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Background of the Landscape Character Study

What is landscape and why is it important?

Landscape is about the relationship between people and place. It is the setting for our lives. It can mean a patch of local green space as much as a mountain range.

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Landscape has

  • Economic value, providing the setting for economic activity and often becoming a central factor in attracting business and tourism;
  • Social and community value, as an important part of people's lives, contributing to our sense of identity and well-being, and bringing enjoyment and inspiration;
  • Environmental value, as a home for wildlife and a cultural record of society's use of the land... it is crucial that we understand the character of the landscape when we consider how it might change so that any change is for the better.

Landscape is about the relationship between people and the land, a combination of distinctive and valued natural and cultural elements, which extend to seascapes and the built environment.

Character is a distinct, valuable, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements in the landscape that makes one landscape different from another, rather than better or worse. When preserved and enhanced over time, significant contributions can be made to quality of life, providing the landscape’s capacity for change is not exceeded.

Local distinctiveness refers to the positive features of a place which contribute to its special character and sense of place.

Individual elements make up the landscape, such as trees, hedges, or ancient settlements, and it is the combination of these elements which make a particular contribution to distinctive character. The character is further detailed by prominent or eye-catching features including church towers, tors, harbours, engine houses, or stands of trees on the skyline.

The UK government signed up to the European Landscape Convention in February 2006, and the Convention became binding on the UK in March 2007. The European Landscape Convention (ELC) is a new instrument devoted exclusively to the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe and as such is particularly significant in the context of the landscape character approach.

“Landscape means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.” (European Landscape Convention, 2000)

The ELC highlights the importance and need for public involvement in the development of landscapes. It encourages a joined up approach through policy and planning in all areas of land-use, development and management, including the recognition of landscape in law. The Convention promotes landscape protection, management and planning, and European co-operation on landscape issues.

The Convention adopts the following principles:

Concerned to achieve sustainable development based on a balanced and harmonious relationship between social needs, economic activity and the environment;

Noting that the landscape has an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields, and constitutes a resource favourable to economic activity and whose protection, management and planning can contribute to job creation;

Aware that the landscape contributes to the formation of local cultures and that it is a basic component of the European natural and cultural heritage, contributing to human well-being and consolidation of the European identity;

Acknowledging that the landscape is an important part of the quality of life for people everywhere: in urban areas and in the countryside, in degraded areas as well as in areas of high quality, in areas recognised as being of outstanding beauty as well as everyday areas;

Noting that developments in agriculture, forestry, industrial and mineral production techniques and in regional planning, town planning, transport, infrastructure, tourism and recreation and, at a more general level, changes in the world economy are in many cases accelerating the transformation of landscapes;

Wishing to respond to the public’s wish to enjoy high quality landscapes and to play an active part in the development of landscapes;

Believing that the landscape is a key element of individual and social well-being and that its protection, management and planning entail rights and responsibilities for everyone;

Having regard to the legal texts existing at international level in the field of protection and management of the natural and cultural heritage, regional and spatial planning, local self-government and transfrontier co-operation, in particular the:

and its additional protocols, the European Charter of Local Self-government   (Strasbourg, 15 October 1985),  the Convention on Biological Diversity  (Rio, 5 June 1992),  the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Paris, 16 November 1972),  and the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice on Environmental Matters (Aarhus, 25 June 1998); Acknowledging that the quality and diversity of European landscapes constitute a common resource, and that it is important to co-operate towards its protection, management and planning;

Wishing to provide a new instrument devoted exclusively to the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe.

For the purposes of the Convention the following definitions apply:

  • "Landscape" means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors;
  • "Landscape policy" means an expression by the competent public authorities of general principles, strategies and guidelines that permit the taking of specific measures aimed at the protection, management and planning of landscapes;
  • "Landscape quality objective" means, for a specific landscape, the formulation by the competent public authorities of the aspirations of the public with regard to the landscape features of their surroundings;
  • "Landscape protection" means actions to conserve and maintain the significant or characteristic features of a landscape, justified by its heritage value derived from its natural configuration and/or from human activity;
  • "Landscape management" means action, from a perspective of sustainable development, to ensure the regular upkeep of a landscape, so as to guide and harmonise changes which are brought about by social, economic and environmental processes;
  • "Landscape planning" means strong forward-looking action to enhance, restore or create landscapes.

Each signatory undertakes:

  • to recognise landscapes in law as an essential component of people’s surroundings, an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage, and a foundation of their identity;
  • to establish and implement landscape policies aimed at landscape protection, management and planning through the adoption of the specific measures set out in Article 6;
  • to establish procedures for the participation of the general public, local and regional authorities, and other parties with an interest in the definition and implementation of the landscape policies mentioned in paragraph b above;
  • to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies and in its cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies, as well as in any other policies with possible direct or indirect impact on landscape.


