LINCOLNSHIRE EDGE WITH COVERSANDS/SOUTHERN LINCOLNSHIRE
Large scale 'upland' arable escarpment broadly divided
into north and south by River Witham at Lincoln.
Area broadens to south.
Prominent scarp slope of Lincoln 'Cliff'
marks western edge of area.
Open landscape with rectilinear fields and
few boundaries. Where enclosure still present, a
mixture of limestone walls, discontinuous hedges
and shelter belts.
Sparse settlement on top of escarpment. Spring-line
villages to west at foot of 'cliff' and small parklands
to east towards the clay vale.
Active and redundant airfields.
More complex landscape of the northern section
includes a double scarp, urbanisation and dereliction
in Scunthorpe area, and the Coversands area of heath,
blown sand habitats and conifer woods.
Roman roads and ancient track ways such as
Ermine Street or High Dyke follow north-south routes
with one significant east-west route - Salter's
Road. Green lanes occur in the southern area.
Lincolnshire Edge forms a distinctive limestone
backbone to Lincolnshire running like a thread through
the county from Whitton on the Humber Estuary in
the north, down to Grantham in the south. It is
a diverse landscape with a number of local variations.
To the west of the Edge is the gently undulating
Trent Vale which eventually flows into the moors
and levels of Humberhead, draining to the Humber
Estuary. To the east there is a gentle transition
into the Central Lincolnshire Vale between the Humber
and Lincoln, while south of Lincoln the Edge is
bounded by a narrow finger of Fenland, which follows
the River Witham into Lincoln. To the south, the
Edge merges into the more undulating Kesteven Uplands.
The most distinctive topographical feature of the
area is the western scarp slope locally known as
the 'Cliff'. This linear feature is pronounced along
much of its length, for example at Welbourn, where
it stands proud above the Trent Vale. However, in
other locations the ridge becomes much softer, for
example at Grayingham, yet it is the straightness
and sharpness of the 'Cliff' which makes up for
its lack of height. The simple linearity of the
'Cliff' is complicated in three areas. Firstly and
most dramatically at Lincoln, where the River Witham
breaches the limestone ridge to flow to the Wash;
secondly from Scunthorpe to the Humber, where a
second outer scarp of ironstone is present closer
to the Trent; and thirdly between Leadenham and
Grantham, where a two-tier scarp is present with
the lower scarp formed of ironstone. North of Grantham,
the Ancaster gap cuts through the Edge at the head
of the valley of the River Slea.
The dip slope which surrounds the 'Cliff' falls
gently to the east. This is predominantly a large
scale 'upland' arable landscape with occasional
dry valleys. Fields are typically rectilinear with
gappy clipped hedgerows and occasional rubble limestone
walls. A number of straight roads and ancient trackways,
often with wide verges, cross the area further accentuating
its linearity. The Roman Ermine Street is the most
pronounced of these features. This landscape feels
elevated and empty with settlement restricted to
isolated farmsteads. Towards the eastern edge of
the dip slope, the landscape pattern gradually becomes
more enclosed. Here a more irregular settled landscape
is influenced by the heavier clay soils as the area
runs eastward to the valleys of the Witham and Ancholme.
The Scunthorpe area, with its double scarp feature,
is also complicated by the presence of Coversands,
which create an acidic sandy landscape of open heath,
wind blown sand, conifers, oak and birch wood, wrapping
over the 'Cliff', and extending into adjoining low
lying areas including an extension to the south-west
around Messingham and Laughton Woods. At Scunthorpe,
the local Frodingham Ironstone determined the establishment
of the iron and steel industry and the consequential
growth of the town.
Lincolnshire Edge is formed by the Middle Jurassic
Lincolnshire Limestone, which runs along the high
ground from Grantham north to the Humber. The associated
soils of the higher ground are shallow, well-drained
and brashy loams, and devoid of surface streams.
