West Durham Coalfield Trends and Pressures
The East Durham Limestone Plateau has seen a great deal of change in the last 200 years. Rapid industrial growth in the nineteenth century brought collieries, towns and villages to what was until then a sparsely populated rural landscape. The twentieth century saw this continue with the development of large coastal collieries, new housing and infrastructure, extensive industrial estates and major limestone quarries. The dereliction left by the decline of the mining industry has now largely been reclaimed although in places its legacy remains.
- The dense settlement pattern left by the coal industry together with the presence of busy roads, railways, waste disposal sites and industrial estates, power lines and communications masts, gives a semi-rural or urban fringe quality to parts of the landscape.
- The built environment of some former mining settlements is of a poor quality. Centres are often run down. Settlement edges are abrupt or poorly defined and fringed with allotments, pony paddocks and industrial land.
- The presence of large urban populations brings a pressure for recreational development like golf courses, equestrian centres and pony paddocks in the countryside near towns and villages, which weaken its rural character. The conversion of many farms and farm buildings to residential use adds to this ‘suburbanising’ process.
- Farmland close to urban areas suffers from problems like trespass, vandalism and fly tipping. This tends to discourage investment and positive management, bringing an air of neglect to the urban fringe.
- There is continued pressure for new industrial development as the economy adjusts to the closure of collieries. Large industrial estates and modern industrial buildings can be difficult to assimilate into the rural landscape.
- The tranquillity and rural character of the countryside between towns and villages is eroded in places by the presence of major highways and other busy roads.
- The dereliction left by the coal industry has been largely reclaimed although some remains. Reclaimed land is often of poor agricultural quality and lacks mature landscape features. Some reclaimed sites are planted with softwoods which can look incongruous in this landscape.
- The natural topography of the escarpment has been heavily affected in places by quarrying. Active quarries and waste disposal sites are often visually intrusive. Some working quarries are likely to extend significantly in the future. Restoration with landfill is unlikely to be an option for many quarries which will therefore be restored as open voids.
- Ancient semi-natural woodlands vary in condition. Dutch Elm disease has altered the structure of many woods, with sycamore often replacing the native wych elm in the canopy. Some have been modified by the planting of exotics and a number were felled and replanted with conifers in the 20th century.
- An increase in the extent and intensity of arable cropping has led to a loss of old pastures and meadows, along with hedgerows, hedgerow trees, field ponds, rigg and furrow and other archaeological features. Parts of the landscape have become very open with large fields and few mature features.
- Flower-rich limestone or neutral pastures and meadows have declined with agricultural improvement, or the encroachment of scrub. Old grasslands are now rare and survive only as isolated fragments. Some of the species found there are now genetically isolated.
- The coast has been severely damaged in places by coastal collieries and the tipping of waste. Much of the surface dereliction has been cleared and beaches are progressively improving: the reconstruction of a more natural coastline is still in its early stages.
- The hedgerow network is heavily fragmented in places and continues to decline through removal or neglect. In arable areas hedges tend to be cut frequently and low, reducing their landscape and wildlife value and making them more vulnerable to weed encroachment and spray drift.
- The Limestone Plateau has a relatively good wind resource although its exploitation will be constrained by the relatively dense settlement pattern. New wind farms at Great Eppleton and Hare Hill are likely to be followed by further development.
- There are a small number of relic ornamental parklands on the Limestone Plateau. Surviving features like parkland trees are in progressive decline and are likely to disappear without positive management and some degree of restoration.