A broad lowlying plain of gently undulating, predominantly
arable farmland, with some pasture, and wide views
to distant hills.
Meandering, slow moving river Tees flows
through the heart of the area, dividing the lowlands
to north and south.
Contrast of quiet rural areas with extensive
urban and industrial development, concentrated along
the lower reaches of the Tees, the estuary and coast.
Large scale chemical and oil refining works,
dock facilities and other heavy plants along the
Tees estuary form a distinctive skyline both by
day and by night.
Overhead transmission lines and pylons, motorway
corridors, railway lines and other infrastructure
elements are widespread features.
Woodland cover is generally sparse, but with
local variation such as at Skerne Carr, on steep
banks of the middle reaches of the Tees, and to
parkland and managed estates.
Distinctive areas of peaty fenland flatts
and carrs within the Skerne lowlands, and extensive
areas of mud flats, saltmarsh wetlands and dunes
at mouth of the river Tees, which support valuable
Minor valleys and linear strips of open land
extend as "green corridors" from rural
farmland into the heart of the Teesside conurbation.
Tees Lowlands form a broad, low-lying plain, framed
by the Cleveland Hills to the south-east, by the
Pennines Fringes to the west, and merging in to
the Durham Magnesian Limestone Plateau to the north.
To the south of the river Tees, low hills form a
more subtle transition into the Vale of Mowbray
beyond. The slow moving river Tees meanders through
the heart of the area, dividing the lowlands to
north and south. The whole area is gently undulating
or nearly flat, much of it below 30m AOD, and very
broad in scale, with wide views to distant hills.
The Teesside conurbation forms an extensive area
of urban and industrial development which spreads
around the margins of the Tees estuary as an almost
continuous built-up area from Redcar to Billingham,
with Hartlepool as a discrete settlement to the
north. Minor valleys and open strips of land form
"green corridors" linking rural farmland
into the heart of the Teesside conurbation. High-rise
buildings, large scale chemical and oil refining
works, dock-side container terminal, a power station
and other installations, all clustered on land reclaimed
from the estuary at Teesmouth, form a distinctive
and dramatic skyline both by day and night, which
is highly visible across this low-lying landscape.
This extensive area of industry is starkly juxtaposed
with the natural elements of the Tees estuary. Areas
of open water, mud flat, salt marsh and meadow,
including Seal Sands and the Cowpen Marshes, survive
in amongst the industrial installations, protected
as habitats of outstanding importance for birds
as well as offering an important archaeological
West of Teesside, the Tees Lowlands extend as a
broad area of gently undulating arable farmland,
large in scale, sparsely wooded and open, before
reaching Darlington, another major industrial town.
The land drops gently down to the river Tees, only
made visible by the willows growing along its banks.
There are few hedgerow trees, ash and sycamore,
and only occasional blocks of farm woodland. Unspoilt
villages lie close to the Tees, at the blind
ends of meandering minor roads, for there are few
bridging points along the middle reaches of the
valley. This is a rural landscape, with a few scattered
small villages and farmsteads, and only the presence
of pylons to remind of the proximity of a major
urban and industrial complexes. Views of the Cleveland
hills to the south
To the north of Billingham the land rises gently,
and is more undulating. Permanent pastures and leys
are more frequent, with grazing sheep and cattle,
and with stretches of semi-natural woodland on thin-soiled
heathy areas. Nearby the Skerne Carrs form an extensive
and distinctive area of essentially flat peaty fenland
and carrs with frequent water courses.
Estates and landscaped parklands are occasional
features of the Tees Lowlands landscape, and include
South Park, within the urban setting of Darlington,
Wynyard Park, set within an extensive well wooded
estate to the north of Stockton, and Hardwick Park,
notable for its landscape garden and 36 acre lake.
The area is crossed by corridors of major infrastructure,
including the north-south A1 road, A19 and main
east coast railway line, together with the A66 and
prominent overhead transmission lines.
Tees Lowlands is largely underlain by red mudstones
and sandstones of Permo-Triassic age. Jurassic sandstones
and shales, resistant to weathering, outcrop on
the coast, and form the upstanding edge of the Eston
and Upleatham Hills near Guisborough.
Almost the whole area is masked by thick deposits
of glacial drift, till or boulder clay, sand and
gravel. These deposits are typically tinged red
by their content of Permo-Triassic rock debris.
The area is gently undulating, falling south and
south-eastward from about 120m on the dip slope
of the Magnesian Limestone plateau, to sea level.
