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Landscape conservation

Landscape conservation


Wiltshire has an extremely rich and valued landscape. From rolling downland and chalk river valleys to low lying vales and ancient forest and parkland, the landscape of Wiltshire has provided pleasure and inspiration to generations of people.

Landscape, of course, represents much more than just the scenic beauty of our open countryside, it encapsulates Wiltshire's attractive towns and villages, abundant wildlife and habitats, numerous important archaeological features and the long historical record of human activity.

In recognition of the value of the Wiltshire landscape, almost half of Wiltshire Council's administrative area is considered of national importance and is designated as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Much of the remainder of the County is designated as locally important Special Landscape Area (SLA).

Landscape Character Assessment is an objective method for describing landscape, based on the identification of generic landscape types (e.g. Open Downland) and more specific landscape character areas (e.g. Marlborough Downs). The approach identifies the unique character of different areas of the countryside without making judgements about their relative worth. Landscape character areas are classified based on sense of place, local distinctiveness, characteristic wildlife, natural features and nature of change. Landscape Character Assessment has been undertaken for all of Wiltshire's land area at 1:50,000 scale and for most of Wiltshire at 1:25,000 scale covering the individual Districts and AONBs.

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Wiltshire is a county of contrasting and attractive countryside with downland, woodlands, river valleys and clay vales. The chalklands of the North Wessex Downs, Salisbury Plain, Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs, form undulating open scenery characterised by large fields and isolated tree clumps. In contrast, the valleys appear well wooded due to the enclosure of smaller fields by hedgerows and the presence of riverside trees and copses. Extensive deposits of clay-with-flints on top of the chalk support major woodlands such as Savernake Forest and the Great Ridge, Grovely and Tollard Royal woods.

Escarpments form the most dramatic features of the Wiltshire landscape and are the locations of a number of chalk carvings such as the white horses and regimental badges. Earthworks and ancient trackways give the chalklands a distinct archaeological feel, particularly in the Stonehenge and Avebury areas. Settlements are concentrated in the river valleys or below the ‘spring line’ beneath the escarpments. The traditional building materials of brick, stone, flint and thatch add to the picturesque qualities of these villages.

The oolitic limestone of the Cotswolds forms a gently undulating plateau with deeply incised, heavily wooded valleys. Much of the plateau is under arable cultivation with large fields separated by dry stone walls. The use of ‘traditional’ local stone has ensured that villages blend well with the landscape.

The clay vales are areas of gently undulating topography and varied landscape with permanent pasture on the flood plain and arable cultivation on the better drained soils. Throughout the vales there are numerous villages and many of the major towns of Wiltshire. The Thames and Bristol Avon Vales are separated by a line of low wooded hills, remnants of the ancient Braydon Forest, which occur on the outcrop of corallian limestone stretching from near Westbury to Highworth. In places this forms an important escarpment, especially around Lyneham. The Thames Vale is broad and relatively flat with more extensive floodplains and meadows than those in the Vales of Pewsey or Bristol Avon. In the Upper Thames Valley the extraction of gravel deposits has created numerous lakes, which form the core of the Cotswolds Water Park.

On the edge of the Chalklands in the south-west is a series of wooded ridges and valleys on the greensand there are many large estates, such as Fonthill in the Vale of Wardour, Longleat and Stourhead. In the south-east of the county, on the sands and gravels, there is a heavily wooded landscape more typical of the New Forest.

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Special Landscape Areas (SLA) are landscapes of County Importance. SLA is a non-statutory designation protected through County Structure Plan and Local Plan policy. Much of Wiltshire’s countryside outside the AONBs is designated as SLA.

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Wiltshire's landscape


Landscape Character Assessment is an objective method for describing landscape, based on the identification of generic landscape types (e.g. Open Downland) and more specific landscape character areas (e.g. Marlborough Downs). The approach identifies the unique character of different areas of the countryside without making judgements about their relative worth. Landscape character areas are classified based on sense of place, local distinctiveness, characteristic wildlife, natural features and nature of change.

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The main Wiltshire Landscape Character Assessment covers the whole of the county at 1:50,000 scale (see the link below). Beneath this assessment nest more detailed 1:25,000 Landscape Character Assessments.

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The North Wessex Downs document is a large file and therefore may take some time to download.

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Cotswold water park


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Last updated: 15 May 2019 | Last reviewed: 15 May 2019