Assessing historic landscapes
All the landscape areas on the Register of
Landscapes of Historic Interest in Wales have been “characterised”
into areas that share a consistent historic context.
When assessing these, equal weight was given to the two main
elements of an historic landscape – what we see and what that means
The work has been done by the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts
and can be viewed on their respective websites.
What is historic characterisation?
Historic landscape characterisation is the examination of the
processes that have shaped and moulded the present-day
This means studying all the components that make up a landscape
and are the result of centuries of human activity, such as field
boundaries, field shapes, buildings, settlement patterns, parks and
gardens, roads and railways, industrial and archaeological
The information has a serious purpose as well, as it can be
brought to bear in determining how significant the impacts of a
development might be on a Register area.
Very often, this will routinely be done as part of an
Environmental Statement, which developers have to submit with
Every landscape on the register also carries what’s known as a
“Historic Landscape Characterisation Report”. The Reports provide
much more detailed information for anyone wishing to discover more
about how our unique landscapes have evolved in their own area.
What makes a landscape 'outstanding' or 'special'
There are five criteria mentioned in the register:
- Landscapes which have been changed in major ways showing human
endeavour on a grand scale, including cities, conurbations,
industrial areas and civil engineering projects.
- Landscapes which show change during a particular period and
where change has since stopped.
- Landscapes which show the effect of changes over several
periods, including a range of different features or different
versions of the same feature.
- Landscapes where historical evidence has been buried or
- Landscapes which have ‘cultural merit’ – through links with
important cultural trends or achievements.
'Outstanding' landscapes are generally large areas that are
justified against one or more of the criteria. Whereas 'Special'
landscapes are smaller and often justified against a single
Nevertheless,the quality of historic interest is the same in
both and they are treated the same for planning and development
What is it used for?
Once experts have analysed all the components, they divide a
landscape into historic landscape character areas – each area is
designated as different than its neighbour because of the unique
features it includes. This information is then used to write a
historic landscape characterisation report.
Local governments and developers, for example, then employ these
reports to show the impact a development might have on an historic
Often this information will be included as part of an
environmental statement, which developers have to submit with
planning applications – showing for instance how a new housing
estate could change a landscape.
Information gleaned through the historic characterisation
process is also used as the basis for the descriptions of historic
landscape areas in LANDMAP.
LANDMAP is the system used by the CCW to ensure that landscape
is taken into consideration when we are making decisions about how
we should manage the Welsh countryside.
A characterisation report also provides curious locals, visitors
and students with extremely detailed information about the
evolution of a unique landscape and is a good tool for finding out
more about the history of a place.
Characterisation is the job of the four Welsh Archaeological
Trusts - they have initially written reports on the areas included
in the Historic Landscapes Register, but plan to gradually extend
the process to other parts of Wales, including towns and urban