Much of the area lies below 30m AOD, with extensive
flat areas of coastal plain, estuarine marshland
and mud flats, and inland, areas of carr as at Bradbury,
Morden and Preston Carrs. To the south of the river
Tees, low undulating hills of glacial moraine rise
as a low watershed between the Tees and its former
tributary, the river Wiske, which was deflected
by the glacial deposits to flow south to the river
The river Tees flows through the centre of the lowland
basin, fed by its tributaries the Skerne, Langley
Beck, Billingham Beck and the river Leven. Its meandering
course, in places incised through the glacial deposits
into the plain, is locally defined by bluffs, with
gorge-like sections in its middle reaches. Its flow
is controlled by artificial embankments in these
stretches, but downstream its flow is controlled
by a newly completed tidal barrage.
and Cultural Influences
Tees Lowlands have always been an important area
for farming. Much of the originally wooded landscape
of the Tees Lowlands was cleared more than 2000
years ago by Iron Age farmers, who lived in small
settlements, such as the one excavated at Thorpe
Thewles, and cultivated the surrounding area. Roman
influences remain still, in the landscape, in the
north-south alignment of the modern B6275 road,
formerly Dere Street, which ran northwards through
the area from Piercebridge, the fortified crossing
of the river Tees. Evidence that the fertile loamy
soils supported a large rural population in the
Middle Ages is provided by the many sites of deserted
or 'shrunken' medieval villages within the landscape
of the Tees Lowlands, especially in the area around
The development of the towns that go to make up
the conurbation of Teesside as a major industrial
area has its roots in rich local mineral reserves,
good communications links and an estuarine and coastal
Stockton was the location of major innovation in
the use of steam, which stimulated industrial development
throughout the country. The world's first public
passenger steam railway, by Act of Parliament, ran
from Witton Park to Stockton and was formally opened
in 1825. Locomotion no.1 departed from Shildon to
Stockton and subsequently Stephenson and Hawkworth
pioneered the opening up of the whole area, with
lines extending northwards to the Durham coalfield
and along the Durham coast, and eastwards into Teesside.
The remaining artefacts of the many railway lines
with their bridges and viaducts reflect the importance
of the early development of the railway network.
Teesside was also formerly one of the three most
important shipbuilding rivers in the region, exploiting
ironstone deposits in the Cleveland Hills, combined
with cheap local coal, and the flat estuarine location.
The extensive chemical plants, which form one of
the largest complexes in Europe, have their foundations
in the manufacture of matches, Friction Lights
as invented by John Walker of Stockton in 1827.
Much of the modern chemical industry developed later,
after the 1880s and following the invention of the
process to exploit underlying salt reserves by extracting
salt as brine.
In contrast to the rapid industrial growth of the
19th and early 20th century, heavy industry at Teesside
has declined considerably over the last 30 years,
including the closure of the huge shipyards. The
resulting widespread dereliction within the Tees
valley has been partly addressed through a variety
of both current and completed restoration schemes.
of the small villages, such as Gainford, are early
green villages, typically with terraced
cottages of red sandstone built around a central
tree-lined green, and often retaining their long
characteristic tofts and garths radiating out to
meet the countryside beyond. More recent building
is often of mottled pink/red/orange bricks, with
Piercebridge originated as the site of an important
Roman fort which once guarded the strategic crossing
of Dere Street over the Tees, whilst other forts
are found at Croft-on-Tees, Low Dinsdale and Yarm.
Yarm has since developed as a market town, with
a long, wide central street and market place, lined
with elegant Georgian town houses. Middleton St
George has quite different origins, enjoying a brief
period as a 19th century spa town following
the discovery of a sulphur spring at nearby Dinsdale.
Larger individual settlements include the market
towns of Stokesley, Darlington and Guisborough,
with fine 19th municipal buildings in the town centres,
built of local sandstones.
Dense urban development lines the lower valley of
the Tees, where Middlesbrough, Stockton and Billingham
occupy higher, drier land above the floodplain,
and line the riversides at its lowest downstream
crossing point. Large scale chemical and oil refining
works have spread across the estuarine flats, forming
an almost continuous conurbation between Hartlepool,
an ancient town and port, and Redcar, a popular
seaside resort. Newton Aycliffe, located adjacent
to a 2nd World War ammunitions factory, developed
as a 'New Town' in the 20th century.
areas of the Tees Lowlands region are given over
to urban and industrial development including infrastructure
such as motorway corridors, particularly concentrated
within the Teesside conurbation, and within the
A1 corridor. However within the wider agricultural
landscape, broad fields of arable crops, enclosed
by a combination of fencing, and low hedgerows with
few hedgerow trees, ash and sycamore, are typical.
This contrasts with the more pastoral landscape
of the Skerne lowlands, where beef cattle, particularly
the local Shorthorn breed, and sheep are reared
on the peaty fenland flatts and carrs. With the
proximity of racecourses at Redcar and Sedgefield,
areas of good quality permanent grassland are also
grazed by racing horses, and by ponies on the fringes
of urban areas.
