logo - The Countryside Agency    
title - Countryside Character Initiative
subtitle - Yorkshire and the Humber

Key Characteristics

• Large-scale sweeping landform incised by narrow wooded valleys and intimate cloughs which drain the moorland heights creating an attractive mosaic of woodland, unimproved meadows, pasture, marshes and streams.

• Expanses of open rolling heather moorland and blanket bog with areas of reclaimed moorland pasture at the periphery defined by dry stone walling.

• Steeply sloping sculptural escarpments link the exposed moorland tops with the surrounding lush green valleys of the Lune, Ribble, Hodder and Wyre.

• Scattered settlement pattern of picturesque stone villages and isolated stone built farmhouses, commonly backed by a small copse, typically with a barn under the same roof line.

• Extensive coniferous plantations to the south-east of the area.

• High quality species-rich meadows in limestone areas to the east.

Landscape Character

This area is bounded by the transitional landscape of the Bowland Fringe and Pendle Hill, which extends from the Lune Valley around the slopes of the Bowland Fells before merging imperceptibly into the Ribble Valley.

The grandeur and isolation of the wild and windswept Bowland Fells are complemented by steep escarpments and upland pasture, deeply dissected by steep-sided intimate wooded valleys that open out into the broad, lush rural valleys of the Lune, Ribble, Hodder and Wyre. The upland pasture is criss-crossed by dry stone walls dotted with picturesque stone farms and villages whose cultivated character contrasts with and complements the dramatic open sweeping moorland heights.

The dominant feature of this area is the central upland core of deeply incised 'gritstone' fells and extensive tracts of heather moorland and blanket bog. The Trough of Bowland, a natural pass connecting the valleys of Marshaw Wyre and the Langden Brook, divides the upland core into distinct blocks and forms a picturesque routeway.

A characteristic feature is the incised cloughs and wooded valleys which provide strong visual and physical links between the exposed mosaic of upland moorland and the lush intimate lowlands of the rural valleys.

The Bowland Fells share many characteristics with areas of the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, particularly the 'gritstone' geology and open expanses of moorland and blanket bog. However, this area is more hospitable than the bleaker moorlands of the Pennine chain. The compactness of the topographical unit and its proximity to civilisation provides reassurance and tempers the physical harshness of the exposed upland moorland.

Physical Influences

The character of Bowland is dominated by the Millstone Grit, laid down by rivers and delters in the Carboniferous Period as alternating thick beds of coarse-grained sandstone ('gritstone') separated by layers of more easily eroded mudstones shales. The core of Bowland is formed by hard sandstone which forms the fell tops, while the softer beds of shale have eroded to form lower undulating areas broken by low scarps and valleys. The smooth broad fell tops are interrupted only by sporadic outcrops of sandstone as at Ward's Stone and Clougha Pike.

Glacial action has smoothed the outline of the fells and has formed the distinctive scenery of small hills and drumlins of the river valleys to the north-east of Bowland. Meltwater from retreating glaciers has cut outwash channels, which create conspicuous notches in the skyline of the fells to the north of Clougha Pike. The drainage pattern of this area has cut deep cloughs through the harder sandstone in a radial pattern emanating from the upland moorland plateau.

The moorland summit is predominantly raw peat soils (blanket bog), infilling hollows and producing a smooth undulating land surface. The remaining uplands are soil from the Belmont series and are typically acid, coarse and loamy. This land has traditionally been converted by drainage and fertiliser/lime application to improved grazing, but the process is subject to reversion as economic prosperity fluctuates. The lower slopes of the Bowland Fells are covered in slightly calcareous glacial till derived from Carboniferous parent materials. These areas are generally under permanent grassland with some more fertile areas suitable for limited cultivation.

Historical and Cultural Influences

The components of the Bowland Fells landscape have been undergoing a process of alteration since it was first colonised by nomadic hunters in approximately 10,000 BC when the area would have been substantially covered by broadleaved woodland on all but the highest land. It has undergone significant changes since Neolithic times, from about 3,000 BC when forests were cleared. This process was accelerated by climatic changes during the Bronze Age. Over this period the heathland and blanket bog expanded to the cleared land below to produce the fells we know today. This open country has since been maintained by fire.

Further depletion of woodland cover occurred during the Anglo Saxon period and this was perpetuated by the Norse invasion of the north west after 900 AD. Many place names in Bowland date back to this period. The word gill is derived from the Norse for narrow valley and is common for streams and settlements across this region, for example Oxengill, Hasgill and Brungillmoor. Other Norse terminology used to describe the landscape features of Bowland are fell, moss, thwaite or beck. It has also been suggested that the name 'Bowland' derives from the Norse Bu meaning cattle or English Bull Land.

