The recognised character of Wiltshire
Although Wiltshire is dominated by the vast sweeps of chalk downland, its landscape is highly varied with
intimate river valleys contrasting with open uplands and broad vales. The more urban centres, including
Swindon, have their own discrete character, arising from their historic development. The landscape of
Wiltshire can thus be broadly divided into two distinctive types: dominated in the south and southeast
of the county by the chalk of the Cretaceous period forming the upland landscape of the downs; and in
the north and north west, a varied landscape created by older geological formations, including the clay
vales and the limestone of the Cotswolds.
The entire area of Wiltshire and Swindon has a population of approximately 650,000 people and covers an
area of c. 3,485 sq. km, the largest inland county in England. The population is largely rural with nearly half
living in towns or villages of fewer than 5000 people and a quarter of the county's inhabitants living in
settlements of fewer than 1000 people. Major centres include Swindon, Melksham, Warminster, Salisbury,
Trowbridge, Chippenham and Devizes.
The county also encompasses several important special areas, including three Areas of Outstanding Natural
Beauty (the Cotswolds, Cranborne Chase & West Wiltshire Downs, and the North Wessex Downs), the
Salisbury Plain Training Area and of course the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site!
So what is Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC)?
Historic Landscape Characterisation is the examination of the historic and archaeological processes which
have influenced the form and use of the modern landscape. It is concerned with the whole landscape and
provides a broad overview of the historic environment present in each area. It maps both commonplace
and rare features and allows an understanding to be gained of the origins and evolution of rural and urban
Why is it important and what can it be used for?
The mapping and character information produced by HLC is important because it allows us to identify what
characteristics make each place special and distinct. This allows us to better enjoy and look after our own
local area, and to help create a sense of identity in the community.
In practical terms, Historic Landscape Characterisation data can be used for:
- Planning applications and development strategy.
- The conservation and management of heritage sites and landscapes.
- Academic research and local study.
- Community projects and initiatives.
The Wiltshire and Swindon HLC
The project has been sponsored by English Heritage and will run for three years, starting in April 2012 and
finishing in March 2015. It will examine the whole of Wiltshire (including Swindon Borough) and is being
carried out in collaboration with a range of other organisations including Wiltshire Council, Swindon Borough
Council, National Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency.
As part of this process there will be several consultation stages where the information produced will be
reviewed and analysed, and contributions made by project stakeholders.
All of this research will go towards producing a detailed and interactive digital map, descriptions and
photographs of the landscapes visible across the county, analysis of archaeology present in the
landscape and so much more!
The project also intends to integrate the historic landscape character studies that have already been produced for the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB (http://www.historiclandscape.co.uk/index.html)
and the North Wessex Downs AONB (http://www.westberks.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=12848).
This web page is intended to give a flavour of the work produced by the Wiltshire and Swindon HLC Project.
Please look out for the detailed and interactive website which will be available once the entire county has
If you would like to know more about this exciting project, have any comments, or would like to get involved
then please contact us using the following details:
Telephone 01249 705526
Address: Archaeology Team, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Cocklebury Road,
Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN15 3QN
For further details of how the project will progress, please see the chart below:
In order to produce the Historic Landscape Character data a number of modern and historic maps will
be studied - all of which are available at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.
The principal sources which are being used are:
- Modern OS Maps (1:25,000 and 1:10,000) and Master Map (1:10,000)
- Vertical colour aerial photographs (2001)
- First Edition 6" OS Maps (c.1880s-90s)
- First Edition 1" OS Maps (c.1818)
But other reference sources used include:
- Andrews and Dury Map of Wiltshire (1773)
- The Wiltshire Historic Envionment Record
- The Wiltshire Extensive Urban Surveys
- The Victoria County History Series for Wiltshire
Land-use categories (HLC types)
The project will assess the landscape of the county and identify the overall character of a land parcel
(called the broad HLC type) as well as a more detailed description of the character (called the narrow
HLC type), which will also include information on time depth.
The Wiltshire and Swindon HLC has 14 broad HLC types and over 100 narrow HLC types as shown below:
The project is starting with the characterisation of four pilot areas as shown below. Once complete
the information will be available in the download section.
You can also see how much characterisation has been done by checking out the chart below,
which will be regularly updated:
(Last 'Totaliser' update 14-05-13).
As the project progresses, a number of maps and reports will become available for review.
If you want to take a look at what is currently available then please download the PDFs using
the links listed below:
The four Pilot Areas have been completed and a number of maps analysing the HLC
data are accessible using the links below:
Pilot Areas - Current Broad and Current Narrow HLC Type Distribution Maps
Pilot Areas - Previous HLC Types Analysis Maps
Pilot Areas - Timeslice Analysis Maps (New - March 2013!)