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Historic Landscape Character

The zig-zag path at Selborne
The zig-zag path at Selborne links the village to the high land of Selborne Common. It was created by the naturalist and author Gilbert White and his brother over 200 years ago.

When we look at the landscape of the South Downs National Park we might think that it is all a recent development. But it is a landscape that people have changed for hundreds of years and which continues to change. Understanding the past is the key to shaping the future.

With the help of historic maps, documents and place names and with skills and experience we can find evidence for many centuries of changes on the landscape. These changes have created many of the features we see today – fields and field boundaries, hedgerows and woods and the settlements where we live, work and shop.

To understand this story of landscape change, a national system called “Historic Landscape Characterisation” was developed by Historic England – you can find out more by following the link.

This recognises different kinds of patterns in the landscape and identifies those as characters and below that one or more types.

The historic village of Wilmington nestles at the foot of the Downs with a view across the Wilmington green and on to the Weald.
The historic village of Wilmington nestles at the foot of the Downs with a view across the Wilmington green and on to the Weald.

Historic landscape characterisation identifies the elements in the landscape that have survived and influenced the current landscape. It doesn’t try to reconstruct landscape at a particular date. It is very useful in understanding how the landscape has changed and helping us all to think about managing future changes.

Historic Landscape Characterisation work is carried out on a county basis and so the National Park is included in the Sussex and Hampshire studies of Historic Landscape Characterisation reports and maps. The National Park part of Hampshire has recently been reviewed so that it is at an equivalent level of detail to the Sussex study.

To use the Historic Landscape Characterisation in detail (for developing a scheme for a planning application for instance) you need to contact the Historic Environment Record.