National Character Area 91

Yardley Whittlewood Ridge - Landscape Change

The full NCA Profile landscape change page, is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Monitoring Landscape Change

Drivers for change
The Yardley Whittlewood Ridge is a low and gently undulating plateau with a high proportion of ancient woodland of national importance designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest which may become vulnerable to fires or loss of veteran tree habitats due to drought, pets and diseases and windblow. Residential development pressures around the urban areas and villages as well as pressure to expand large recreational facilities threaten the tranquil character of the area.

Monitoring landscape change
This section is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Additional information on landscape change

Landscape change reported in 2014

Recent changes and trends (reported in 2014)


  • Agricultural intensification, in particular a shift from pastoral and mixed farming to more arable farming has resulted in an increase in field size, loss of some hedgerows, the fragmentation and loss of semi-natural habitats, particularly grasslands and damage to underground historic features.
  • A subtle change in land use near settlements has taken place to accommodate small paddocks and the keeping of horses for recreation which has impacted on sense of place in some areas.
  • The area under grass generally shows a long-term decline, but there has been some shift from cereals to lowland cattle and sheep, implying a less intensively farmed landscape. The uptake of Countryside Stewardship for pasture management is limited. In 2003, 404 ha of lowland pasture on neutral/acid soils were in an agreement and 141 ha under regeneration of grassland/semi-natural vegetation.

Boundary features

  • The growing dominance of arable production and a requirement for larger fields to accommodate modern agricultural equipment has led to an increase in field sizes and the removal of some hedgerows. Inappropriate management of hedgerows such as infrequent cutting or over trimming is more of an issue than total neglect. The majority of the hedgerows in the NCA are mature, species-rich and intact.
  • The estimated boundary length for the NCA in 2003 was around 2, 257 km of which only a small proportion, 54 km (around 2 per cent) was under Countryside Stewardship agreements including 9 km of hedgerow management and 20 km of hedge planting and restoration. Data from 2011 suggests that this only increased slightly to 61 km.
  • Dutch elm disease had a dramatic effect on hedgerow trees, resulting in the widespread loss of many, however many hedgerows remain species-rich, are mature and contain suckering elm.

Coast and rivers

  • In 1995 the biological water quality of the river reaches in the NCA was most frequently classified as excellent (63 per cent). Between 1995 and 2000 about 6 per cent had improved quality and 18 per cent showed a loss. The chemical water quality of the rivers was most frequently classified as excellent (60 per cent). Between 1995 and 2000 about 5 per cent had improved quality and none showed a loss of quality.
  • In 2009 the Environment Agency assessed the ecological status of the River Tove, the Grand Union Canal and the River Kym/Til as ‘moderate’. Near the source of the River Great Ouse the ecological potential is ‘good’ but this reduces to ‘moderate’ further downstream. The groundwater status in parts of the NCA is ‘good’, but there are some areas considered to be ‘poor’ (River Basin Management Plan, Anglian River Basin District, Main document, Environment Agency, 2009).
  • The whole of the NCA is classified as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone with measures in place to reduce inputs of phosphates and nitrates to the watercourses and improve water quality. Water availability, both surface and ground water within the NCA, is considered to be restricted with measures in place to monitor abstraction rates.

Historic features

  • The area is especially important for its historic parkland, much of which is on the Registered Parks and Gardens list although the resource is smaller in extent than it was in 1918. By 1995 it is estimated that 30 per cent had been lost with about 991 ha remaining. About 12 per cent of the remaining parkland is covered by a Historic Parkland Grant, and about 21 per cent is included within an agri-environmental scheme.
  • The large areas of wood pasture and parkland that may once have existed in the grounds of large estates and historic houses such as Castle Ashby have gradually been lost to other land uses or have lost their traditional features through neglect. Locally it is estimated that approximately 97.8 ha of wood pasture and parkland is within Local Wildlife Sites with possibly over 1,000 ha on 30 plus sites, in various states of dereliction outside of this.
  • Approximately 74 per cent of historic farm buildings remain unconverted with a high proportion (93 per cent) of these remaining structurally intact.


  • Historically the area has been the subject of only local and small-scale mineral extraction in places where the underlying limestone comes close to the surface and was used locally as a building stone.
  • There are deposits of sand and gravel in the river valleys. An active sand and gravel quarry exists on sloping land to the west of the A509, near Bozeat. Land has also been allocated for an extension of this site to meet objectives in the currently adopted (Minerals and Waste Development Framework 2006-2026, Northamptonshire Minerals & Waste Development Framework Partial Review: Local Aggre-gates Assessment, 2012).

