Understanding our historic landscape

See how our landscape has evolved and how we can help to manage change and conserve landscape features.

The landscape of North Yorkshire and the Lower Tees Valley has a rich and diverse character.

Historic landscape characterisation contributes to our understanding of the historic landscape by moving the focus away from specific archaeological sites to looking at a broader landscape view. It emphasises understanding how historic processes have contributed to the present landscape, rather than reconstructing how the landscape was in the past.


The North Yorkshire and Lower Tees Valley historic landscape characterisation project was carried out between 2005 and 2010 by the historic environment team, with Tees Archaeology undertaking characterisation of urban areas in the Lower Tees Valley. The process involved identifying and describing historic components in the rural and urban landscape. It started by describing current land use, then used aerial photography, modern and historic maps and other data to gain an understanding of how an area has changed over time. By understanding how landscapes have evolved, we can help to manage change and conserve features that give places their unique character.

Project aimed to:

  • characterise the present landscape of North Yorkshire and Lower Tees Valley, in terms of the visible evidence of the human processes that formed it
  • improve and promote the understanding and appreciation of the historic environment of North Yorkshire and the Lower Tees Valley
  • create a body of data and a tool to enable informed decisions on conservation and development;
  • assist partnership with other agencies, particularly in targeting agri-environment schemes and schemes for rural diversification
  • inform and generate research agendas for the historic environment

North Yorkshire and the Lower Tees Valley historic landscape character

You can explore the North Yorkshire and the Lower Tees Valley historic landscape character via our online mapping system:

Launch online maps

Frequently asked questions

What are the historic landscape character broad types?

The historic landscape characterisation process starts with the identification of areas with common characteristics using maps and aerial photographs.

Changes in land use over time result in different patterns in the landscape, such as in the shape of fields and the layout of housing types in settlements. These can be seen in current and historic maps as well as aerial photographs. Using these sources, digital boundaries are drawn around areas of common character to create polygons, which are held in a geographical information system (GIS) layer on computer.

Each unique polygon is associated with a record in the database, which is allocated a broad character type. These broad types can be subdivided into more specific historic landscape character types.

Broad type Definition Associated historic landscape character types

Land which forms the coastal strip.

boat landing, coastal cliffs, coastal slopes, harbour, marsh, mudflats, rocky foreshore, sands, seafront


Areas solely used for the purposes of business and retail.

auction mart, business unidentified, distribution depot, retail unidentified


Areas representing important parts of the communications network.

air unidentified, bus station, canal basin, lock system, motorway services, rail unidentified, railway station, road junction (motorway), road junction (other), road unidentified, train depot, train yard, water unidentified

Designed landscape

An area that has been deliberately changed to provide a landscaped park or garden.

allotments, country estate, deer park, gardens and pleasure grounds, municipal cemetery, ornamental parkland, private burial ground, public park, unidentified parkland

Enclosed land

Land that has been divided up into fields.

assart, cow pasture, crofts associated with settlement, demesne, early field system, intake, large scale private enclosure, lowland intakes, lowland meadow, lynchets, modern improved fields, open field, pasture, piecemeal enclosure, planned large scale parliamentary, ridge and furrow (previous type only), smallholdings, strip fields, unknown planned enclosure


Areas where extraction from the surface or from underground has been carried out.

alum extraction, clay pits brick works, deep shaft mine coal. ironstone working, jet working, mine copper, mine lead, mine stone, mine unknown, open cast mine coal, quarry aggregates, quarry chalk, quarry flooded, quarry limestone, quarry other, quarry sandstone, shallow shaft coal mining


Site where manufacturing or industrial processes take place.

ash pile, ceramic building materials, chemical industry, chemical works, docks, food processing, industrial estate, metal working, mill cereal, mill hemp, mill unidentified, mixed commercial, nursery, reclaimed industrial land, rubbish tip, scrap yard, sewerage treatment centre, shipyard, steel works, utilities (including gas and electric), water


Used mainly for building complexes or areas used by institutions.

animal facility, church (general), civil and municipal active, civil and municipal reused, college, educational active, fire station, medical active, medical inactive, medical reused, military active, military inactive, military reused, prison, religious active, religious inactive, religious reused, school, university


