National Character Area 59

Wirral - 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.

There are no National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in this NCA (Natural England, 2011).

Relationship with the coast

The adjacent coastline is covered by the following Shoreline Management Plans:

  • Great Ormes Head to Scotland

The adjacent coastline includes the following Marine Plan – Marine Character Areas (MCAs):

  • Dee and Mersey Estuaries and Coastal Waters


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 NCA59

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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 is a maximum of 106m above sea level at Poll Hill in Heswall. The average elevation of the landscape is 32m above sea level (Natural England, 2010).

Landform and process

Low-lying plain punctuated by wooded sandstone ridges and gorse-clad sandstone outcrops (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description).

Bedrock geology

The geology of the Wirral peninsula is dominated by Triassic sandstone. This forms a low-lying but gently rolling platform punctuated by numerous low sandstone outcrops. The pastoral landscape of central Wirral is separated from the industrial areas of Merseyside by a dramatic sandstone ridge which extends from Bidston Hill in the north through Noctorum and Mountwood to Storeton in the south (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description).

Superficial deposits

During the last glacial advance some 20,000 years ago, ice invaded from the Irish Sea area and deposited till over much of the area.

Some coastal areas such as Meols are dominated by the large-scale deposition of sand which forms extensive dune systems (Wirral 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 core of this area is predominantly mixed agricultural land, with areas of improved pasture, arable farming and market gardens interspersed with residential development and scattered country houses with associated parkland. There are 8 main soilscape types in this NCA: slowly permeable seasonally wet slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey soils, covering 50 per cent of the NCA; slightly acid loamy and clayey soils with impeded drainage (16 per cent), freely draining slightly acid sandy soils (15 per cent), saltmarsh soils (7 per cent), sand dune soils (4 per cent), loamy and clayey floodplain soils with naturally high groundwater (3 per cent), naturally wet very acid sandy and loamy soils (2 per cent), and loamy and clayey soils of coastal flats with naturally high groundwater (1 per cent). Most of the agricultural land is grade 3, but there is an area of grade 5 land around Neston and Gayton Sands, as well as small areas of grade 2 agricultural land around Willaston, Neston, Hoylake and Puddington (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description, 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 NCA59

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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 no significant rivers running through this NCA.

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 NCA59

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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 is predominantly broadleaved and is primarily associated with sandstone ridges, Country Parks and country estates (Wirral 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 NCA59

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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 are marked by clipped hedges, many of which are intermittent and have been replaced by post and wire fences. In coastal areas, hedges and hedgelines are often characterised by gorse scrub. Boundary features in residential areas and surrounding country estates are predominantly red sandstone walls which are a common theme running throughout the Wirral (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Field patterns

Field pattern is defined by intermittent hedgerows often replaced by post and wire fences with the invasion of gorse in coastal regions. Field ponds and copses are integral components of the field structure (Wirral 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 NCA59

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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 Wirral landscape is based upon the formal landscapes of former large country estates, rural areas, natural coastal scenery and wooded sandstone ridges which combine to give the peninsula a unique landscape character. The sandstone outcrops of this area support areas of mature woodland and extensive tracts of heathland and gorse-covered slopes. The core of this area is predominantly mixed agricultural land. Field ponds and copses are integral components of the field structure. To the north of Moreton is a low-lying, under-used remnant agricultural and horticultural area lying behind coastal embankments and partly within the floodplain of the River Birket. Further along the coast to the west the area is dominated by extensive dune systems, particularly at Meols. The Dee Estuary forms the south-western boundary of the Wirral and supports large areas of intertidal sandflats and mudflats and coastal saltmarshes (Urban Mersey Basin Natural Area Profile, Wirral Countryside Character Area Description).

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 NCA59

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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 settlement pattern on the Wirral is a mixture of large country houses and estates, predominantly built using local red sandstones, and larger towns and villages such as Heswall, Hoylake and West Kirkby. Many towns and villages have expanded to act as dormitory settlements for the nearby urban centres of Birkenhead, Liverpool, Ellesmere Port and Chester. Settlements are linked by an intricate network of lanes, bridleways and footpaths (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Main settlements

The main settlements within the NCA are Moreton, Upton, Neston, Greasby, Heswall, West Kirby, Irby, Hoylake, Willaston, Barnston, Saughall, Burton, Caldy and Capenhurst. The total estimated population for this NCA (derived from ONS 2001 census data) is 134,678 (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003, Natural England, 2012).

Local vernacular and building materials

The towns and villages, which have developed as dormitory settlements for workers in Birkenhead, Liverpool, Ellesmere Port and Chester, are a mixture of traditional sandstone buildings and modern post-war housing development. Increased pressure for accommodation in this commuter belt has led to the expansion of many of the settlements resulting in loss of identity and gradual coalescence. As a result, many traditional half-timbered buildings have been lost (Wirral Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Settlement and development patterns map for NCA59

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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

There is some evidence to suggest that the Wirral may have formed an ecozone for the Mesolithic communities which migrated between the uplands of the Pennines to the lowlands of the Cheshire Plain and Wirral in the winter. The north-west corner of the Wirral peninsula has a greater concentration of Scandinavian place names than elsewhere in Cheshire. However, only a few such as Meols (‘sandbank’) have retained their pure Scandinavian form. At the area of the Norman invasion the Wirral Now an area of small villages and hamlets supporting fishing or farming communities. The key to the development of the Wirral has been the steady improvement of communications. This began in 1330 with the establishment of the original ferry across the Mersey from the Priory in Birkenhead. The increased reliability of steam-powered boats in the 1820s encouraged wealthy Liverpool businessmen and merchants to establish country houses and estates on the Wirral. The introduction of the Wirral’s first railway in 1840 further encouraged settlement in the area, which has continued up to the present day. These improvements also led to the industrialisation of the Mersey coast (Countryside Quality Counts Draft Historic Profile, Countryside Character Area Description).

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 NCA59

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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 NCA59

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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 tranquillity scores are around some of the larger towns and villages such as Moreton, West Kirby, Heswall and Neston. The highest tranquillity scores are around some of the coastal areas and in particular around the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands nature reserve on the south west coast.

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 areas of highest disturbance are around the larger towns and villages such as Moreton, West Kirby, Heswall and Neston. The areas of least disturbance are around some of the coastal areas and around the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands nature reserve.

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 14 per cent increase in the area of disturbed land, largely due to the expansion of urban areas.