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The Context of Change

© Natural England / Paul Glendell

Changes in the elements and patterns that shape landscape character – those things that make each landscape distinct - have an impact on the overall quality of the countryside. The significance of the impact - i.e. whether it matters or not - can only be determined by understanding the context in which changes have occurred. In some places change may be transforming an area’s character by adding new landscape elements or patterns, causing the character to diverge from what it once was. In others, change may be restoring or enhancing more ‘traditional’ patterns in a landscape that has been modified by more recent developments.

For the purposes of the CQC project, the context of change has been understood in terms of the Joint Character Area (JCA) descriptions, published by the Countryside Commission/Countryside Agency in the late 1990s2. In addition to the features that make each JCA distinctive, these descriptions included the factors that had recently influenced them (‘The Changing Countryside’) or might influence them in the future (‘Shaping the Future’). This was the starting point for our understanding of context.

For the first assessment of change (1990–1998) a series of 8 regional consultations were undertaken in the autumn of 2003, led by Professor Roy Haines-Young of the University of Nottingham. Local knowledge was sought from various expert stakeholders who were asked to consider the adequacy and accuracy of the statements of change found in the original JCA descriptions. They were then asked to review the associated statistical and geographical information and reach a conclusion on the significance of change for landscape character as represented by this data. It was through the consultation exercise that the judgement of change and significance was partly determined3. For the first assessment JCAs were classified as experiencing:

The second assessment of change expanded the evidence base and placed even greater emphasis on consultation with local stakeholders (particularly the professional landscape community), thereby greatly increasing the robustness and acceptability of the context (see the section on Consultation for more information).

As a basis for this work, a revised set of statements about countryside change were collected together from a number of sources. The landscape visions or statements about the threats and opportunities present in any given JCA are collectively known as the JCA Profiles.

Details about the spatial and tabular data to which this context was applied can be found in the section on Sources of Data.


2 Countryside Commission and English Nature (1996) The Character of England - Landscape, Wildlife and Natural Features (Map/Leaflet). CCX 41. Countryside Agency, Cheltenham (see also the accompanying series of Countryside Commission Regional Countryside Character volumes, published between 1998 and 2000).
3 Nottingham University Consultants Ltd (2004) Constructing an Indicator of Change in Countryside Quality (Final Report). The Countryside Agency, Cheltenham.