Landscape is more than just scenery – it is the interaction between people and place; the bedrock upon which our society is built. The European Landscape Convention defines landscape as ‘an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.’
Devon has a diverse and iconic range of landscapes. This includes the open, windswept high moors of Dartmoor and Exmoor; two mainly undeveloped coastlines of dramatic cliffs, sweeping bays and estuaries; rolling hills of traditionally managed farmland and secluded valleys; and a rich historic landscape of distinctive field patterns, winding rural lanes, parks, gardens, settlements and buildings displaying its long history of human settlement. The distinctive character, scenic beauty and tranquillity of our County, including 5 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two National Parks, two World Heritage Sites and one International Dark Skies Reserve, is why so many people choose to visit and live in Devon. Balancing the needs of modern development with maintaining Devon’s essential character and beauty remains a constant challenge for planners, land managers and other decision-makers.
The importance of Devon’s landscape
Devon’s landscapes underpin our economy, offering a superb natural and cultural environment that sustains agriculture, attracts inward investment, and supports one of the most vibrant tourism industries in the UK. For example, The Value of Tourism Report 2016, found on this page, shows that in 2016 Devon attracted 35.6 million day trippers and holiday makers, together spending around £2,454 million and supporting 63,000 tourism-related jobs.
Health and well-being
Devon’s attractive coast, countryside, parks and open spaces support our health and wellbeing by encouraging physical outdoor activity and an antidote to stress. Landscapes can offer aesthetic enjoyment, escapism, tranquillity, and a sense of belonging to an area with a distinct natural and cultural identity. Many landscapes in Devon inspire artists and writers whose work is celebrated by all ages.
Devon’s landscape is an important educational resource, providing inherent interest and allowing us to understand natural and cultural influences that have shaped the landscape we see today, as well as those that are likely to shape Devon’s future landscape. Landscapes link to many core areas of the curriculum, including earth science, geography, history, art, literature, map-making, environmental management and citizenship. They can, therefore, provide a focus for a project with multiple learning outcomes.
Understanding landscape is essential for planning that is informed by local distinctiveness. Understanding of landscape underpins decisions about capacity for new development and for strategic spatial planning. Landscapes often span administrative boundaries and recognising this will help with collaborative spatial planning. Considering landscape during the planning process is important for meeting the requirements of the European Landscape Convention which requires strong forward looking planning actions to enhance, restore or create landscapes.
New development changes landscape character; hence understanding the existing landscape character context for new development is essential for sustainable planning. Development can be used to create and enhance landscape character if it is appropriately planned; however, inappropriate development can weaken and erode landscape character. It is therefore essential that the planning of new development takes account of landscape character and seeks to strengthen and enhance it. For example, design guidance and development briefs based on landscape character can help us understand how buildings and other features associated with development can reflect and contribute to landscape character.
Climate change will put pressure on the landscape. The goods and services that the landscape provides for people, such as food and water, will be affected by climate change. We can use the landscape, however, to help us to adapt to and combat the effects of climate change, for example by using moorlands to store carbon and wetlands to alleviate flooding. There may also be pressure on the landscape from interventions that aim to tackle and adapt to climate change, such as introducing renewable technologies into the landscape. It is important to understand the landscape character and sensitivity of the landscape when planning for climate change.
How a landscape is managed will impact upon landscape character. Managing a landscape to enhance key characteristics will have a positive landscape impact whilst the introduction of new and inappropriate elements may erode or damage the strength of landscape character. Appropriate landscape management can harmonise and guide changes brought about by social, environmental and economic processes such as agri-environment measures, in line with the requirements of the European Landscape Convention.
Landscape-scale conservation tackles the issue of habitat loss, providing rich and diverse habitats for wildlife, and provides species with the flexibility to respond to pressures such as climate change. Conserving biodiversity across whole landscapes, rather than in individual sites, allows more habitats to be created where there is currently too much fragmentation to support the species dependent upon them. This approach not only makes the landscape better for wildlife, but also for people: creating a landscape which people enjoy, and where the goods and services supplied by the landscape are sustained.
Devon County Council’s role
Devon County Council is committed, through its Strategic Plan, to keeping Devon’s landscape special and help people enjoy it for generations to come. The European Landscape Convention defines landscape as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”. The UK Government ratified the Convention in 2007 and now recognises landscape in law in its own right.
Public bodies have a statutory duty to co-operate on planning issues that cross administrative boundaries, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and the Localism Act. This includes strategic policies and priorities aimed at conserving and enhancing the natural and historic environment, including landscape.
The National Planning Policy Framework requires the roles and character of different areas to be taken into account in planning, and for the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside to be recognised. It requires sustainable development to be delivered that is well-designed and sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area, taking opportunities to integrate development into the landscape, address the connection between people and place, minimise harm to its character and special qualities (such as tranquillity and beauty), and protect valued landscapes, particularly Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and the undeveloped coast.
Devon County Council works to fulfil these responsibilities by:
- chairing and providing the secretariat for the Devon Landscape Policy Group, a forum which allows discussion, agreement and promotion of consistent landscape policy and advice in the geographical count.
- providing specialist landscape and green infrastructure advice and support in connection with planning services (development management and spatial planning) and Devon County Council developments
working with partner organisations to keep Devon’s landscape character assessment evidence base up to date, and promote its use in planning and land management.
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