Widespread evidence of industrial activity including
mine buildings, former spoil tips, and iron and
Complex mix of built-up areas, industrial
land, dereliction and farmed open country.
Many areas affected by urban fringe pressures
creating fragmented and downgraded landscapes.
Substantial areas of intact agricultural
land in both arable and pastoral use.
Small, fragmented remnants of pre-industrail
landscape and semi-natural vegetation, including
many areas of woodland, river valley habitats, subsidence
flashes and other relict habitats.
Ever present urban influences from major
cities, smaller industrial towns and mining villages.
Widespread influence of transport routes,
including canal, road (M1, M62) and rail, with ribbon
developments emphasising the urban influence in
Rolling landforms with hills, escarpments
and broad valleys.
Local variation in landscape character reflecting
variations in underlying geology.
Strong cultural identity arising from history
of coal mining and other heavy industry.
Humberhead Levels area is a large tract of landscape
which has echoes of the Somerset Levels and Moors,
the Fens and the Netherlands. It occupies the area
of the former pro-glacial Lake Humber and its unity
of character is derived from this glacial impoundment
and the alluvial deposits which resulted, together
with a long history of drainage and warping,
which is the seasonal impounding of tidal silts
to enhance the soils. It is bounded to the west
by the Southern Magnesian Limestone ridge and to
the east by the Yorkshire Wolds and the Northern
Lincolnshire Edge with Coversands area. To the north
it merges gradually into the slightly more undulating
landscape of the Vale of York at the line of the
Escrick moraine, and to the south, past Retford,
it merges with the Trent and Belvoir vales.
This is a predominantly flat agricultural landscape
which is one of the most productive cropping areas
in Britain. Much of the area is extremely low-lying,
with some areas lying at or below the mean high
water mark. The landscape includes the broad floodplains
of several major, often navigable rivers, which
drain to the Humber. They include the Derwent, Don,
Torne, Idle, Went, Aire, Ouse and Trent. The farmland
is rich and intensively farmed in generally very
large, open, geometric fields usually divided by
Field trees and hedgerows are generally few and
far between and views are often long and unbroken
to distant horizons, with the sky playing an important
part. Settlement is limited and generally concentrated
on higher ground, but within the open levels there
are scattered, large, often semi- industrial farmsteads
with large modern buildings. The long history of
drainage and water management is evident in many
areas, with rivers contained by flood embankments,
old river courses, such as that of the Don, and
a network of ditches, dikes and canals with associated
Variations in the underlying deposits, combined
with local outcrops of the underlying sandstones
and mudstones, and with the effects of river systems,
together create distinct variations in the landscape,
within this overall impression of flat, farmed levels.
In the north, around Selby as well as in the area
between the Rivers Torne and Idle in the south,
there are sandy deposits and gravels which support
remnants of heathland. Because they are difficult
to cultivate without high levels of fertiliser input,
many have been planted with coniferous plantations,
sometimes on sites of former ancient semi-natural
woodland. The plantations combine with arable land
in large fields to form a large scale wooded farmland
Much of the area is formed by the floodplains of
the main rivers. This low-lying, drained levels
landscape is widespread around Goole, northwards
up the valley of the Derwent and, south of the Humber,
in the Ouse and Trent levels. The soils here are
very fertile. The peat areas of Thorne, Hatfield,
Crowle and Goole Moors have the largest extent of
remnant raised mire in England, and are of great
ecological and historical importance, even though
they are extensively worked for commercial peat
production. This moor landscape contains belts of
scrub woodland, heathy fragments and extensive peat
workings with deep brown excavations and stockpiles
of peat. There are historic landscapes at Haxey
and Epworth Turbaries with strips remaining where
traditional peat cutting (turbary) rights were once
exercised. The former course of the River Don is
notable for a number of old riverside settlements.
In some areas the landscape is more enclosed, providing
small islands of shelter and more intimate spaces
amidst the open levels. On the Isle of Axholme,
open arable fields combine with gently undulating
terrain and hedgerows, trees and small copses. North
of Doncaster, heavy clay soils traditionally support
smaller scale, pastoral agriculture. Although drainage
has now allowed much of the area to be cultivated
for arable crops, there is an area of historic landscape
around Fishlake and Sykehouse where the traditional
pattern, of small, thickly hedged fields, hedgerow
trees, green lanes, networks of ditches and dikes,
and field ponds, with some haymeadows, remnants
of ridge and furrow fields and parklands with old
oak trees, still remains. Place names in this area
are particularly linked to the rather wet history
of the area with names like Carr, Fen, Ing and Syke.
