Landscape Character Assessment for the Ouse Washes LP landscape

LogosLast year, as part of a series of works we commissioned during the development of the OWLP scheme, Sheils Flynn wrote an excellent Landscape Character Assessment for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area.

The report that came from this has been a prime source of information for the partnership to get a better grip on the landscape character, its historic development, significance and modern workings. It was certainly not an easy job for our consultants as the landscape changes are often very subtle; Sheils Flynn nevertheless have done an excellent job teasing out the area’s specifics and distinct elements and writing this up in very accessible prose. We would now like to share this important work with you in the hope that you will also find this information as captivating as I do.

The structure of the report is set out below:

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The main sections of Sheils Flynn’s Landscape Character Assessment report

This report gives a very detailed overview of the significant prehistoric and historic developments and sites in the area, before it moves on to a description of significant biodiversity, water management and heritage elements in the landscape – these sections would be of use to local heritage groups or anyone trying to find out more about how this landscape developed and what elements within the natural and historic environment are of prime significance.

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Cross section through the Ouse Washes, as published in Sheils Flynn’s Landscape Character Assessment, p. 36

Following this, an overview of landscape management recommendations are given – this section would be of particular use to people trying to understand the landscape value of certain parts of the OWLP landscape; for instance local communities that may be opposing certain types of development in their area may find rich information here to draw from.

The main body of the Landscape Character Assessment is an overview of the nine Landscape Character Areas, with a detailed description for each area, showing its:

  • distinctive landscape characteristics;
  • a description of the landscape character;
  • an understanding of what’s important and why;
  • a description of landscape sensitivity.
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The nine identified distinct Landscape Character Areas, in Sheils Flynn’s Landscape Character Assessment, p. 52.

The report is richly illustrated with photographs and line drawings, and with several interesting case studies woven in.

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Do you want your own copy? 

Please find a downloadable version in our Resources section, or download it here (note: this may take some time, 6MB, PDF): Ouse Washes LP – Landscape Character Assessment [low res]

 

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The new OWLP Landscape Boundary

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As part of the development phase works we have reconsidered the boundary for the OWLP scheme area. This was included in the work done as part of the Landscape Character Assessment , commissioned by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to Sheils Flynn.

Redrawing the boundary

For our stage 1 submission, back in early 2012, the boundary drawn was still relatively simple. Not anymore. Following the recent finalisation of the Landscape Character Assessment for the OWLP area and the Landscape Conservation Action Plan as part of our stage 2 submission, I can now show you the final results of this work.

First of all, spot the differences:

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Boundary as drawn for the OWLP’s stage 1 application, February 2012

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OWLP boundary as defined for the stage 2 submission, November 2013. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

In their comments on our stage 1 bid, the HLF considered the OWLP area boundary somewhat vague and arbitrary; despite numerous hours of discussion between partners had already gone into this.

A coherent landscape

A requirement for the stage 2 submission was, thus, to come up with a better described, understood and more coherent boundary. The new landscape boundary is based on careful consideration of a number of related factors:

  • The boundary surrounds a strongly coherent landscape. The vast majority of the OWLP landscape is below the 5 m contour line.This is a distinct landscape, with a unique history, linear waterways, significant wetlands and which plays an important role in food production, drainage and flood prevention.
  • The boundary is driven by the landscape using natural boundaries.
  • The boundary is understood by local people – as part of the community consultations held during the Audience & Access work, people were shown draft versions of the new map, to which people responded positively, as the boundary line follows local landscape features such as roads, drains and other, locally recognised landscape features.
  • The boundary reflects historic patterns of land use: the ‘territory’ associated with the Fen Isle villages, including for instance historic field patterns, droveways and outlying farmsteads, together describe historic patterns of land use and the present-day sense of community in this part of the Fens. Settlements developed on ‘islands’ of higher land in an otherwise expansive and historically marshy landscape. The most productive arable fields were concentrated on the more elevated, relatively well-drained land surrounding the villages, with pasture on seasonally water-logged meadows. The marshy fenlands, which covered vast areas of the Fen Basin, were an important economic resource, used for cutting peat, reeds and sedge and to provide a constant supply of wildfowl, fish and eels.
  • The boundary contains a relatively empty landscape, with a scatter of settlements on the areas of higher land on and around the edge; relatively well-drained soils fringe the low-lying fen that was the focus of the Ouse Washes drainage scheme. The settlements function as individual gateways to the central, lower landscape.
  • The boundary coincides with the historic road pattern: the alignment of roads and causewayed tracks connects the villages and forms a loose ring around the Ouse Washes.
  • The boundary contains an internationally significant wetland landscape: recent wetland and fen restoration projects and opportunities for new wetlands as part of the Great Ouse Wetland and Fens Wetland Vision projects contribute to the international value of the Ouse Washes and have the potential to provide superb opportunities for public access, recreation and environmental education.

