Landscape Character Types

Chalk Downs

An open landscape with long vistas, distinct skylines, large fields, sparse hedge or field boundaries, few mature hedgerow trees and a sense of space and exposure. This landscape character type is the most dominant within the Isle of Wight National Landscape. It is also the landscape type best known by the public because of the dramatic white cliffs at either end of the east–west central ridge, including the Needles Chalk stacks. There is another large area of chalk on the southern downs around Ventnor. Landmarks and seamarks such as St Catherine’s Oratory and the Tennyson Memorial occur on high vistas.

The geology of this area was laid down on a seabed during the Late Cretaceous period from 98 to 65 million years ago. It was subsequently folded and eroded to give the landform, angular flint deposits and soil base that we see today.

Traditional Enclosed Pasture

This landscape character type occurs most frequently on heavier soil or in wet areas where arable cultivation has remained unviable. Most of this landscape character type is found north of the central and southern chalk downs because of the geology of the Island. To the north of the central chalk ridge is a landscape of lush green pastures with large hedges, small copses and woodlands that may be characterised as ‘ancient’ countryside. This landscape includes areas such as the pasturelands around the Newtown estuary, Farringford, Calbourne, Combley, Quarr, Nunwell and south east of Osborne. Field shapes tend to be irregular, reflecting subtle changes in local topography, with some more regular hedgerows reflecting later enclosure. There are many mature oak trees within pasture fields and as hedge trees, giving a sense of permanence to this landscape. Country lanes, footpaths and bridleways are winding in nature and enclosed by hedges. Some arable cultivation takes place where modern farming equipment has made this possible. Some traditional pasture has been made more intensive to produce silage.

Intensive Agricultural Land

This landscape character type is found in a number of areas within the Isle of Wight NL. The first and most significant is the large, flat lower Greensand arable plain stretching from the south west of Rookley to the Tennyson Heritage Coast between Barnes High and Walpan Chine. A second sizeable area lies to the south of Arreton Down and stretches eastwards to Alverstone. Both of these areas are sub categorised as Intensive Arable Land. A third area is to the north of the chalk downs at Chessell and running west to Afton along with two areas both sides of the Western Yar Estuary. This area is sub categorised as Central Agricultural Belt. Finally, two small areas occur at Southford near Stenbury Manor, and in the Whitcombe Valley south of Newport.

Southern Coastal Farmland

This landscape character type largely occurs in one area between Shippards Chine and Barnes High and inland to the villages of Brighstone and Shorwell, with a further small area at Yaverland on the east coast. It has an open and exposed feel, with a gently undulating landform.

The influence of the sea can be seen by the few mature trees, which have been bent over by the salt laden winds, and the dramatic cliff falls along the seaward edge of fields. Travelling westwards along the Military Road, there is a gradual change from arable to pastoral land use. Most fields have a regular shape, with low hedges and few trees.

Sandstone Hills and Gravel Ridges

This landscape character type appears primarily in small land parcels south of the central chalk ridge. The largest area is to the west of Arreton at St Georges Down, with further small ridges in the area of Knighton, Southdown at Pyle near Chale, south of Chillerton and in a long band west of Shorwell to Brook.

The high Greensand hills (Sandstone Hills), in general support pasture except on steeper slopes. These slopes are often planted with mixed forestry and occur immediately to the south of the central chalk ridge.

Northern Woodland

Occurring on the heavier soils in the north of the Island where agricultural use has been unviable, these large areas of plantation and mixed woodland are a dominant feature in the landscape. Bouldnor, Combley and Firestone Copse are managed by Forestry England, with smaller areas of copse and other ancient woodland in private ownership.

In medieval times much of the Island’s woodland was concentrated to the north of the central chalk ridge. Most of the Island’s non-plantation woodland is still in this area. Combley Great Wood was owned and managed by Quarr Abbey in medieval times and is partly surrounded by a historic enclosure bank.

Landscape Improvement Zone

This landscape character type describes parts of the Isle of Wight NL that have changed as a result of sporadic and urbanising development over time. Usually found at the edge of larger development, these areas blur the boundary between urban and rural. They include areas of former agricultural land that have been changed by the addition of horse paddocks and stabling; intensive horticulture; poultry and pig farming; waste disposal sites; extensive residential, industrial or retail development; holiday camps, mobile homes, caravan and campsites.

Kings Quay

Harbours and Creeks

This landscape character type covers those estuarine environments on the Island that are within the Isle of Wight NL boundary, namely Wootton Creek, Kings Quay, Newtown, and the Western Yar. All have common features such as mudflats, shingle, salt marsh, reed beds, an open aspect, and fringing oak woodlands. However, each has its own distinct form and features.

The Undercliff

The Undercliff is an area of landscape character that is unique to the Isle of Wight NL. This is the largest inhabited rotational landslip in western Europe. It is of major geological, ecological and archaeological importance. There is the added pressure of the need to maintain and protect property, business and transport infrastructure in the area.

Osborne Coast

This landscape character type is a distinct part of the coast and hinterland to the north and east of East Cowes. A planned landscape of the nineteenth century, it was largely the concept of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Consort. Designed as a very private area screened from the town, the house and terrace afford vistas of the landscaped grounds and Solent beyond. Lying mostly within the extensive grounds of the former Royal estate of Osborne House, this landscape is characterised by rich ornamental and exotic planting, distinctive architecture in comparison to the surrounding traditional enclosed pasture agricultural land, and a wooded shoreline.

Sailing past Bouldnor Forest, North Island by Pete Johnstone

Northern Coastal Cliffs

A small but important landscape character type occurring along the north-west coast of the Island from Gurnard through to Alum Bay. Consists of low slumped and sloping broken cliffs of clay and gravel that were formed as a result of the effects of the action of the sea on the underlying geology. The main characteristics of this area are rough cliff edges, scrub growth, hollows in the landform and a lack of development because of the instability of the land.

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