To the east and north, the soils include some clay,
with associated poorer drainage. The Coversands
around Scunthorpe are composed of wind- blown deposits
supporting a contrasting vegetation, with a higher
proportion of woodland. The Frodingham Ironstone,
which forms the secondary scarp around Scunthorpe
has been quarried extensively for use in the iron
and steel industry. Much of this smaller yet significant
sub-area is now despoiled and derelict. Ironstones
of the Marlstone have been worked on a smaller scale
between Leadenham and Grantham.
The River Witham is the major watercourse which
cuts through the 'Cliff' at the Lincoln Gap. Along
the western foot of the Cliff a spring line is present
where the limestone meets the clay. Streams also
flow eastward off the dip slope towards the Wash
and Ancholme, the most significant being the River
Slea, which follows the marked valley of the Ancaster
The Coversands which lie over much of the northern
part of the Edge are predominantly wind-blown deposits.
They produce light soils supporting a contrasting
flora with some rare species and comprise some unusual
features including inland dune systems.
and Cultural Influences
clear line of visible archaeological evidence is
present along the Edge. Some of the most interesting
and earliest archaeological features on the Edge
date from the Bronze Age. These include a triple
ditch system at Honington, and other linear routes.
The Romans made a very visible impact on the landscape.
Lincoln was the key settlement, at the junction
of Ermine Street and the Fosse Way, where the prominent
setting on the 'Cliff' overlooked the river crossing.
Additional Roman settlements like Owmby and Ancaster
are located adjacent to Ermine Street as it continues
up to the Humber at Winteringham. Here the 'Ferriby
Craft' were discovered, illustrating the historical
importance of the crossing since pre-Roman times.
During the medieval period, farming developed to
the perimeter of the Edge along the western spring
line, and to the clay vale to the east. However
a number of deserted medieval villages like Gainsthorpe
are testimony to subsequent change. The upper reaches
of the Edge remained a mainly uncultivated mix of
gorse and calcareous grassland until the Napoleonic
Wars, with many to the south still bearing the name
'Heath'. As a consequence, the upland part of the
area has few villages. On the lighter sandy soils
of the Coversands, rabbit warrening developed at
Broughton and Risby Warren. In the 18th century,
enclosure of the large fields created the elevated
open farmlands seen today.
The landscape around Scunthorpe was dramatically
altered by the mining of ironstone from the 1870s
and other deposits, including sands and gravels.
The growth of the iron and steel industry caused
significant destruction of the natural landscape.
Many of the heathlands were cleared, opencast mining
was extensive and between the first and the second
World Wars the Forestry Commission began a planting
programme which afforested a large proportion of
the remaining heath areas. In contrast however,
some geologically important sites in the quarries
have now been designated. A major 20th century development
has been the growth of airfields along the top of
the Edge including Waddington, Cranwell with its
RAF College, and Scampton, home of the 617 'Dambuster'
Squadron. Most of the other airfields are now redundant.
pattern of settlement is dispersed to the perimeter
but almost non-existent on the central elevated
higher ground. To the foot of the western scarp
a line of small villages built in traditional honey
coloured limestone, warm brick and pantiles, cluster
by the springs. Manor houses with parkland for example
at Fillingham, Burton and Leadenham occupy sheltered
locations looking up to the Cliff. To the east of
the dip slope larger settlements have established
and sprawled, for example Metheringham, Ruskington
and Sleaford. Parklands associated with the larger
estates such as Rauceby are also found at the heavier
clay edge. The major park and house of the area
is at Belton (National Trust), north of Grantham
where the deer park is located in the enclosed upper
reaches of the River Witham. The house is considered
the crowning achievement of Restoration country
house architecture (1685-88).
The great building of the area is Lincoln Cathedral,
whose setting on the 'Cliff' Pevsner ranked second
only to Durham Cathedral. The Cathedral with its
distinctive triple towers (once capped with three
spires) is over 80m high and provides a major landmark
throughout much of the county. The old town of Lincoln
includes castle, city walls, churches and fine town
houses dating back to the Norman period, eg the
'Jews House'. These buildings cluster around the
Cathedral on the steep slopes of the Cliff, in marked
contrast to the Victorian town below, south of the
railway station. There the settlement is dominated
by red-brick terraces dating from the city's growth
as an engineering centre and the arrival of the
railway in the 19th century.