The village of Fishlake has been settled for a thousand
years and the field pattern may, in places, date
from early enclosure. Moated buildings and remnants
of other moats are also evidence of the historic
character of the area.
The broad river valleys themselves have a distinctive
character. The Derwent valley in the north has a
traditional riverine landscape with pastures and
floodmeadows enclosed by small woodlands and mature
waterside willows. The field drains which edge the
fields are often open and reedy. The species-rich
meadows here, known collectively as the Derwent
Ings, are highly valued for their wildlife. Other
river valleys are influenced by arable cultivation
and significant development, and have been favoured
locations for collieries, power stations and power
lines. The valleys of the rivers Trent, Don and
Torne all have a degraded character partly due to
such large scale structures which are highly visible
in the otherwise flat open landscape.
landscape is formed over on drift deposits which
overlie bedrock of Triassic Mercia Mudstones. These
drift deposits have the greatest influence on the
landscape, creating the flat or gently undulating
topography. During the last glaciation, a glacier
extended south across this area, reaching almost
as far as Doncaster. The main glacial front was,
however, at Escrick, where it deposited a ridge
of till, sand and gravel known as the Escrick Moraine.
This Moraine marked the northern limit of the extensive
Lake Humber which was impounded by the blocking
of the Humber gap by another ice front between Brough
and Winterton to the east. Later, this lake was
filled with sediment, predominantly in the form
of laminated clays up to 20 metres thick. These
create wet, gleyed soils, locally overlain by peat
forming the important raised mires of the area.
Near and at the base of the peat are the remains
of a buried forest. There are also extensive modern
floodplain deposits and local deposits of wind-blown
sand, which create more free-draining sandy brown
earths. The latter require high fertiliser input
for cultivation and so commonly support birch and
oak woodland, heathland, or conifer plantations.
In some places there are local variations in topography
caused by differences in the underlying deposits.
There are higher ridges where the underlying sandstone
or mudstone rises above the alluvium or where there
are moundy glacial deposits. The Isle of Axholme,
for example, which is formed of Mercia Mudstone
and blown sand, is elevated above the surrounding
levels to form a small, but distinct area of landscape.
and Cultural Influences
area has been settled for several thousand years.
Before Roman times the drier northern area, where
the soils are lighter and flooding less of a problem,
had been extensively cleared for small scale pastoral
farming related to a dispersed pattern of settlement.
Further south the early landscape was wet and marshy
with a complex system of rivers and creeks. It was
much less suited to clearance and farming and so
remained largely unsettled. The river system was
used by invading Angles and Danes to penetrate deep
into the countryside.
Early attempts at drainage of the marshes perhaps
dated back to this period and to Roman times but
the main period of drainage began in the 1620s when
Cornelius Vermuyden, the famous Dutch drainage engineer,
with others, began significant river diversions
and drained many hectares of land. Such operations
continued during the 18th century and created the
drained level typical of todays landscape.
The Dutch engineers also introduced the practice
of large scale warping in which areas
of farmland were deliberately inundated with seasonally
impounded tidal waters which deposited layers of
alluvial silt over the existing soils to enrich
them. Many of the drainage dikes were used for this
purpose and have names such as the Swinefleet Warping
Drain. The area also provides evidence of the development
of different peat cutting techniques, of English,
Dutch and Irish origin.
Much of the area, at least in the drier northern
parts, was enclosed before the 18th century, although
rough, unimproved pasture and heaths remained unenclosed
as large extents of common pasture. Remnants remain
today but both drainage and enclosure continued
rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries. New technology
assisted in this and later drainage was assisted
by steam powered pumps. The marshes, once drained,
were progressively enclosed by both private and
parliamentary enclosures and converted to increasingly
intensive agriculture as warping increased the fertility
and allowed vegetables to be grown.
in the area is quite scattered and has traditionally
been located on the higher ground out of reach of
the floods which used to inundate the area before
it was drained and the rivers regulated. Roads also
traditionally followed the higher ground and the
course of dry tracks through the former marshes.