Sites known to have a military function.

accommodation, communications, training


Areas used for recreational purposes or activities associated with the leisure and tourism industry.

amusement park, bingo hall, bowling green, car park, caravan park, cricket ground, football ground, golf course, holiday park, horse racing course, leisure farm, motor racing track, playing fields, public open space, recreation centre, recreation ground, spa resort, sports fields, tennis courts


Areas where people live together in communities.

ancient settlement, bungalows, burgage plots, deserted medieval village, detached housing, elite residence, estate village, farm complex, grange, green hamlet, green village, hamlet, high rise apartments, historic town core, linear hamlet, linear village, low rise flats, navvy camp, nucleated hamlet, nucleated village, planned estate, private housing estate, ring fenced farm, semi-detached housing, shrunken medieval village, single ancient farm, squatter settlement, terraced housing (with direct street frontage), terraced housing (with forecourt front garden), terraced housing (with front and back garden), through terraces, villa

Unenclosed land

Land that is not divided into fields.

common land (lowland), common land (upland), freehold moorland, greens, moorland, reverted moorland


Bodies of water, whether they are natural or man-made.

estuary, man-made lake, natural lake, reservoir


Areas where trees form the dominant land use.

ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW), ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) restocked, broad-leaved plantation, coniferous plantation, covert, mixed plantation, orchard, ornamental plantation, spring wood, wet woodland, wood pasture

Is there a guide to using historic landscape character online mapping?

Below you will find a technical user guide for the historic landscape characterisation project along with details on how to access the information using our online mapping tool.

There are two different datasets available: historic landscape broad types and historic landscape character (HLC) types, which are the narrower terms. These are listed in the map legend section to the left-hand side of the online mapping screen. These layers can be viewed separately or together.

Each layer can be switched on and off by clicking in the box to the right of the layer name. When the tick symbol appears in the box, the map layer will be visible. When the tick symbol disappears, the map layer will not be visible.

Historic landscape character broad types

These are the broadest level of interpretation. Each of the 14 broad types is mapped with a different colour. Each broad type layer can be switched on and off, to display all or some of the layers, depending upon which the user selects.

When the broad type layers are switched on, information about the map layers being viewed can be accessed by clicking an area on the map. A pop-up box will appear, providing details of the broad type and a hyperlink to a web page with more information about that particular broad character type.

Historic landscape character (HLC) types

These are the narrower, more specific levels of interpretation.

As there are over 185 different HLC types, these are mapped as a single layer and are not thematically mapped with different colours. The whole layer can be switched on and off, to be viewed with or without the broad types. When HLC types and broad types are viewed together, the blue HLC type polygon boundaries can be seen overlaying the underlying colours of the broad type polygons.

When the HLC type layers are switched on, information about the map layers being viewed can be accessed by clicking an area on the map. A pop-up box will appear, providing summary details about the polygon:

Layer Description
Broad_Type Broad type for the polygon.
Specific_Character_HLC_Type Specific HLC type for the polygon, which is the narrower term.
Summary Summary description of the polygon.
Confidence Confidence level assigned by the project officer to their interpretation, recorded as one of three options: certain, probable or possible.
View_Full_Details Hyperlink to a pdf document that will open in a new window, with full details for the record associated with the polygon, including: name, description of the character area, broad character, specific character (HLC type), confidence, period, previous character, NGR, area covered in hectares, attributes, values and sources.

Number assigned by the database software during the project to the individual record (HNY = HLC North Yorkshire).

Base layers

There are options as to which base layer can be selected, over which to display the HLC data. These options can be selected by clicking on the rectangular buttons in the top right hand corner of the screen:

Layer Description

Current Ordnance Survey mapping in greyscale. Depending upon the zoom level, a different map is shown, from the 1:50000 mapping to the vector MasterMap data.

Current map

Current Ordnance Survey mapping in colour. Depending upon the zoom level, a different map is shown, from the 1:50000 mapping to the vector MasterMap data.

Aerial Vertical aerial photographic coverage.
1846-63 First edition 6" County Series Ordnance Survey mapping.
1889-99 Second edition 6" County Series Ordnance Survey mapping.

Can I read the historic landscape character report?

The historic landscape character report is available on request. Please contact us to request a copy.