Low lying, predominantly flat or gently undulating
plateau, jutting into the North Sea and dividing
it from the Humber Estuary.
Glacial landscape of till deposits, gravels
and alluvium over chalk, with many glacial features
such as drumlin mounds, hummocky terrain, moraine
like ridges and kettle holes.
Rapidly eroding soft clay cliff coast.
High quality agricultural land, used predominantly
for large scale arable cultivation and intensive
Fields bounded by ditches in some areas,
especially the floodplain of the River Hull, but
by hedges on higher ground.
Sparse tree and woodland cover leading to
a generally open landscape with long views, though
enclosed by the wolds to the north and west.
Highly fragmented, though locally prominent
remnants of semi-natural vegetation including Hornsea
Mere and various carr, swamp and damp grassland
Winding roads linking dispersed villages
and hamlets, with village churches providing important
landmarks in the generally flat landscape.
Vernacular buildings of red brick and red
pantile, with some older buildings, especially churches,
built in limestone, and with use of cobbles near
is an intensively farmed, low lying landscape which
lies to the east of the Yorkshire Wolds. It forms
a broad, flat or gently undulating plain centred
on the valley of the River Humber, running south
to Hull, and bounded by the North Sea to the east,
the Humber Estuary to the south and the dip slope
of the Wolds to the north and west. The gentle terrain
relates to its glacial history and there are widespread
remnants of glacial features in the landscape.
Most importantly, however, the deposits of glacial
till and alluvium, which cloak the underlying Chalk
strata, create generally rich soils which support
intensive arable cultivation. Fields are generally
large and tree and woodland cover relatively sparse,
and as a result the landscape is open with long
views. The flat, open character means that the sky
is often an important part of any view in the area.
The inland, agricultural landscape is separated
from the North Sea by a line of soft clay cliffs
and as a result of this the proximity of the sea
is scarcely apparent except along the coastal fringe
above the cliffs. The Humber estuary is visible
to the south but views are sometimes restricted
by flood embankments. The proximity of the sea and
the estuary, combined with the flat, low lying topography
and lack of tree cover does, however, mean that
Holderness is somewhat exposed, especially when
strong winds blow in across the North Sea.
Although the character of the landscape is broadly
uniform, there are variations which result from
modest changes in topography, in the level of tree
cover and in the nature of settlement and land use.
Perhaps the most clearly distinct areas are the
strip of coastal farmland and the valley of the
River Hull. Coastal farmland runs from Withernsea
in the south, past Hornsea to Bridlington. It is
gently undulating land, rising up towards the sea,
and is predominantly in arable cultivation. Holiday
homes, caravan parks, wind pruned trees and evidence
of coastal erosion are all characteristic of this
The valley of the River Hull is broad and of an
indistinct, shallow form. The river contrasts between
its sinuous upper reaches and its lower reaches
contained within flood banks. There is little settlement
in the valley, except at the margins. Arable fields
are dominant and trees and hedgerows sparse, but
pasture occurs on poorer clay soils. In the lower
reaches of the valley near to Hull there is a stretch
of drained, open valley with highly fertile soils
used to grow root crops and other vegetables as
well as cereals.
The rest of the Holderness landscape is open arable
fields on flat or gently undulating ground with
large, hedged fields, some hedgerow trees and copses
and scattered settlement. In the southern part field
boundaries are often drainage dikes. Urban fringe
influences have an effect on landscape character
around Hull, with housing, industry, roads and pylons
becoming prominent. Along the dip slope of the Wolds
the arable farmland slopes upwards towards the Chalk
plateau and provides long views over the Hull valley
to the sea.
is shaped by superficial drift deposits overlying
the Chalk below. Glacial till (boulder clay) is
the most widespread deposit and extends over much
of the area, gradually increasing in thickness towards
the coast and forming hummocky coastal terrain as
well as soft clay cliffs. The till is inter-bedded
with sands and gravels, also of glacial origin.
The glacial origins of the landscape are also reflected
in widely-developed landforms such as hummocky terrain,
kettle holes, which are rounded depressions formerly
occupied by detached blocks, drumlins and moraine-like
ridges. The valley of the River Hull contains younger
deposits of river alluvium and peaty soils. A geomorphological
factor of particular interest is the eroding coast
which is receding at a rate which averages nearly
2 metres a year, making these the fastest eroding
cliffs in Europe. It has been estimated that since
the early Middle Ages some twenty to thirty settlements
have disappeared into the sea as a result of this
and Cultural Influences
is evidence to suggest that the first settlers in
Holderness arrived in Neolithic times, when the
plain was generally very wet and probably consisted
of a mix of lakes, marshes, islands and woodland.
