National Character Area 120

Wealden Greensand - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Summary

The long, curved belt of the Wealden Greensand runs across Kent, parallel to the North Downs, and on through Surrey. It moves south, alongside the Hampshire Downs, before curving back eastwards to run parallel with the South Downs in West Sussex. Around a quarter of the NCA is made up of extensive belts of woodland – both ancient mixed woods and more recent conifer plantations. In contrast, the area also features more open areas of heath on acidic soils, river valleys and mixed farming, including areas of fruit growing.

The area has outstanding landscape, geological, historical and biodiversity interest. Some 51 per cent of the NCA is covered by the South Downs National Park, Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Surrey Hills AONB – a testament to the area’s natural beauty. The underlying geology has shaped the scarp-and-dip slope topography, with its far-reaching views, but it has also had a significant bearing on the area’s sense of place: there are clear links between vernacular architecture, industry and local geology. The heritage assets provide vital connections to the NCA’s industrial, military and cultural history, and include distinctive deer parks and more recent 18th-century parklands. Biodiversity interests are represented by internationally and nationally designated sites alongside numerous local sites and other non-designated semi-natural habitats. The internationally designated sites include three Special Protection Areas (SPAs), two Ramsar sites and eight Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), representing the outstanding value and quality of the heathland, woodland, wetland and coastal habitats found within the NCA. In addition, fragments of acid grassland and parkland landscapes add to the overall diversity of habitats.

The south-western part of the area remains essentially rural, with only small market towns such as Petworth and Petersfield, but eastwards from Dorking the character becomes considerably more urbanised, with many towns including Maidstone, Reigate, Ashford and Folkestone. The area forms a major transport corridor, with the M25, M20 and M26 motorways and other major road and rail routes all running through it.

A short coastal stretch extends from Folkestone to Hythe, with a heavily developed hinterland: as a result, most of the coastline is protected by coastal defences. The exception is Copt Point, where the eroding cliffs are designated for their wildlife and geological interest. This part of the coastline is also part of the defined Dover-Folkestone Heritage Coast. The coastline offers a contrasting recreational experience from that associated with the heathlands, wetlands and woodlands of the wider NCA.

Development pressures are likely to pose significant challenges within the NCA, with increasing demands on water resources, the landscape, biodiversity and the sense of place. Well planned green infrastructure is likely to play a critical role in both new and existing developments, to bring about a range of economic, social and environmental benefits. The creation of resilient ecological networks will become increasingly important, especially as our climate changes. There are opportunities to strengthen the networks of semi-natural habitats – particularly wetlands, woodlands and heathlands – integrating them into the mixed farmed landscape and taking action to reduce further fragmentation.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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

SEO 1

Protect and manage the nationally recognised and distinctive character of the landscape, conserving and enhancing historic landscape character, tranquillity, sense of place, and the rich historical and geological heritage of the Wealden Greensand. Enhance access provision where appropriate, to maintain public benefit from and enjoyment of the area.

SEO 2

Protect, manage and significantly enhance the mosaic and connectivity of semi-natural habitats within the mixed farmed landscape – particularly the internationally important woodland and heathland habitats – for the benefit of biodiversity, pollination, soil and water regulation, landscape character and enhanced adaptation to climate change.

SEO 3

Manage and significantly enhance the quality of the characteristic wetland and water environment of the Greensand. This will contribute to sustainable flood risk management, will benefit the regulation of water quality and water availability, as well as enhancing the sense of place, biodiversity, recreation and wetland habitat adaptation to climate change.

SEO 4

Plan to deliver a network of integrated, well managed green spaces in existing and developing urban areas, providing social, economic and environmental benefits, and reinforcing landscape character and local distinctiveness – particularly on or alongside the boundaries of the designated landscapes within the Wealden Greensand.