character Area 28

Vale of York - Key Facts & Data

Landscape and nature conservation designations section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

The Vale of York is bordered by the North York Moors National Park to the north and the Howardian Hills AONB to the east with small areas of these land- scape designations (<1 per cent) falling within the NCA boundary (Natural England, 2011).

Designated nature conservation sites

The NCA includes the following statutory nature conservation designations (Natural England, Special Protection Areas; Special Area of Conservation; Ramsars; National Nature Reserves; Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Nature Reserves, 2021):

Please note: (i) Designated areas may overlap (ii) all figures are cut to Mean High Water Line, designations that span coastal/marine areas below this line will not be included.

Condition of designated sites
All designated sites within England are covered by Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI) units. The condition to these SSSI units within the NCA are as follows (Natural England, Sites of Special Scientific Interest Units, 2021):



Landscape and nature conservation designations map for NCA28

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Landform, geology and soils section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Elevation

Elevation in the Vale of York ranges from a low point of 1m above sea level to a maximum elevation of 207m. The mean elevation across the NCA is 21m (Natural England, 2010).

Landform and process

The Vale of York is generally low lying and flat in character with any small variation in height provided by ridges and glacial moraines. The York Moraine forms a curving ridge extending from York eastwards to Sand Hutton, a line mirrored by the Escrick Moraine about 8 km to the south along the border of the NCA with the Humberhead Levels (Vale of York & Mowbray Natural Area Profile, Vale of York Countryside Character Area description).

Bedrock geology

The underlying rocks of the Vale of York run in two strips north to south through the NCA. Mercia mudstone is present in the east of the Vale and Sherwood sandstone in the west. The influence of these rocks on the visible landscape is limited due to deep drift deposits that completely cover the area (Vale of York & Mowbray Natural Area Profile, Vale of York Countryside Character Area description).

Superficial deposits

The rivers and historic glacial lakes in this area have left deposits of clay, sand, silts and gravel. These drift deposits include glacial till, which forms a marked bench in the east. Movement of the ice-sheet through this area has left both terminal and recessional moraines (Vale of York & Mowbray Natural Area Profile, Vale of York Countryside Character Area description).

Designated geological sites

The NCA includes the following geological sites (Natural England, Geological and Mixed Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 2021):

wdt_IDNCA_IDNAMENCAAreaHaInterest typeArea (ha) 2021Percent of NCA (2021)Count
2361NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Geological6.80.01
2371NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Mixed1,029.52.75
2382NORTHUMBERLAND SANDSTONE HILLS72,694.6Geological45.40.14
2393CHEVIOT FRINGE51,591.3Geological17.10.02
2404CHEVIOTS36,487.9Geological165.00.52
2414CHEVIOTS36,487.9Mixed3,488.99.61
2425BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Geological85.70.18
2435BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Mixed35.80.01
2446SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Geological7.20.02
2456SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Mixed5,569.25.74

Soils and Agriculture Classification

The major soil types for this NCA include clay and silt, sand and gravel and diamicton, covering 31, 27 and 22 per cent of the NCA respectively. The lacustrine and alluvial deposits provide good loamy soils that are fertile and support a high level of arable farming. The clay deposits are calcareous and are sometimes used for liming other poorer, sandy soils. The Vale of York has good quality agricultural soils, just over half of the area has soils classified as Grade 2 and almost a quarter is classified as Grade 3. Most of the highest quality agricultural soils (Grade 2 Soils) are found in the south west and scattered across the northern half of the NCA (Natural England, 2010).

The main grades of agricultural land in the NCA are broken down as follows (as a proportion of total land area) (Natural England, Provisional Agricultural Land Classification, 2019):


Landform, geology and soils map for NCA28

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Key waterbodies and catchments section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Major rivers/canals

The following major rivers/canals (by length) have been identified in this NCA (Natural England, data informing the 2014 National Character Area Profiles, 2010):

wdt_IDREF_CODENAME_1NameLength (km)SumOfShape_Length
11NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Aln7.67,587.2
21NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Coquet5.55,516.0
31NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINWhiteadder Water2.92,904.9
410NORTH PENNINESBlack Burn11.911,853.4
510NORTH PENNINESCroglin Water10.010,042.3
610NORTH PENNINESCrowdundle Beck4.34,337.4
710NORTH PENNINESDevil's Water20.520,464.6
810NORTH PENNINESHarwood Beck9.79,740.2
910NORTH PENNINESRiver Allen4.94,889.0
1010NORTH PENNINESRiver Derwent15.315,268.4

Please note: other significant rivers (by volume) may also occur. Tidal stretches of rivers are not included, which may include some major rivers.

