National Character Area 27

Yorkshire Wolds - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


The Yorkshire Wolds National Character Area (NCA) forms an arc of high, gently rolling ground extending from the Humber Estuary west of Hull, to the North Sea coast at Flamborough Head, north of Bridlington. The Wolds comprise a prominent chalk escarpment and foothills rising from the Vale of York to the west and the Vale of Pickering to the north, and falling to the plain of Holderness to the east. A very low proportion of the area is urban and woodland, and the vast majority of the land is agricultural. Woodland planting is restricted to small, scattered woodland blocks on higher land and steeper slopes.

This gently rolling landscape instils a sense of openness, escapism and tranquillity provided by the expansive views, sparse population and agriculture. Protection of the rural character and long, open views is important for conservation of this distinctive landscape. Respect for local building vernacular is essential; they are mainly brick, limestone and chalk.

Eastwards, the NCA arcs to meet the North Sea at the high chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head, designated as Heritage Coast for its landscape, recreational and cultural values. Flamborough Head is also a European Marine Site, a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its breeding coastal birds and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for chalk reef and caves. Methods of fishing and extraction of natural materials are prohibited off the headland in order to protect marine wildlife and heritage, and to safeguard local fish stocks. It is also a geological SSSI for its spectacular chalk cliffs. There are coastal footpaths that offer opportunities for coastal recreation, which could be extended in the long term.

The area has a varied cultural and historical heritage, with evidence of extensive settlement from the Neolithic to the Late Medieval Period – the rich prehistoric ritual landscape at Rudston, numerous bronze-age burial mounds, iron-age ladder settlements and deserted medieval villages.

Extensive tracts of arable land dominate the NCA due to the thin, chalky soils and there is some livestock rearing, including pigs, sheep, cattle and chicken. Increased demand for food may bring the introduction of new crops and longer cropping seasons but sustainable farming practices need to be followed to protect water, soil and biodiversity resources.

Because of the underlying permeable chalk, this landscape has no major rivers, but its calcareous waters flow into the river headwaters of adjoining NCAs such as the River Hull in Holderness NCA. The chalk aquifer underlying the NCA supplies drinking water and allows irrigation of arable land but it suffers from pollution and over-abstraction. Calcareous grasslands occur on the steep-sided valleys, which can help to filter water, improving water quality and preventing soil erosion. These grasslands are often species-rich and attract many species of butterflies and moths. The Wolds represent the most northerly outcrop of Chalk in Britain and therefore accommodate the northern extent of the range of many species.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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


Enhance, extend and manage the unique assemblage of chalk-based habitats (lowland chalk grasslands, streams), broadleaved woodland and maritime cliffs, while protecting the provision and quality of water.


Manage the coastal landscape of Flamborough Head with its diversity of cliffs, geology, geomorphology and habitats (including important seabird colonies), and enhance people’s enjoyment of it through increased opportunities for recreation and education.


Improve opportunities to enhance people’s enjoyment of the area while protecting high levels of tranquillity by conserving extensive views and intimate, steep-sided valleys which contribute to sense of place, and by protecting and promoting the extensive historic evidence of past human settlement, landscape change and designed landscapes.


Maintain a sustainable but productive arable landscape, while expanding and connecting semi-natural habitats to benefit biodiversity, and soil and water quality by promoting good agricultural practice, extending grasslands along field margins and slopes, implementing extensive grazing regimes and ensuring compliance with regulations on nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZs) to manage fertiliser inputs.