The North York Moors and Cleveland Hills National Character Area (NCA) comprises a well-defined upland area, rising from the Tees Lowlands to the north, the Vale of Mowbray and Howardian Hills to the west and the Vale of Pickering to the south.
To the east it is bordered by the North Sea, the extensive stretches of high coastal cliffs exposing the geology that shaped these uplands. Some 85 per cent of the area falls within the North York Moors National Park.
The North York Moors and Cleveland Hills are an elevated upland of sandstone geology, incised by valleys, which features the largest continuous expanse of upland heather moorland in England, internationally recognised for its important habitats and the moorland bird population it supports. The expansive, largely
treeless, central moorland plateau contrasts strongly with the enclosed valleys; some are narrow and wooded, while others such as the Esk are wider, with an upland landscape of walled and hedged pastures. Over 25 per cent of the area is semi-natural moorland habitat (upland heathland and blanket bog), much of which is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, with about 20 per cent woodland cover (mostly located to the south-west and south-east). It is largely unpopulated, with scattered farmsteads and small villages, and the main population centres lie along the coast and southern edge.
Sustainably managed uplands provide many ecosystem services of benefit to the wider area and its population which draws many visitors to this NCA, a substantial part of which forms the North York Moors National Park; and in both its natural and cultural heritage shaping a distinctive sense of place. These services include
storing carbon in soils, preventing its loss to the air and water; holding rainfall in these wetland habitats and other vegetation, slowing its journey to major rivers and thence regulating flow through more densely populated areas vulnerable to river flooding; providing an expansive, open landscape, long views and a sense of remoteness.
Providing functioning ecosystems and preventing fragmentation of habitats presents a real challenge, particularly in the face of environmental change, as we will increasingly depend on a resilient landscape supported by sustainable land management practices to ‘buffer’ and regulate natural processes. There
are opportunities here to strengthen the networks of semi-natural habitats, particularly wetlands, native woodland and species-rich grassland, enhancing their regulation of natural processes and provision of the public benefits mentioned. At the coast the dynamic processes of erosion and accretion can be accommodated, thus creating a more resilient natural environment that is capable of both ameliorating and adapting to climate change. Sustainable management of these natural resources will ensure that the landscape continues to provide food, clean water, energy, and inspiration and enjoyment to people locally, regionally and beyond.