There are frequent stream courses and drainage channels within the landscape which link with the main rivers which cross the Vale. The floodplains of the Ouse, the Derwent, the Ure, the Nidd and the Fosse make up much of this flat landscape as they flow through the Vale of York into the Humber. The rivers Ure, Nidd and Wharfe all drain from the Magnesian Limestone ridge to the west of the NCA and join with the River Swale and River Ouse as they run south through the NCA into the Humber. These Rivers travel through the west of the NCA. The River Derwent drains the East of the NCA, travelling down from the Howardian Hills and the Rivers that drain the Vale of Pickering.

Water quality

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution. These can impact surface water (waterbodies and waterways located above ground) and groundwater (water bodies and waterways located below ground).

Waterbodies such as lakes can also be designated as “eutrophic waters” if the enrichment of the waterbody by nitrate pollution causes accelerated growth of algae, impacting the quality of the water and the balance of organisms within it.

The following NVZs are located within the NCA (Environment Agency, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Designations, 2021):

Water framework directive

River basin management plans cover river basin districts and describe the challenges that threaten the water environment and how these challenges can be managed and funded. The plans include the classification of water quality of surface waters and ground waters.



Click on the Water Framework Directive layers on the below map to view the corresponding river names.

Key waterbodies and catchments map for NCA28

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Trees and woodlands section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Total woodland cover

Ancient woodland is any area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD. National Forest Inventory (NFI) woodland includes all forests and woodlands (0.5 hectares and over). The total woodland cover within the NCA is as follows (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021; Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Distribution and size of woodland and trees in the landscape

Woodland in the NCA consists mainly of scattered small and medium-sized stands with larger areas such as Sessay Wood and Wheldrake Wood unusual. Scattered woods north of York include remnants of the historic Galtres Forest. Recent planting has been undertaken in a scattered pattern with most new planting to the west of the City of York and in the northern part of the NCA between Haxby and Dalton. About 17 per cent of the woodland cover is on an ancient woodland site. The proportion of these sites covered by a Woodland Grant Scheme agreement has increased slightly since 1999 from 31 per cent to 33 per cent. The total area covered by Woodland Grant Scheme management agreements has been stable. Conifer plantations are a common woodland type within the Vale of York and much of the plantation planting has been undertaken on acidic and sandy soils. Within the agricultural landscape there are scattered field boundary trees that provide relief from the open field design. There are also small farm woods, shelterbelts and game coverts, all of which add diversity and interest to the landscape.

(Vale of York & Mowbray Natural Area Profile, Vale of York Countryside Character Area description).

Woodland types

A statistical breakdown of the area and type of woodland found across the NCA is detailed below (Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Area and proportion of ancient woodland and planted ancient woodland sites (PAWS) within the NCA (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021):


Trees and woodlands map for NCA28

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Boundary features and patterns

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

Boundary features

Most field boundaries date back to the Parliamentary enclosure period – around 1750 to 1850 – and are composed predominantly of hawthorn. A lack of upkeep of these traditional boundaries means that today the hedgerows are mainly gappy. Some of the most diverse and oldest hedgerows, containing field maple, hazel, holly and guilder rose, can be found along historic lanes or have resulted from assarting – the piecemeal clearance of woodland to create fields. An improvement to the low, flailed and intermittent hedgerows of the Vale has been seen in the past eight years due to a high take up of ELS boundary options. 1,350 km of hedgerow is within ES option to maintain and restore. This is the most common boundary feature with 64 km of ditches the next most commonly seen (Vale of York Countryside Character Area description;
Countryside Quality Counts 2003).

Field patterns

Fields are medium to large size and enclosure is by low, flailed, often intermittent hedges with few hedgerow trees. This gives the landscape a generally large-scale, open, well-tended character where food production is the main emphasis of land management (Vale of York Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts 2003).

Agriculture section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

The following tables provide the most recently available statistics from Defra on agriculture within the NCA.

