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12. Landscape

Who does what?

Stated Government aims


The Severn Estuary is characterised by a typically expansive floodplain landscape. The scenery varies in nature from the man-made sea defences to the sandy beaches at Burnham, from cliffs at Nash Point to sand dunes at Berrow. The coastal plain is overlooked by the Quantock and Mendip Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The landscape quality is reflected by the popularity of the Welsh and Somerset coasts as tourist and recreational areas. The main landscape designations are shown on Map 12.

The most significant features of the northern shore are the Glamorgan Heritage Coast and the Gwent Levels. The landscape importance of the low-lying coastal plain between Cardiff and Chepstow (the Wentlooge and Caldicot Levels) has been identified by Countryside Council for Wales/ Cadw's The Gwent Levels Historic Landscape Study and recognised as part of the Cadw/ International Council on Monuments and Sites/Countryside Council for Wales consultation document, the Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales. Further upstream the coastal lowlands are bordered by the Forest of Dean, a visually significant backdrop of mixed and broadleaved woodland lying within the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Narrow and fast flowing watercourses cut their way through tree-lined channels across the largely pastoral floodplain to join the estuary.

Map 12: Main landscape character areas and designations

The southern shore of the estuary is dominated by views of Exmoor, the Quantock and Mendip Hills, which form a dramatic visual contrast to the low lying area of the Somerset Levels and Moors. The high land is open and windswept, with steep valleys draining down from open heathland onto the coastal levels and so to the sea. At the western end of the Mendip ridge lies Brean Down and Sand Point/ Middle Hope, outcrops of limestone jutting out into the sea. Special Landscape Areas designated in Local Plans include the West Somerset Coast, Brent Knoll and much of the North Somerset coast.

The natural coastal landscape is fragmented by man-made structures, such as Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station and Aberthaw Power Station, as well as urban developments such as Minehead and Weston-super-Mare, and the major conurbations of Cardiff, Newport and Bristol. Holiday camps and caravan sites further reduce the coastline's natural character. Recent industrial development at Portbury Dock and at Avonmouth on a very large scale, has had a significant impact on the landscape of the Lower Gordano Valley and the estuary around Avonmouth. Probably the most significant man-made features of the estuary are the two major road bridges, the elegant suspension bridge now complemented by the more modern style cable stayed construction.

Upstream of the bridges, the floodplain is variable in form and width, but is characterised as elsewhere on the estuary by the network of drainage ditches. Many have become straightened by constant and enthusiastic maintenance. Vertical emphasis is given by the hedgerows and pollarded willows which are typical of the floodplain landscape. The landscape is rural and agricultural, with the exception of the settlement of Lydney, and the structures of Sharpness and Berkeley Power Station. It is predominantly pastoral, but with many remnants of old orchard systems.

Nearer to the channel, the floodplain is occupied by washland grazing with both high and low level saltmarsh which is eroding rapidly in places such as Hock Ditch and expanding rapidly in others. The extensive mudflats are typical of the estuarine landscape and at low tide, these are punctuated by rock outcrops such as English Stones, Sand Point, Middle Hope and the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.

Much of the estuary is open and windswept with few substantial areas of marginal vegetation. The currents are hazardous and the tides strong, often making the river a wild and muddy torrent, eddying and swirling around the sandbanks which are constantly changing in shape. There are a few quiet backwaters however, in which sediments continue to accumulate.


Many issues in this report are related to one another. Issues raised in this chapter have particular links with those in chapters 3, 5, 6,7, 9, 13, and 15.

L1 Impact of development on landscape character

See Issue D2 in chapter 3.

L2 The adverse impact of flood defences and coast protection on the landscape of the estuary

See Issue C5 in chapter 5.

L3 Impact of river bank protection on landscape character

In the upper estuary the Environment Agency and others including landowners/ farmers, reinforce the river banks to prevent erosion, using materials such as stones, gabions and sheet pilling. There is some public concern that the materials used for this are sometimes inappropriate and spoil the landscape character of the river.

Who is involved: Environment Agency, Countryside Commission, planning authorities and landowners/ farmers.

What is happening: The Environment Agency tries to ensure that where bank protection is necessary the materials used are appropriate to the scheme and cause least impact to the landscape character of the river.

Some suggestions: Further consideration should be given to 'soft' engineering options and improved bank management to prevent erosion.

L4 Effect of farming on the landscape

The landscape of much of the estuary is the product of centuries of human activities, particularly farming. Some of these landscapes are now valued highly but are influenced by changing farming practices. There are already some initiatives to encourage farmers to manage their land to protect and improve landscape character.

Who is involved: Countryside Commission, Countryside Council for Wales, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Welsh Office Agricultural D, ADAS, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and farmers.

What is happening: There are some grant schemes that can be used to support land managers who want to retain features of landscape importance.

Some suggestions: Farmers could be further encouraged to manage their land to protect and improve landscape character. Responsible bodies could consider that the Severn Estuary and surrounding area are eligible for any funding schemes that are available for landscape management or improvement.

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Created: 10/28/99 Updated: 10/28/99