The Bowland Fells have been used as a hunting area and constituted part of the Royal Forest of Lancaster in medieval times. Today the area has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with vast areas of upland moorland having SSSI status.

The fell top would have been the favoured ground for wolves, with deer and other game on the lower slopes. The remaining areas of forest would have been divided into cattle farms for the production of oxen as draught animals. Since early times, economic development through farming has been a major consideration in the forest. Consequently wild game diminished as a result of increased enclosure and grazing competition. The extinction of wolves by the end of the 14th century further perpetuated the farming culture and enabled sheep grazing to extend onto the fells.

Large scale enclosure occurred from the 1550s to 1630 and had a profound effect on the Bowland landscape, the main change being the conversion of moorland and woodland waste to meadow and permanent pasture. The form of enclosure varies from piecemeal irregular shaped fields around individual farms to systematic divisions of commons resulting in regular enclosure. Field boundaries at this time were predominantly earthen banks with hedges or dry stone walling in areas where the bedrock is close to the surface.

Buildings and Settlement

Settlements within the Bowland Fells are restricted to villages, hamlets and isolated farmhouses. Constructed predominantly out of local 'gritstone' they complement the natural features in the landscape and contribute to the aesthetic quality. The unity afforded by building materials, building style and village form provide a common identity throughout Bowland. Narrow streets, duckstone pavements, village greens, cottage gardens and stone boundary walls are characteristic features of the many picturesque villages.

The variety of architectural detail using consistent 'gritstone' and the combination of large houses and modest cottages gives each village its particular identity and unique charm.

The isolated stone built farmhouses are often backed by a small copse and set within stone walls. The typical style is a two storey structure with thick 'gritstone' walls, commonly with a barn or byre under the same roof line.

Land Cover

This is mainly an area of exposed upland moorland and blanket bogs with a substantial coverage of heather which is managed for grouse shooting. In some areas the vegetation is dominated by rushes, grasses and cotton grass. Peat hags have developed in several eroded areas within the central plateau. Rock outcrops and sandstone boulders occur sporadically on some of the moorland summits. Trees are generally absent from the central core. The escarpments support a mixture of semi-natural moorland species on the upper slopes with unimproved or semi-improved grassland on the lower slopes, within large enclosures of dry stone walls.

Extensive areas of bracken have established on the deeper, richer soils of the lower slopes. The escarpment slopes are generally unwooded, although coniferous and broadleaved woodland blocks occur in places. The largest of the coniferous plantations is Gisburn Forest which is associated with the large water body at Stocks Reservoir. The upland fringe farmland is predominantly species-poor grassland used for silage production on the lower slopes to rough pasture at the moorland escarpment transition. The field boundaries in this area are a combination of hedgerows, dry stone walls and post and wire fencing.

The Changing Countryside

• Sale and management of land held by water authorities and large estates which form an integral part of the Bowland Fell landscape.

• Loss of species-rich grassland through changing farming practice and loss of traditional landscape features such as stone walling.

• Conflict between visitors and ramblers in areas traditionally managed as grouse moors due to lack of suitable access.

• Lack of woodland management and introduction of coniferous plantations.

• Possible increased pressure of mineral extraction limited at present by accessibility.

• Proposed wind turbines and other renewable energy resources, eg Caton Moor.

• Suburbanisation of rural villages and farmsteads with spiralling house prices and a changing community structure.

• Honey pot pressure caused by excessive traffic in key tourist areas such as the Trough of Bowland.
Overgrazing of moorland pasture resulting in loss of moorland vegetation.

• Fly tipping in steep sided gills/cloughs with unsightly large scale rubbish, eg cars, fridges, washing machines, etc.

• Decline in hill farming generally leading to a run-down appearance to farm buildings and boundaries.

Shaping the future

• The management of open moorlands for grouse shooting continues to form a key characteristic of the area.

• Appropriate forestry management would prevent unsympathetic incursion into open moorland.

• There is scope to direct recreational opportunities towards those areas capable of receiving them.

• The retention of character within existing settlements is important.

• There are opportunities to retain and manage species rich-grassland.

Selected References
Kenyon. B (1991), The Origin of Lancashire, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Lancashire County Council (1993), Landscape Structure Plan 1991-2006, Report 17 Landscape Evaluation.

Lancashire County Council, Lancashire A Green Audit.

Woolerton Truscot (1992), The Forest of Bowland Landscape CCP 399, Countryside Commission, Northampton.

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