Farm type

The following farm types are located within this NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Farm size

The following table outlines the sizes of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm ownership

The following table outlines the ownership of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Land use

The following table outlines the types of agricultural land use within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Livestock numbers

The following livestock are farmed within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm labour

The following table outlines the types of farm labour within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Please note: (i) Some of the Census data are estimated by Defra so may not present a precise assessment of agriculture within this area (ii) Data refers to commercial holdings only (iii) Data includes land outside of the NCA where it belongs to holdings whose centre point is recorded as being within the NCA.



Note that the below map only shows agri-environment scheme coverage, and not other schemes.

Agriculture map for NCA28

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Key habitats and species section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Habitat distribution/coverage

The NCA displays three distinct land cover types, agriculture, wetland and heathland. The main heart of the NCA is agriculture and within these areas small patches of woodland and hedgerows and semi-improved grasslands are the main natural habitats seen. Because higher grade agricultural soils are found in the north of the NCA more areas of priority habitat are found in the south and south-east of York City. As the River Ouse runs south of the City of York a fragmented corridor of floodplain grazing marsh remains.

Heathland habitat remains in some areas on the sandy soils of the east of the NCA. The two large areas of Strensall Common and Allerthorpe Common have the best examples of this type. Along the river corridors running down the western and eastern sides of the NCA mosaics of wetland habitats are found including floodplain grazing marsh and traditional hay meadows. In flood plain areas where drainage has occurred to increase agricultural land usage, there has been much improvement of grasslands that has reduced biodiversity in the swards and the loss of associated insect and bird species.

Broadleaved woodland
The most common woodland community is common oak-bracken bramble woodland. The field layer vegetation is characterised by broad buckler fern, brambles and sometimes bracken. In more established stands bluebells persist. In many places broadleaved woodlands were replanted with conifers, such as Sitka spruce, or sycamores for wood production. The coniferisation has led to a loss of traditional herbs, such as herb Paris characteristic of ancient woodland.

Birch woodland is more common in areas with acidic soil, often developing naturally on unmanaged heathland remnants. Important woodland bird species such as lesser spotted woodpecker, marsh tit and spotted flycatcher are supported by woodland and parkland within the NCA at the northern reaches of their range.

Coastal and floodplain grazing marsh
Historically the meadows by the rivers in the Vale of York have been managed for hay-making and subsequent grazing and were common across a much wider area than seen today. There has been extensive loss of floodplain grazing marsh over the past century, particularly the recent past, where pressures from agriculture intensification and development have reduced the extent of this habitat; now only found close to the main rivers through the NCA. This NCA contains approximately 15 per cent of the total flood plain grazing marsh in England.

Characteristically supporting a high number of herbs such as great burnet, meadowsweet, meadow buttercup and bistort the floodplains also support a rich invertebrate assemblage. The floodplain grazing marsh of the Lower Derwent River support internationally important assemblages of overwintering and breeding wildfowl and waders such as Eurasian widgeon and Eurasian teal. These areas are also important for a number of migrant bird populations in spring including ruff and whimbrel as they head back from overwintering in Africa.

Lowland heath and acid grassland
On the sandy, glacial soils of the NCA a few remnants of heathland remain. The most notable are Strensall Common and Allerthorpe Common where ongoing management is seeking to conserve and restore this habitat. The mixture of soils gives rise to diversity of habitats and plant communities. In dry areas heather dominates with petty whin and birds-foot trefoil amongst other species. In wetter areas cross leaved heath is dominant. The diversity of flora supports important entomological and ornithological communities including breeding populations of European nightjar.

The sandy soils also represent the areas where conifer plantations have been focused. Work at Strensall Common has seen removal of an area of conifer plantation and the reintroduction of grazing to create natural restoration of the heathland at this site.

Rivers and streams
Rivers provide one of the most important ecological features of this NCA there is a wide diversity between different waterbodies and between them they support a wide range of species. A rich flora within the river and the banks supports a good riverine insect community, in particular good suites of mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies and a number of notable beetle species. The lower reaches of the River Derwent supports a high number of breeding waders such as goosander, common sandpiper, oystercatcher and little ringed plover as well as large aggregations of non-breeding birds and over-wintering birds (Vale of York & Mowbray Natural Area Profile).