Semi-natural habitats

  • Only around 3 per cent of the NCA is designated for its biodiversity interest as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, of which the majority is ancient semi-natural woodland and the area has largely remained the same. A few remnants of lowland meadow and flood plain grazing marsh are also designated.
  • Other semi-natural habitats, such as wood pasture and parkland, semi- improved grassland and wetland habitats concentrated within the small number of river valleys, have suffered losses and increased fragmentation due to changes in land use, agricultural intensification and lack of management.
  • Countryside Stewardship uptake for the area follows the national average.
    The largest annual Countryside Stewardship agreements in 2003 were for lowland pastures on neutral/acid soils (404 ha) and regeneration of grassland/semi-natural vegetation (141 ha).

Settlement and development

  • The rate of development in the area is moderate. There are however pressures to increase the size of existing settlements to accommodate additional residential development, particularly in towns on the edge of the NCA such as Towcester, Bozeat and Olney. There is also increasing demand for improving the leisure and recreational facilities of the area both formal and informal opportunities, for example around Silverstone associated with the recent upgrading of the A43.

Trees and woodlands

  • Trees and woodland are significant features of the landscape with 11 per cent of the area wooded. The majority of this (78 per cent) is semi-natural ancient
    woodland with particular concentrations in the Salcey Forest, Yardley Chase and Whittlewood areas. Significant areas replanted with conifers around time of the First and Second World Wars have been undergoing removal by the Forestry Commission. Restoration by natural regeneration and new planting is taking place.
  • Between 1999 and 2003, the area of woodland covered by a Woodland Grant Scheme rose from 8 per cent to 14 per cent.

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

  • An increase in extreme weather events, hotter, drier summers and heavier winter rainfall could result in an increase in the incidence of grass and woodland fires during dry summers that may also lead to increased soil erosion that reduces soil quality and affects water quality.
  • Periods of drought may alter the species composition of semi-natural habitats particularly grassland and woodland so that the species more tolerant of drought conditions out compete those that are not. Wind blow and drought may lead to the loss of veteran trees in parkland landscapes. There may even be a decline in the amount of woodland cover and changes in species abundance especially specialist species of veteran tree habitats.
  • Climate change may make some tree species more vulnerable to pests and disease, or vulnerable to competition from invasive species. Warmer winters may allow pathogens and their vectors to increase their range resulting in new pests and diseases becoming a potential threat.
  • Agricultural practices may change as farmers adapt to changes in weather patterns or water availability. Greater demands on agriculture to produce higher yields could put pressure on the remaining areas of semi-natural grassland and other semi-natural habitats.
  • Changing weather conditions could lead to a longer growing season and the ability to grow different types of crops, however this may lead to winter cropping and a loss in winter stubble with a consequent loss of food sources for farmland birds. There may be an increased demand for energy crops that changes cropping patterns. It may also lead to deterioration in water quality, through the run-off of soil nutrients and increased use of herbicides and pesticides.
  • It is likely that there will be an increase in demand for outdoor recreation during the summer adding further pressure on managing areas such as Salcey and Whittlewood forests. Additional path and visitor facility maintenance may be required and storm damage may hinder access or detract from the user experience. Where habitats are fragmented they are likely to be more vulnerable to damage and sensitive species to disturbance.

Other key drivers

  • There are moderate residential development pressures around the urban areas and villages in the NCA especially around Towcester, Bozeat and Olney. There is also pressure to expand and improve large recreational facilities such as those at Silverstone Circuit and Santa Pod raceway including improvements to roads, supporting infrastructure and accommodation that impacts on the tranquility of the area. In addition there are proposals to improve the road and rail infrastructure of the area. The need to accommodate further growth and expansion will present a challenge to ensure that the character of the area is not adversely affected.
  • Opportunities exist to improve multi-functional green infrastructure links and the design of the urban fringes in ways that respect landscape character, improve access for local communities and visitors and provide social, economic and environmental benefits.
  • There is some pressure to extend the sand and gravel quarry at Bozeat with land already allocated for future extraction.
  • The wide plateau top and elevation above surrounding land has made the area suitable for telecommunications masts with many visible in the landscape. More recently the area has been the subject to proposals for generating renewable energy with pressure to accommodate wind turbines for example in the River Tove Valley.
  • The demand for informal and formal leisure and recreation in the area is high and is likely to increase which presents challenges for the management of the historic, natural and built environment to ensure that the current character and feeling of tranquillity of the area is not adversely affected. Opportunities exist to promote the conservation and enhancement of the historic and natural environment and increase people’s understanding and enjoyment of key assets.