The environment became drier as sea level changed,
and trees were also progressively cleared, helping
to make the area more suited to settlement. The
higher, drier areas of hills and ridges were initially
favoured for settlement. Early drainage occurred
in medieval times and the process continued until
the last reaches of the valley of the River Hull
were drained in the mid 18th century.
Enclosure took place relatively early in Holderness
and much of it has been described as ancient
enclosure although the precise date at which it
occurred is uncertain. The glacial till areas were
enclosed first, while the peaty carr lands in the
Hull valley often continued to be used in common.
A number of open field villages also survived until
the 17th century and for long periods the landscape
must have been quite varied, with a mix of enclosed
land, common pastures and open fields, supporting
production of grass, corn, hay, sheep and cattle.
Parliamentary enclosure did not have such an impact
as it did in the adjacent Wolds as much of the land
was already enclosed. It did, however, add a similar
pattern of dispersed farmsteads set apart from the
villages, and areas of large, regular fields enclosed
by thorn hedges.
in Holderness is usually on higher ground and is
often surrounded by smaller fields than those in
the more distant agricultural areas. Hamlets and
villages are widely dispersed, with some being closely
packed and nucleated while others are more linear
and strung out along roads. Many have a particularly
attractive character with a variety of buildings
grouped around ponds and village greens. Church
spires in villages are prominent landmarks. Farmsteads
are usually large and widely dispersed, combining
old brick farmhouses with large modern farm buildings.
The most common building materials are brick and
pantiles. Brick making in England began in this
area, in Hull and Beverley, in the 14th century.
This probably resulted from connections with the
low countries where the industry was established
even earlier. Bricks were used in all sorts of buildings
from farmsteads to great houses like Burton Constable,
and many brickworks were established on the boulder
clay of Holderness. Bricks used in the buildings
of this area are soft, rich red in colour and long
and narrow in shape. It has been said that they
require particularly large mortar joints because
of their irregularities. Limestone, imported from
the Southern Magnesian Limestone ridge, appears
in some buildings, and near the coast the distinctive
cobbles of Holderness appear. These
are round boulders from boulder clay collected from
the beaches and consist of many different types
of rock. A number of churches along the coastal
belt are built from this material, sometimes in
combination with brick. Modern buildings in the
area often have little in common with the local
land dominates the land cover of the area. It is
predominantly arable although some pasture also
occurs. There is woodland but its extent and distribution
is variable. Where woods do occur they are important
in providing enclosure and structure within the
landscape. Ancient woodland is very limited in occurrence
and most woods are of relatively recent origin.
Semi-natural vegetation has largely been lost as
a result of agricultural intensification and now
only small fragments remain. Marshland and meres
were historically very common but now Hornsea Mere,
Yorkshires largest natural lake, is the only
sizeable surviving example. Some unimproved neutral
grassland still occurs on the boulder clays and
a number of quarries and sand and gravel pits are
of ecological importance.
Arable production methods have intensified and in
the past this has caused loss of field boundaries,
both through removal and dereliction due to lack
of management. The rate of loss has now slowed down
and some hedges are being replanted or brought back
There is a concentration of intensive, predominantly
indoor, pig rearing, and possible demands for larger
pig buildings in the future.
Set-aside land, has a significant impact.
Experimental growing of short rotation coppice
which could become more extensive in future.
Continued drainage threatens remnant wetlands
and archaeological resources, and increased abstraction
for irrigation leading to lowering of water tables.
Development is also bringing change, and
urban fringe development around Hull and Beverley
has sometimes created hard unsightly edges. There
has been concern about lack of response to vernacular
character in rural village development and about
the effects of highway design and lighting in suburbanising
the landscape. There are limited pressures for caravan
sites at the coast, widespread demand for golf course
development, and some signs of pressure for riverside
It is important to examine opportunities to influence
the evolution of the agricultural landscape in this
There may be scope to increase the extent
of new woodland both by appropriate new planting
and by regeneration of alder carr.
An emphasis on better design in the countryside
would help to tackle issues of inappropriate new
The restoration of sand and gravel workings
offers opportunities to create new wildlife habitats
and wetland landscapes.
The dynamics of the Holderness coast and
its relevance to the much wider eastern coastline
offers the opportunity to explore best practice
in coastal zone management.
(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,