‘Landscape’ is defined in the European Landscape Convention as ‘an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors’. This broad concept very much encapsulates the range of values for which AONBs are designated.
Landscape Character Assessment involves computer mapping of a variety of data sources including fieldwork. In Shropshire a method common to most of the region is based on geology, landform, soils, settlement, tree cover and land use. The Shropshire Hills AONB falls within two National Character Areas, and the following 16 of the county’s 27 landscape types are found in the AONB:
- High Open Moorland – Open, unsettled upland landscapes with large areas of moorland and panoramic views.
- High Enclosed Plateau – Upland landscapes with scattered farms and a regular pattern of rectangular fields enclosed from open moorland in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
- High Volcanic Hills and Slopes – Steep hills of volcanic rock that form striking landmarks. These landscapes remain unsettled and contain large areas of open, unimproved grassland used for rough grazing.
- Upland Smallholdings – Upland landscapes with cottages and smallholdings created in the 16th – 19th Centuries.
- Upstanding Enclosed Commons – Low hills with field systems and scattered farmsteads that were established on former common land between 16th and 19th Centuries.
- Pasture Hills – Hills with scattered farms and cottages, and largely ancient fields used for pastoral farming.
- Principal Wooded Hills – Steep, heavily wooded hills, with few fields and little settlement.
- Wooded Hills and Farmlands – Rolling hills with large blocks of woodland and a patchwork of ancient fields, scattered farms and cottages.
- Wooded Hills and Estatelands – Rolling hills with large blocks of ancient woodland and mixed farming land use. Many villages and hamlets contain 19th Century estate works cottages, whilst large country houses and parklands are present in some places.
- Timbered Plateau Farmlands – Low, rolling hills dived by steep sided, wooded stream valleys. Ancient fields, with hedges containing many trees, are used for mixed farming. Scattered farms and cottages, with some small villages.
- Principal Timbered Farmlands – The small – medium sized fields were enclosed directly from woodland or rough grazing land, whilst small woods and hedgerow trees give these lowland landscapes a wooded feel. Scattered farms and cottages represent the main form of settlement.
- Wooded Estatelands – Rolling lowlands with mixed farming land use and large, locally prominent blocks of ancient woodland. Historic country houses with parklands are found, and many villages contain 19th Century estate cottages.
- Estate Farmlands – Lowland landscapes traditionally associated with mixed farming. Large country houses with parklands, and most woods are plantations. Village settlement, and outlying 18th and 19th Century farms.
- Pastoral Farmlands – Lowland landscapes with heavy soils which are predominantly used for dairying and stock rearing. Small, irregular fields are present throughout, together with scattered farms and cottages.
- Principal Settled Farmlands – Lowland, mixed farming landscapes with small villages and hamlets.
- Riverside Meadows – Flat, unsettled floodplain landscapes, with meadows traditionally used for seasonal grazing.
Farming and Forestry
Appropriate farming regimes maintain important heaths and grasslands in the AONB, as well as the patchwork of pasture, hedgerows and trees. Sheep and beef are the main enterprises in the Shropshire Hills, with smaller amounts of arable, dairy, pigs and poultry. In common with other hill farming areas in the United Kingdom, the Shropshire Hills is seeing significant structural changes in farming, which have implications for conservation. 61% of the AONB is classified as ‘Less Favoured Area’ (upland). There has been a marked decline in the numbers of cattle and sheep held, and medium sized farms are declining while smaller and larger holdings increase in number.
Employment in agriculture in the Shropshire Hills represents 27% of the workforce, much higher than the national and even the county levels, and with further jobs in ancillary industries, is still of great importance. Farm conservation grants through the two Environmentally Sensitive Areas (Clun and Shropshire Hills) have had high uptake over many years, and uptake of the newer Environmental Stewardship scheme has also been relatively high. In a recent research project interviewing farmers in the AONB, the top concerns raised were economic viability of farming (87%) and survival of family farms (60%). Lack of time, lack of money and lack of labour were widely cited as obstacles to progress. Accessing local markets, adding value and differentiating products with high environmental standards and local distinctiveness are seen as important ways ahead, especially for the livestock sector. For further information see our Farming Project page.
Forestry is much smaller economically and in terms of land cover than farming in the Shropshire Hills, but is nevertheless significant. In addition to softwood timber production, there is a small amount of higher quality hardwood timber produced. The local firewood market is quite strong, and the push towards woodfuel and biomass energy is seeing an expansion of both log and wood chip local supply chains. For further information see our Woodlands Project page.
Development pressures are lower than in many areas of the country, but built development and changes of use of land controlled by the planning system are a major influence on the AONB. This includes housing (both new-build and alterations), buildings for business and tourism, farm buildings, telecommunications, quarries, renewable energy and ancillaries such as access tracks and landscaping in relation to any of these. For further information see our planning page.