As a result many villages tend to be strung out
along roads, predominantly on higher ground. There
are also larger, nucleated villages, small market
towns and larger more industrial centres like Goole
and Selby. Building materials are red Barton
brick and red pantiles, though with slate appearing
in the north. More recent development has used many
different materials including orange bricks made
from Mercia Mudstone days.
Outside the villages there are large, relatively
isolated farmsteads generally made up of an old,
usually brick and pantile built farmhouse, older
farm buildings and a complex of large, sometimes
industrial style modern farm buildings. There are
also many reminders of the drainage history of the
area including dikes, berms, bridge crossings and
disused windmills and water towers. More recent
additions to the landscape are prominent features,
especially the cooling towers and structures of
Drax and Eggborough power stations and their associated
lines of pylons, and the M18 and M62 motorways.
of the Humberhead area is intensively farmed. High
input, essentially industrialised cropping
systems dominate the area, with cereals and root
crops predominating. Livestock farming involves
pigs, poultry, beef cattle and dairy herds.
Fields are large and mainly enclosed by dikes. Hedges
and hedgerow trees are limited in extent, though
they are more common in localised areas of more
historic, enclosed character like Fishlake and Sykehouse.
Woods - many planted for field sports - are restricted
in extent, except for the areas of sandy soils to
north and south where remnant birch and oak woods
and quite extensive conifer plantations occur.
There are important alluvial flood meadows known
as Ings which are important for their wetland vegetation
and as habitats for wintering and migrating birds.
The sands still support some remnant heathland and
there are also some areas of neutral grassland on
clay soils which are of wildlife importance. The
remnant raised mires on the peat deposits are of
great importance although few areas remain which
have not been affected by drainage or peat cutting.
Intensification of agriculture has resulted in removal
of hedges, trees and small woods and remaining grasslands,
to make a traditionally open landscape even more
so. There has also been further lowering of the
water table as a result both of drainage and pumping
down of levels to abstract water for irrigation.
Such changes continue to cause further loss of habitats
and old water courses and warping drains have also
been filled in and ploughed over. The remnants of
more traditional farming landscapes are inevitably
threatened by such changes and commercial peat extraction
continues to effect the areas of raised mire in
the peat moor areas.
Industrial activity has had a major impact,
notably through the construction of power stations
in the open landscape. More recently there have
been changes due to the coal mining industry with
mine closures in traditional areas, but opening
of new deep mines in the Selby coalfield. New coal
field development has led to significant effects
on the character of local villages which have been
Construction of new motorway routes, to provide
improved access to the Humber ports, has also had
an impact and the roads and embankments are particularly
conspicuous in this flat landscape.
Semi-natural habitats are extremely limited in this
intensively farmed landscape, so those that remain
require special consideration. This is particularly
so in the case of raised mires, where there may
also now be opportunities to recreate areas of this
habitat following peat extraction. Heathlands on
the sandy ridges may also require incentives to
encourage positive management. The maintenance of
historic landscapes around Fishlake and Sykehouse
and the contrasting Isle of Axholme is important.
Rivers and watercourses are a vital part
of this landscape and there are opportunities to
pursue management regimes, for both rivers and dikes,
which are more sympathetic to both nature conservation
interests and to wildlife as well as to landscape.
There may also be scope for an integrated approach
to recreating wetlands and wet grasslands in some
Development issues which may need to be addressed
in the future include sand and gravel extraction,
the disposal of fly ash from power stations (and
the resulting raised ground levels), the expansion
of coal mining in the Selby coalfield, and diversification
by farmers into leisure activities including golf
courses, fishing pools and light industry.
Environment and Ashmead Price Landscape Architecture
(1994) Landscape Assessment of Doncaster Borough.
Unpublished report for Doncaster Metropolitan Borough
Gillespies (1996), Humberside Landscape Assessment
and Guidelines, Humberside County Council
Pevsner, N (1972), The Buildings of England: Yorkshire
- York and The East Riding, Penguin Books.
Pevsner, N and Neave, D (1995) The Buildings of
England: Yorkshire: York and The East Riding. Penguin
Wright, G (1976), The East Riding, BT Batsford Ltd,