Natural England - What are the threats to England’s landscapes?

What are the threats to England’s landscapes?

England’s natural environment remains under pressure from a significant range of threats and is much less rich than it was 50 years ago.

Low Gill

England’s landscapes are dynamic, they have been evolving over thousands of years, and their character is a result of the process of change over time.

What are the forces for change?

A complex and interrelated range of environmental, economic and social 'forces for change' influence the function and character of today's landscapes. Some are caused by natural forces such as climate change and others through human development and the changing demands of society (basic needs for shelter, food and energy)

Some of the many forces for change acting on the landscape are:

  • agriculture and forestry

  • natural resources (water, shelter and fuel)

  • tourism

  • environmental management

  • climate change

  • settlement and development

  • recreation

  • energy

What are the impacts of those forces for change?

England’s natural environment is not static: millennia of complex changes have given us our landscapes of today. Changes have been short-term and long-term, and natural and man-made. They range from the impacts of centuries of agricultural activity to the effects of the enormous economic growth of the last 200 years and the recent effects of extreme weather events.

Some landscape change has improved the quality of the natural environment, for example where derelict industrial sites have been restored, but the overall picture is one of landscape change resulting in declining diversity, distinctiveness and ecological richness.

Over the last century we have experienced:

  • A gradual erosion of local distinctiveness in some areas, through a process of standardisation and simplification of some of the components that make up landscape character.

  • A loss of some natural and semi-natural features and habitats such as ancient woodlands and unimproved grassland.

  • A decline in some traditional agricultural landscape features such as farm ponds and hedgerows, and a loss of archaeological sites and traditional buildings.

  • Increased urbanisation, often accompanied by poor design standards and a decline in the variety of building materials, and the importation of urban and suburban building styles into rural areas.

  • A loss of remoteness and reduced tranquillity because of built development and traffic growth.

Why do we need to understand how landscapes change?

Understanding the forces for change will help us to ensure that all landscapes in the future respond to society's changing needs and values.

We all have a part to play in influencing how our landscapes should evolve and what they can provide. To do this we need to make decisions now about the future we want.