Crossing multiple boundaries

The OWLP area covers two Counties (Cambridgeshire and Norfolk), five different Districts (Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC, Fenland DC, East Cambridgeshire DC, Huntingdonshire DC and South Cambridgeshire DC) and no less than 29 Parishes.

In the process of redefining the boundary for the OWLP landscape, the total area increased from 199 km2 at the stage 1 bid to 243 km2 now, stretching for 48.5 km between Denver and Downham Market at the northern end and Fen Drayton and St Ives to its south.

The OWLP residents

The OWLP area contains 25 villages/settlements which are either fully or partially within, or directly abutting the area’s boundary:

  • In Norfolk these are Denver, Salters Lode, Fordham, Nordelph, Ten Mile Bank, Welney, Tipps End and Lakes End.
  • The Cambridgeshire settlements are Manea, Pymoor, Wardy Hill, Coveney, Witcham, Mepal, Sutton, Earith, Aldreth, Over, Swavesey, Fen Drayton, Holywell, Needingworth, Bluntisham, Colne and Somersham.
  • Close by are also the settlements of Hemingford Grey, Willingham, Haddenham and Little Downham (Cambridgeshire) and Hilgay (Norfolk).

The resident population of the LP area is 33,010. Outside the Ouse Washes LP area the neighbouring towns within a c10km zone are Downham Market, Littleport, Ely, Chatteris, March, St Ives, Huntingdon and Cambridge; they have a collective resident population of 236,688. The OWLP scheme’s delivery phase focuses on both the local residents and market town residents.

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Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area – Location Map. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

Click on the above map (X 2) to zoom in; the maps displayed here can also be viewed in our Resources section.

What do you think?

What do you think? Does this boundary indeed reflect local people’s perceptions of what makes a coherent landscape? Let me know your thoughts – click on the balloon at the top to leave a comment, or contact me directly. Thank you.

 

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Ouse Washes LP Conference: a great success

Heritage Lottery FundLast week Thursday the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) scheme held its first and long-awaited conference. This event was very well attended: with over 60 people we filled up The Maltings in Ely and had some very lively discussions going.

I would, first of all, like to thank everybody who attended. The good number and mixture of representatives from a wide range of local authorities, agencies, charities and community groups and other organisations meant that the two workshops held were very productive.

The two main presentations – by Kate Collins (Sheils Flynn) presenting the results of the Landscape Character Assessment for the area, and Rachael Brown (Cambridgeshire ACRE) those of the Audience & Access Planning work done – were also very well received, judging by the comments made on the day.

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Conference 5 September 2013: ‘Finding Character and Audiences’

Good feedback given

Cambridgeshire ACRE has been able to organise this event thanks to the excellent help before and during the day given by our four summer placement volunteers (Peter, Anna, Jessica and Chris). The overall impression left by the participants in the feedback forms was that they found this event useful and informative; see e.g. the below graph (where 1 means poor and 5 means excellent):

Picture for blog conference

Some quotes from the audience:

Really well structured and organised event. Excellent balance between presentations; thank you.

The presentations gave an excellent base for the workshops to explore. Good networking and sharing ideas.

Interesting presentations. Fascinating interactions round the table, much better than just being talked to. Everyone here has different interest /views

Useful information coming out of the day

We are currently going through the mountain of information written down during the workshops, as comments left on the feedback sheets, display comments sheets or on the logo voting sheets. Although all information will also be collated in a report later this month, to give you a bit of an understanding of what has come out of the conference, below are a few bite-sized bits of information:

* Some key barriers to access were identified: most people agreed that the following barriers to access, engagement and learning should be the primary barriers to be addressed through the OWLP scheme:

  • Limited provision of information about the landscape and its heritage;
  • Lack of coherent tourism promotion;
  • Lack of sufficient and varied tourism attractions & amenities in the area;
  • Limited public access points to the landscape.

* The workshops also highlighted some additional barriers, in particular:

  • Barriers for water recreation is limited throughout the area (e.g., access to water; slipways);
  • There are some linear walking and cycling routes, but people prefer and have a clear need for more circular routes close to their settlements;
  • Need for the creation of education packs for local schools about the heritage of the area, to be created in close co-operation with teachers.

A good number of ideas came forward how to address these barriers, with the creation of stronger links with education providers and local tourism business providers and local empowerment through skills training and other initiatives coming out clearly.

Leaving a sustainable legacy

The second workshop, where people provided ideas to ensure a sustainable legacy for the OWLP scheme also provided us ample food for thought. A good number of suggestions have been highlighted by people what the various organisations could bring to the partnership, helping the scheme to develop and work towards a sustainable legacy.

The central team and the OWLP partnership as a whole will take all ideas into account: there certainly is enough there for us to follow up on and to guide the further development of this exciting project through the next few years.

