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Topics relating to the environment

According to Public Health England, an "ever-increasing body of research indicates that the environment in which we live is inextricably linked to our health across the life course."[1]  

Natural environment

Comprising 217,973 hectares, Herefordshire is considered to be the West Midlands’ most rural county. The countryside is rich and varied, ranging from the high hills of the border areas and the dramatic steep sloping Wye Gorge, to the gentle rolling slopes of the Golden and Teme Valleys and the low lying river meadows of central Herefordshire. Large tracts of this landscape are of high quality with the Wye Valley and Malvern Hills having national AONB designation, whilst the area along the western boundary with the Brecon Beacons National Park is also of the highest quality it lacks any national designation. Many ancient local landscapes continue to survive intact in the face of development pressures and the county’s remoter areas often possess a continuity and tranquillity that is increasingly scarce.

Due to its topography, geology and rivers the landscape of Herefordshire has biodiversity and natural assets. Herefordshire’s natural environment supports a wide range of habitats, including the ancient woodlands of the Wye Valley, the near natural River Wye, the forested ravine of the Downton Gorge and the county’s treasured traditional fruit orchards. The richness of biodiversity within Herefordshire is reflected in the number of statutory (e.g. SACs, SSSIs & NNRs) and non-statutory sites (e.g. LWS) designated for nature conservation which cover 9% of the county.

The county’s geology, resultant soil types and the vegetation they support have shaped a landscape which is highly fertile, particularly on low lying land, making food production an enduring primary activity. The Herefordshire landscape is a key economic asset creating not only an attractive place to live and work but also an important tourist destination.

There are currently 685 Local Wildlife Sites (formerly known as Special Wildlife Sites and Sites of Importance to Nature Conservation) in Herefordshire.

Historic environment

Herefordshire possesses a rich historic environment which includes numerous Iron Age hill forts, sites of Roman towns, defensive features such as Offa’s Dyke and the border castles, together with some of the best preserved traditional timber framed buildings in the country. The richness of the historic environment is reflected in the number of designated heritage assets encompassing a wealth of listed buildings, registered historic parks and gardens, scheduled ancient monuments and conservations areas. These add to the special built quality and environmental character of many areas of the county and their protection and enhancement is recognised as an important ingredient for economic and neighbourhood renewal.

The county’s archaeological heritage is a valuable but fragile part of our historic environment. A large part of central Hereford is one of only five cities in England to be designated an area of archaeological importance. Despite having such nationally recognised heritage at its core, the great extent of Herefordshire’s archaeological resource is not well surveyed or even assessed. Opportunities associated with developments and externally funded projects will continue to be secured to gain a better understanding of our archaeological heritage.

The wider value of historic landscapes is recognised through the designation of 64 conservations areas, which vary in character and size from tiny hamlets to villages to country house estates, market towns and Hereford’s historic centre. Rather than one vernacular building style, Herefordshire has a diverse range of buildings of which perhaps the most well-known and distinctive is the ‘black and white’ timber framed traditional buildings of the northern half of the county.

Climate change

The threat of climate change means that the climate is likely to become unpredictable, probably with longer periods of both dry and wet weather and these may be more severe and intense. Significant areas of Herefordshire are low-lying and liable to flooding. Climate change will further increase the risk and events of flooding (including flash flooding) across the county. Additionally, climate change will result in a loss of biodiversity and landscape character, together with an impact on agricultural practices leading to increased water demand.

[1] Spatial Planning for Health: An evidence resource for planning and designing healthier places, Public Health England, 2017, p.6.