West Durham Coalfield Assets and Attributes
A small part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) lies on the western fringes of the coalfield. Many of the lower reaches of coalfield valleys are designated as Areas of High Landscape Value (AHLV) in Local Plans.
- View Landscape Designations map
International Nature Conservation Designations
National and Local Nature Conservation Designations
There are a very few Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in the area. Fragments of heathland and woodland at Greencroft and Annfield plain, and former gravel workings as Witton-le-Wear are designated as SSSI. By contrast there are a large number of County Wildlife Sites now known as Local Wildlife Sites) representing a range of habitats including lowland heath, semi-natural woodland, wetland, semi-improved pasture and early successional brownfield land.
Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitats and Species
The landscape is important for a large number of national and local Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitats and species.
Priority habitats in the Durham Biodiversity Action Plan (DBAP) represented in the West Durham Coalfield include:
- Ancient Semi Natural Woodland
- Other Broadleaved Woodland
- Native Hedgerows
- Veteran Trees
- Wet Woodland
- Wood Pasture
- Exposed Riverine Sediments
- Floodplain Grazing Marsh
- Phragmites Australis Reedbed
- Rivers and Streams
- Blanket Bog and Upland Wet Heath
- Species-rich Upland Acid Grassland
- Upland Dry Heath
- Early Successional Brownfield Land
- Lowland Heath
- Lowland Meadows and Pasture
- Road Verges of Conservation Importance
- Waxcap grasslands
Priority species in the Durham Biodiversity Action Plan (DBAP) found in the West Durham Coalfield include:
- Brown Hare
- Harvest Mouse
- Red Squirrel
- Water Vole
- Barn Owl
- Black Grouse
- House Sparrow
- Reed Bunting
- Song Thrush
- Spotted Fly-catcher
- Tree Sparrow
- Yellow Wagtail
- Common Lizard
- Grass Snake
- Slow Worm
- Great Crested Newt
- Dingy Skipper
- Glow Worm
- Green Hairstreak
- Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
- Pale Bristle Moss
Semi-natural habitats occupy a relatively small proportion of the West Durham Coalfield. The majority of grasslands are improved with scattered patches of semi-improved pasture and heath. The woodland network is more robust with fairly well connected riparian corridors of woodland – particularly along the Derwent, the Wear, and the Wear’s northern tributaries – and localised areas of heavily wooded estate landscapes. There are substantial gaps in the woodland habitat network and many woods have been re-stocked, which can affect their value as networks for some species, as can their generally modest scale. Early successional brownfield land occurs in both isolated pockets and in linear corridors following former rail and waggonways. Wetland habitats occur generally as thinly scattered and isolated features, although there is a more robust corridor of wetlands in old gravel pits along the Wear floodplain. The quality of some rivers and streams is affected by mine-water pollution which affects their value as networks for many species. The overall pattern of habitat distribution closely reflects the ridge and valley topography, with most woodland and wetland habitats found along the incised corridors or rivers and streams, and heathlands found on the higher ridges. There is generally poor connectivity between them other than locally in valley heads.
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Ancient Semi-natural Woodlands
Ancient semi-natural woodlands are found in many coalfield valleys in steep sided denes and along rivers and streams. Notable areas include the valleys of the Pont Burn, the River Derwent, the River Wear, Cong Burn, Stanley Burn and the Deerness.
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Earth Heritage Designations
There area contains a small number of County Geological/Geomorphological Sites (now known as Local Geological Sites). These include geological exposures in river sections and glacial features, including kames at Hoppyland and sub-glacial channels at Sacriston.
Archaeological Sites and Monuments
The area contains archaeological remains from the Neolithic period onwards, many of which are recorded in the Durham Sites and Monuments Record (SMR). Scheduled Ancient Monuments range from roman roads, forts and aqueducts to medieval chapels and manor houses and industrial features like Causey Arch, the worlds first railway bridge.
Many of the older settlements of the West Durham Coalfield are designated as Conservation Areas. The wider landscape contains a wide range of listed buildings from medieval manors to industrial buildings and structures.
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Historic Parks and Gardens
The West Durham Coalfield contains a large number of parklands, many of which survive only as relics. The ancient parklands of Auckland Castle are on English Hetitage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historical Interest.
- View interactive Registered Parks and Gardens Map
Access, Recreation and Tourism
The coalfield has a very dense network of footpaths. Some follow ancient routes but the majority have their origins in paths from villages to old mines. The area is particularly well served by the network of former railways and waggonways, many of which have been converted to cycleways and bridleways. The C2C follows one such railway path in the north. The Weardale Way follows the course of the River Wear. Tourism is locally important to the economy with visitor attractions at Beamish Museum, Causey Arch, The Tanfield Railway, Derwentcote Forge, Auckland Castle, Binchester Fort and the Gaunless Valley Visitor Centre.
Water quality in the Wear and Derwent and many of their tributaries is good. In some tributaries, quality is only fair, poor, or locally bad, as a result of discharges from mine workings, sewage treatment works, storm sewage overflows and surface water drainage from industrial and agricultural activities. The catchments of these tributaries are designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.
- View Water Resources Map
Agricultural Land Classification
The lower reaches of Coalfield Valleys contain generally Grade 3a (good) and Grade 3b (moderate) agricultural land though locally Grade 4 (poor) or 5 (very poor) where it has been affected by mining or land reclamation. The higher ridges and valley heads of the Coalfield Upland Fringe are predominantly Grade 4, locally Grade 5 on acidic peaty soils and land affected by mineral working.