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Lively discussions during the workshops

Distinctiveness: A Local Perspective

Heritage Lottery FundWhat makes the Ouse Washes area special? This is a crucial question that I believe we need to find an answer to.

Early on in the process leading to the stage 1 bid we already set out some reasons why we believe this is a special area worthy of attention. The stage 1 bid application clearly convinced the HLF as well, judging from its reaction on our bid.

Unlike well-known landscapes in the East of England such as the North Norfolk Coast, the Broads or the Chilterns – all of which have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Park and are well-known tourist destinations -, the Ouse Washes area does not get that much attention. One of the key aims of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme is to change this around, to give the Ouse Washes the exposure it deserves: it is a unique landscape which should be better understood and much more explored.

One of the main aims of the Landscape Character Assessment which we will produce this year, is to assess what makes the Ouse Washes landscape distinct and special. Landscape character is often defined as such:

A distinct, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements, be it natural (soil, landform) and/or human (for example settlement and development) in the landscape that makes one landscape different from another, rather than better or worse.

Understanding the character of a landscape starts with the search for recurrent patterns that dominate the landscape and which are distinct from those of neighbouring landscapes. Landscapes result from the way that different components of our environment, both natural and cultural, interact together and are perceived and valued by us. The below diagram summarises some of the elements that constitute landscapes. This originates from the Landscape Character Assessment Guidance for England and Scotland, produced in 2002, and which can be downloaded here. 

What is landscape from 2002 landscape character assessment guidance

What is landscape? From: Landscape Character Assessment Guidance for England and Scotland, 2002, Countryside Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage

Going back nearly two years now, in April 2011 Cambridgeshire ACRE organised a workshop which was well attended by tens of people from organisations in and around the Ouse Washes. One of the items on the agenda that day was a word association activity. The outcomes of this are quite interesting, and I would like to present these here as well. The participants were asked from a long list of words to tick those which they thought best describe the Ouse Washes area.

The results of this exercise are shown in the image below; on the whole, the participants were surprisingly consistent in their choice of words, with the ones below chosen by the vast majority of people:

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Equally interesting perhaps are those words which absolutely nobody ticked; these included: ‘Uninspiring’; ‘Pretty’ and ‘Untouched’.

My questions to you are:

1. Do you agree with the above selection of words? taken together, do these describe the Ouse Washes area, or is anything missing?

2. Do these words specify the Ouse Washes landscape, or could most of these descriptions equally be used to describe The Fens as a whole? In other words, what makes the Ouse Washes area a distinct landscape, different from the surrounding landscape?

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Tenders sought for Landscape Character Assessment

Heritage Lottery FundAs part of the development works towards the stage 2 bid application, we are now inviting landscape professionals to tender for a Landscape Character Assessment study. The brief for this work can be downloaded from the Cambridgeshire ACRE’s Ouse Washes LP webpage. Please pass on this message to anyone you think might be interested in carrying out this work on behalf of the Ouse Washes LP Partnership.

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Old Bedford River

The Landscape Character Assessment will focus on:

1. The development of a landscape typology, with detailed descriptions of landscape character areas. This will describe and explain the natural and historic elements that have shaped the landscape and which have given it its unique character.

 2. The provision of a public facing narrative, to tell the story of the landscape and to improve people’s understanding of, and connection to, the landscape and build their sense of place.

3. The production of guidelines for the future management of the landscape, to influence land management decisions and to provide a framework for future partnership work.

Why do we need this? The results from the Landscape Character Assessment will provide essential data which will feed into various workstreams, forming a robust context for further works to be carried out during both the development and delivery phases of the Ouse Washes LP scheme:

– It will form an essential element of the required Landscape Conservation Action Plan (LCAP), in particular for describing the character, distinctiveness and historical development of the various landscape types within the Ouse Washes area;

– It will inform the required refinement of the boundary of the Ouse Washes LP area, to show which parts of the landscape form a coherent and recognisable unit that makes sense locally and with which people can associate, and which is distinct from the surrounding landscape;

– It will help further refine the various projects which are planned for the scheme’s delivery phase (starting April 2014).

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Fen Drayton Lakes

To give you an understanding of the type of work that comes out of a Landscape Character Assessment, I have listed below the main Landscape Character Assessments which have been produced over the last two decades, all of which cover at least part of the Ouse Washes LP area:

 The East of England Landscape Typology, produced by Landscape East, 2010

National Character Area 46, 2012

National Character Area 88, 2011

Huntingdonshire Landscape and Townscape Assessment, 2007

King’s Lynn & West Norfolk LCA, 2007

The Cambridgeshire Landscape Guidelines, 1991

The Landscape Character Assessment for which we are now tendering will provide us with the first of such studies specifically focusing on the Ouse Washes landscape and – by zooming in on a relatively small landscape area – should provide more detail than is given in most of the existing relevant studies.