Scunthorpe, the other large settlement of the area
grew rapidly in the 19th century following the establishment
of John Iysaght Company's iron and steel works.
The expanding town absorbed five villages, and is
now characterized by post World War Two housing
and industrial estates.
landcover patterns strongly reflect the geology
and soils. The drier central upland areas are productive
arable lands with large fields growing malting barley,
wheat, sugar beet and potatoes, yet requiring irrigation
of the free draining soils. Where present, hedges
are clipped and gappy. Shelter belts, typically
of beech and sycamore, often line roads, tracks
and broad verges. There is limited semi-natural
woodland in these areas with ash being the major
non-woodland tree. The underlying light calcareous
heathy nature of the land sometimes displays itself
in gorse, bracken and other indicator species in
road verges. During this century tracts of these
upland areas have been developed as airfields.
To the east a more irregular pattern of field size
and shape exists with a greater number of hedgerows
and small semi-natural woodlands. A small group
of significant woods lie at the foot of the limestone
dip slope at its junction with the Fen edge at Potterhanworth
and Nocton. There is grazing on the heavier clay,
including sheep, such as at Nocton.
To the north, the Coversands were extensively planted
with conifers between the first and second World
Wars. Birch and oak are regenerating naturally to
add to the mix. These Coversands now comprise a
rich mosaic of habitats. At Risby Warren an inland
dune system exists with acidic and calcareous grasslands
while elsewhere on deeper soils, bracken is a key
indicator. Where the limestone is exposed in quarries,
a further rich flora is present. On this less fertile
land, pig rearing has developed, together with smallholdings
and other miscellaneous uses, such as pet kennels.
The 'Cliff' is not generally strongly wooded yet
good examples exist at Burton Woods and Syston Park.
Where the 'Cliff' is slight and agricultural changes
have ironed out the landscape distinctions, the
arable crops from the Trent Vale seem to roll up
and almost envelop the scarp slope. Elsewhere, pasture
and scrub remain with isolated ash trees providing
important features on the skyline.
Agricultural intensification. Second World War farm
amalgamation - now halted.
Coniferisation of 'Coversands' areas between
the Wars - now halted.
Loss of hedgerows and hedgerow trees - notable
Pressure on water resources has led to lowering
water tables and desiccation of wet heaths. Development
of irrigation methods to free-draining limestone
areas including starkly embanked reservoirs to extend
range of crops, particularly potatoes.
Pig rearing on 'Coversands'.
Iron ore extraction and despoliation north-east
of Scunthorpe. Sand and gravel extraction at Messingham
Loss of mixed farming and affect on landscape
pattern and agricultural buildings.
Development of M180, Scunthorpe New Town,
and expansion of steel works (up to 1970's). Expansion
of urban Lincoln up to bypass in north.
Airfields becoming redundant creating uncertainty
over inappropriate after uses.
There are opportunities to address a number of conservation
issues: the enhancement of the linear `Cliff' feature
by extension of grassland, tree planting to the
crest, the retention of ridge and furrow areas,
the enhancement of spring line settlements by tree
planting and the retention of grassland around and
Hedge restoration would benefit the whole
area, with hedgerow tree planting important in the
eastern clay landscapes. This might include wider
field margins, selective new hedgerows, and the
maintenance of linear shelter belts and avenues
with locally distinctive species.
An increase in grassland, heathland and pasture
would help to restore a more mixed pattern of land
use to eastern clays, and safeguard other grassland
sites and broad road verges of wildlife importance.
The reinstatement of stone walls to limestone
areas, particularly along recreational routes, such
as High Dyke and Viking Way is important.
The balance of open heath and conifer plantations
on the Coversands shoild be addressed.
The integration of redundant airfields into
the open landscape needs to be considered.
There is scope to restore iron ore and limestone
quarries. This should respect areas of geological
value by maintaining open faces.
The visual integration of new reservoirs
should be addressed through their design and associated
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