Landscape Character Assessment is a tool for identifying the features that give a locality its 'sense of place' and pinpointing what makes it different from its neighbouring areas. In the context of the European Landscape Convention it is an essential tool for identifying and understanding what makes landscapes important. People can welcome development if it is well designed and contributes to their quality of life. Policy makers and practitioners need ways of achieving this, and Landscape Character Assessment is one of the key techniques. You can use this information to achieve high quality development that is not only in the right place, but which respects and enhances its surroundings. It can also inform land management decisions that will help the economy, as well as sustain the environment.

Landscape Character Assessment provides a framework to help us to understand and describe a type of landscape in a particular systematic way. From this process a reasoned and informed judgement can be made to help guide future changes. This approach is essentially a way of understanding and describing the landscape, and its character, without making value judgements. It brings together information relating to the physical, natural and historic environment enabling a more integrated approach to be taken towards decisions. On this basis judgements can then be made on how for example local distinctiveness and local character can be safeguarded, improved and enhanced, through the development process.

Landscape Character Assessment can be used to :-

  • Allow an examination of the broad landscape scale down to the detailed level;
  • Illustrate the characteristics to be positively conserved and enhanced;
  • Highlight the vision, objectives, planning and management guidelines for the Landscape Character Area;
  • Demonstrate the landscape’s capacity to absorb development, allowing designs to grow from the landscape context sense of place.

The Government's Sustainable Development Strategy, A Better Quality of Life,(1999) gives the following definition of sustainable development: Sustainable Development : " means meeting four objectives at the same time in the UK and the world as a whole: social progress that recognises the needs of everyone; effective protection of the environment; prudent use of natural resources; and maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment."

Ref: A better quality of life-strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom 1999

Landscape Character Assessment helps to address two of these objectives - 'effective environmental protection' and 'prudent use of natural resources’. In particular, it can help:

  • identify the environmental and cultural features in a locality;
  • monitor change in the environment;
  • understand a location's sensitivity to development and change;
  • set the conditions for any development and change.
  • decide policies in development plans;
  • inform the siting and design of particular types of development, such as housing, minerals, telecommunications and wind energy;
  • assess land availability for a range of uses, including new development;
  • provide information for Environmental Assessments of plans, policies and individual development proposals.
  • inform programmes for environmental enhancement, such as woodland expansion, or the regeneration of towns and villages;
  • assist the targeting of agri-environment schemes;
  • contribute to wider environmental initiatives such as Local Agenda 21, and State of the Environment Reports.

Landscape Character Assessment comprises two stages - characterisation, and then making judgements.


The characterisation stage defines the scope of the assessment, involves a desk study and field survey, and then a description of the landscape, dividing it into areas of common character, mapping them and describing their character and key issues.

Making judgements

Land management decisions ultimately lie with society - owners, politicians, land managers, local communities and many other stakeholders. But their decisions will be sounder if they are based on information assembled through the Landscape Character Assessment process.

Landscape Character Assessments can be carried out at three main levels:

  • National and regional scale to identify broad differences in landscape character across the whole of a country or region;
  • Local authority scale to identify landscape character at the county, district or unitary authority level in England, or at the council area level in Scotland;
  • Local scale to describe the landscape character of smaller areas: an individual parish, perhaps, or a large farm estate, a country park or a proposed development site. Assessments at different scales should fit seamlessly together, providing the context for assessments at lower levels or adding more detail to assessments above.

Natural England have undertaken an assessment of the landscape of England and divided it into 159 Joint Character Areas (JCAs). There are seven JCAs in Cornwall and one covering the Isles of Scilly.

South West National Joint Character Areas

149. The Culm
151. South Devon
152. Cornish Killas
153. Bodmin Moor
154. Hensbarrow
155. Carnmenellis
156. West Penwith
157. The Lizard
158. Isles of Scilly

These national Joint Character Areas work as a framework for establishing and delivering national and regional priorities for landscape character and informing delivery grants including the DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Scheme. The 2005-2007 Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Landscape Character Study fits within this hierarchy of landscape assessment and takes this national assessment to a more detailed local level, making character assessment a resource for planners, developers, Government agencies, and members of the public.

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Landscape Character Study 2005-2007

This study has been carried out at two different scales.

  • Landscape Character Area (LCA) level
  • Landscape Description Unit (LDU) Level

The LCA level is at a broader scale, more applicable at a County and strategic level, whereas the LDU level is more detailed, providing landscape information at the local and Parish level. The Study has been carried out in accordance with national guidance.