Key Habitats

The NCA contains the following areas of key main habitats, as mapped by the national Priority Habitat Inventory (Natural England, Priority Habitats Inventory, 2021):






Key habitats and species map for NCA28

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Settlement and development patterns section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Settlement patterns

The City of York is the main settlement in the Vale and, with the prominent Minster tends to dominate the area around it both visually and culturally. All the main roads in the Vale radiate from it. The city is expanding around the fringes and there are also significant satellite villages like Upper and Nether Poppleton and Haxby to the north and Bishopthorpe and Copmanthorpeto the south. Easingwold is a substantial rural town lying in the north of the Vale and has a distinctive intricate layout and a fine combination of open spaces and buildings within the landscape. Settlements across the NCA are distinctively linear in form with buildings set back behind wide grass verges. The Vale is scattered with large, brick built farmsteads (Vale of York Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts 2003).

Main settlements

York is the main settlement within the Vale of York NCA. The total estimated population for this NCA (derived from ONS 2001 Census data) is: 252,937 (Vale of York Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts 2003).

Local vernacular and building materials

The villages, like those in the Vale of Mowbray, exhibit the typical linear vale form of mottled brick houses with pantile roofs facing each other on either side of a main street. Wide grass verges and special features like village greens, ponds, streams and mature trees often combine with the village church and pub to cre ate a very attractive whole. Farmsteads are larger here than in the more northerly Vale of Mowbray, with examples of the more prosperous agriculture dating from the 19th century. They are built, like most of the traditional buildings in the vicinity, in the characteristic mottled bricks and have pantile roofs. Older farmhouses are usually associated with a complex of large, more modern farm buildings (Draft Historic Profile, Countryside Character Area description, Countryside Quality Counts).

Settlement and development patterns map for NCA28

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Key historic sites and features section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Origin of historic features

York Minster, built from stone brought from the Southern ‘Magnesian Limestone’ ridge to the west, is a highly visible landmark drawing the eye to the city from many of the outlying areas. The Romans established a legionary fortress at what Now to become the major Roman centre of Eboracum, now York, using the higher ground of the York Morain. The area around York Now significantly influenced by the Romans and there is much evidence of forts and signal stations as well as roads. Commons, often of a heathy character, were widespread in the Vale and some of these still survive today on the poor, wind- blown, sandy soils (Draft Historic Profile, Countryside Character Area description, Countryside Quality Counts).

Designated historic assets

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Listed buildings

The NCA includes the following listed buildings (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Heritage at Risk Register

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets listed within the Heritage at Risk Register (Historic England, Heritage at Risk Register, 2023):



Key historic sites and features map for NCA28

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Recreation and access section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Public access
The following areas of public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; National Trust, 2021):


Please note: Public access areas may overlap.
The following linear routes or public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; Sustrans; 2021):

Recreation and access map for NCA28

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Experiential qualities

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

Tranquillity

Based on the CPRE map of tranquillity (2006) the lowest levels of tranquillity are experienced within the City of York and along the roads that radiate out from this centre. Between the roads and main settlements the levels of tranquillity are quite high across the whole NCA, especially when compared to NCAs to the west. Mean levels of tranquillity get progressively higher moving further east across the NCA.

A breakdown of tranquillity values for this NCA are detailed in the table below (CPRE, Tranquillity Map, 2006):

Dark skies

Light pollution is a generic term referring to artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed, and can impact on people’s experience of the countryside within the NCAs. CPRE host an interactive map, depicting the light pollution and dark skies within the NCA.

Intrusion

The 2007 Intrusion Map (CPRE) shows the extent to which rural landscapes are ‘intruded on’ from urban development, noise (primarily traffic noise), and other sources of visual and auditory intrusion. This shows that the urban area of York has increased in size and, as a result, the area surrounding has seen vast increases in levels of disturbance. Increased use of the road network radiating out from York is having large impacts in terms of intrusion throughout the countryside across the wider Vale.

A breakdown of intrusion values for this NCA is detailed in the table below (CPRE, Intrusion Map, 2007):

Notable trends from the 1960s to 2007 are a large increase in the area of land considered being disturbed and a correlating decrease in the land considered undisturbed. The urban area has only increased slightly, by 2 per cent, so other factors are contributing to these figures.