Woodland cover within the region is generally sparse.
Locally however, woodland cover is higher, as with
the substantial, often ancient semi-natural woodlands
on the steep banks of the river Tees valley and
its tributary the Leven. Some estates, such as Wynyard
Park and Hardwick Park, are well-wooded, with blocks
of mixed and conifer planting. New areas of immature
mixed woodlands have been planted recently as part
of the multi-purpose Cleveland Community Forest
programme. Orchards were historically important
in the area to the south of the river Tees, especially
around Ormesby, Guisborough and Yarm.
Areas of semi-natural open water, mud flat, salt
marsh, dune and meadow survive or have been reclaimed
from the industrial installations of Teesmouth to
provide habitats of outstanding importance for waders
and wildfowl. Teesmouth and the Cleveland Coast
has been identified as a potential Special Protection
Area (SPA), and contains a number of important sites
including the Charltons Pond bird sanctuary, Cowpen
Marshes, Seaton Dunes and the mud flats of Seal
The intensification of agriculture, change in practices
and the move from livestock to arable has led to
the combining of farm holdings and field amalgamation,
resulting in loss of hedgerows and hedgerow trees.
Drainage schemes have greatly reduced wetland areas,
in particular, in the Skerne Carrs, where the water
table has been lowered with a resulting loss of
damp grasslands. South of the Tees there has been
a noticeable loss of orchards and meadows.
Changes within river corridors include the
under-management of broadleaved woodland, the loss
of vegetation cover fringing rivers and watercourses,
and resulting erosion of river banks, due primarily
to over-intensive management. Natural river courses
and flows have been altered by the construction
of substantial flood defence schemes, including
flood alleviation works at Croft-on-Tees, and the
recently completed Tees barrage which controls tidal
flow in the river.
Upgrading of road transport links, particularly
between the A1 and Teesside urban centres has led
to the increased dominance of urban infrastructure,
whilst large scale developments have encroached
upon the open countryside, and the urban fringe
effect, of fragmented holdings, poor land management
and miscellaneous landuses, including pony grazing,
Steady growth of urban areas has in places
created abrupt edges to settlements between newly
developed sites and the surrounding land, whilst
other development sites awaiting construction have
been left unmanaged and subject to fly-tipping.
Loss of historic parkland through lack of
management of existing features, and through the
implementation of mixed development within parkland
areas, such as Wynyard Park.
Reclamation of Tees estuary margins for industrial
land use has led to the loss of mud-flats and marshes,
although the designation of Teesmouth as a SPA/NNR
has provided protection for a range of landscape
features and habitats, including coastal mud flats,
salt marsh, dunes cliffs and beaches.
The conservation and management of existing field
boundaries should be addressed, particularly where
the loss of older hedgerows of nature conservation
value or historic significance would be detrimental
to the landscape character. New hedgerow trees within
farmland, and along road sides, would increase the
sense of enclosure.
The management of existing woodland, particularly
ancient semi-natural woodland would ensure continuing
diversity of age and structure;
The restoration and management of both built
and natural features within historic parklands and
estate landscapes, would help maintain their distinctive
The Cleveland Community Forest and other
programmes for the multi-purpose community use of
land surrounding Teesside can achieve landscape
improvements, particularly through woodland planting,
environmental improvement schemes, the development
of countryside gateway sites, and recreational access
developments. Tree planting within the wider countryside
could benefit agricultural diversification and conservation.
There are opportunities to encourage the
conservation of archaeological sites, including
deserted or shrunken villages, and surrounding patterns
of land use and enclosure, including ridge and furrow.
The enhancement of degraded river and stream
corridors might include the re-establishment of
marginal vegetation, and the reversion from arable
or improved grassland to low intensity grassland
management on land adjacent to river channels.
The character of the Skerne Carrs, would
benefit from a reversion of arable cropping to a
more varied pastoral landscape incorporating areas
of semi-natural wetland, carr and species-rich pastures,
particularly adjacent to watercourses.
The enhancement of degraded areas, and the
re-creation of damaged landscapes, particularly
those associated with industrial sites, and with
intrusive infrastructure, should be considered within
their overall setting and landscape character.
County Structure Plan
Cleveland Community Forest Landscape Assessment
Cleveland Community Forest Plan
County Durham Structure Plan Review: Consultation
Draft April 1994
County Durham Landscape Assessment Working Paper
2: Landscape Classification 1995
Durham County and City with Teeside: The British
Association for the Advancement of Science 1970
County Durham Nature Conservation Strategy 1993