The landscape character of Wiltshire
Although much of Wiltshire is dominated by the vast sweeps of chalk downland, its topography is highly
varied with intimate river valleys contrasting with open uplands and broad vales. Wiltshire's landscape
today is shaped by how people have responded to that physical framework through the millennia to the
present, creating culturally distinctive areas and places. The more urban centres, including Swindon,
also have their own discrete character, arising from their historic development. The overall topography 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 terrain created by older geological formations, including the clay
vales and the limestone of the Cotswolds.
The combined 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)?
It could be described as:
"Identifying cultural time depth in the present landscape" & "Much more than a map: a landscape resource"
Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) is a technique to explore the time depth of the present day
landscape and to identify how it has evolved over time. What’s really great is that our familiar landscape that
we all know well has a character that has been shaped by past people's attitudes, decisions and actions. HLC
draws together evidence for that, everywhere, so all parts of the county have HLC data that illustrate its historic
cultural background. In that way it can help individuals, groups and communities explore what is of interest to
them and to enrich what they may know about the places they live, visit and work in.
Why is it important?
All landscape has historic character that can be perceived and enjoyed by all, whether or not we realise its
influence. The process of Historic Landscape Characterisation sets on record that character, covering both the
commonplace and the rare features, allowing us to understand how people have shaped our rural and urban areas.
The mapping and associated information within the HLC provides the evidence for cultural patterns and
characteristics that make places distinctive and contribute to local identity today: it helps avoid that human
dimension of our landscape from being overlooked or taken for granted and connects the lives and choices
of people in the past with those of today. In doing so it enables us to make our choices for the future of
our own local areas in a more informed way and helps strengthen the identity between the community
and the place.
What can it be used for?
In practical terms, Historic Landscape Characterisation data could be useful for those:
- Consulting on and producing neighbourhood plans or design statements
- Investigating their local parish, town or village
- Involved with planning at all levels or strategic decision making
- Working on the conservation/management of places and/or landscape
- Undertaking place and landscape-based research for school, college or university
The Wiltshire and Swindon HLC
The project was sponsored by Historic England, and was undertaken from 2012-2016. It examined the whole of
Wiltshire (including Swindon Borough) and was carried out in collaboration with a range of other organisations
including Wiltshire Council, Swindon Borough Council, National Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency.
The actual data itself was created by studying historic and modern maps, aerial photographs and
archaeological data to build a complete record for Wiltshire and Swindon. It also integrated the existing 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
The project data you can access comprises:
- The complete dataset of c.14,500 HLC records, covering every part of the county giving details about the
present and past character and attributes of the landscape for each land parcel
- Maps of historic landscape character built from the records so patterns and distributions across parishes,
districts and the whole county can be seen
- A comprehensive and easy to read report explaining how the project was carried out, the sources used
and descriptions of the different landscape types out there
- Case studies showing how you can use HLC data to investigate historic towns, historic farms and places
like the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site
If you would like to know more about the project, the data and report or how you could use historic landscape
characterisation in your work 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