Farmland and woodland dominate the landscape of the North Wessex Downs. Changes in these land uses have a major influence on the natural beauty of the area. Land-based enterprises play a significant role in acting as stewards of the landscape and contributing to an economic balance for communities. Additionally, equine activities, especially horseracing, and field sports are significant in terms of land use and management.
With 84% of the North Wessex Downs classified as farmland – of which about 48% was under arable cultivation in 2017 – agriculture is the dominant land use and the major influence on landscape character and quality in the AONB.
The Forestry Commission’s National Forest Inventory data show that the area of woodland within the North Wessex Downs has increased over the last seven years and stands at 12.4% of the total AONB area. Just under a half of this woodland has some form of wildlife designation and a little over a third is Ancient Woodland. Broadleaf trees dominate, at just under 70% of all woodland.
The Partnership encourages sustainable land management through our funding programmes. We also support a variety of projects and initiatives that offer landscape advice to farmers and land managers.
The key qualities of rural land management in the North Wessex Downs:
- A landscape under the influence of agricultural management with typically large, farmed estates, a high proportion of which are engaged in agri-environment agreements.
- Varied field patterns. The open downlands are characterised by large regular fields, largely the product of 18th century Parliamentary enclosure, with more recent boundary removals creating vast fields, as on the Marlborough Downs. By contrast, the Vale of Pewsey in the south west of the AONB is the product of mediaeval clearance which created numerous, small, irregular-shaped fields or assarts.
- Stock fencing and extant hedgerows in the vales and river valleys containing some mature trees.
- A growing forestry sector and different types of woodland, many with public access. Although oak and ash are the main forest canopy species there is a wide range of stand types including hornbeam coppice, oak/ash stands, hazel/oak stands, alder carr, and birch and ash/wych elm coppice.
- Equestrian activity, including the ‘Valley of the Racehorse’ in the Lambourn area that attracts visitors and businesses.
- Significant land management for field sports, including highly valued game fishing which supports the native brown trout